BRUNSWICK — About 300 people packed the Knights of Columbus Hall on Wednesday to tell state officials what they thought of Central Maine Healthcare's plan to take over Parkview Adventist Medical Center.
On the left side of the room, those pro CMHC. On the right, those pro Mid Coast Hospital, which wants to take over Parkview on its own
The two sides agreed on one thing: Brunswick should have the best health care.
But in the seven-hour public hearing, that was pretty much where the agreement ended.
"I like the rapport between Parkview and (Central Maine Medical Center). I approve of it," said area resident Anne Philippon — pro CMHC — who told Maine Department of Health and Human Services officials about the help her husband received from Parkview doctors and a CMMC neurosurgeon. "Thank God my husband is doing well again and thank God for Parkview."
"All of a sudden we have an outsider operating in our community," area resident Rosemary Hentz — pro Mid Coast — told officials a few minutes later. "Why do they want to come here? Why can't they focus on their own (part) of the state? I think I know why. I think they want to improve their bottom line."
With input to consider from dozens of people Wednesday, including employees of both hospitals, and with written comments accepted over the next 30 days, it will likely take state officials months to decide Parkview's fate.
Central Maine Healthcare, the parent organization of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Bridgton Hospital and Rumford Hospital, has long fought with Mid Coast over control of Parkview. CMHC has helped support the financially challenged, 55-bed Parkview for years and is asking the state to let it make that arrangement stronger.
Mid Coast, Brunswick's other hospital, argues that the community is too small to support two medical centers. It wants the state to deny CMHC's request and give Mid Coast the opportunity to talk with Parkview leaders and try to convince them that a Mid Coast-Parkview merger — and consolidation — would be in everyone's best interest.
Parkview leaders have repeatedly said they prefer to join CMHC and don't want to talk to Mid Coast about a partnership.
The issue has been contentious, with each side claiming the other has resorted to distortion, negativity and scare tactics. In a newspaper ad published over the weekend, Parkview said, "Enough is enough."
"The most recent barrage of threats has done nothing to change our minds and certainly does not improve the health of the communities we both serve," the ad read.
It didn't lead to harmony Wednesday. Before the hearing, Parkview and CMHC employees waved "Parkview's here to stay" signs at passing cars and handed out "I (heart) Parkview" stickers at the doorway. In the building, Mid Coast employees manned tables piled with Mid Coast pens and notepads and handed out oversized Mid Coast buttons.
Beverly Waterman, who worked for Parkview for 30 years and is now a nurse at Mid Coast, was among several people to sport both a Parkview sticker and a Mid Coast button. She loves both hospitals, she said, but believes the best way to support Parkview, and Brunswick, is to hear out Mid Coast.
"I hope Parkview would be willing to at least have a dialogue with Mid Coast to see, as an option, what might happen," she said.
Those who favored Mid Coast said consolidation of the town's two hospitals would save money, keep patients local and allow a local medical center to oversee community medicine.
Those who favored CMHC said a CMHC-Parkview merger would maintain hospital choice, prevent Mid Coast from getting a monopoly and possibly driving up prices, and provide better care with specialists Parkview couldn't otherwise attract.
"I want the freedom to continue to choose Parkview. We need Parkview in our lives," Donna Smith said.
Half the crowd applauded.
The Department of Health and Human Service's Licensing and Regulatory Services Division will continue to take written comments for 30 days. After that, it will consider CMHC's proposal and make a recommendation to DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. She will make the final decision.
If the state denies CMHC's merger request, it will be up to Parkview leaders to decide whether they want to pursue a partnership with Mid Coast.