Members of the medical staff at Bridgton Hospital voted unanimously this week that they have no confidence in the CEO of their parent company amid concerns over financial problems and cuts in services, including worries that the obstetrics unit might close.
News of potential cuts in services or staff at one of Bridgton’s largest employers has reached the ears of town officials, who recently contacted the hospital’s owners to request a meeting to discuss their concerns.
Bridgton Hospital is part of Central Maine HealthCare, which also owns Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston and Rumford Hospital.
CEO Jeff Brickman, the target of the vote, has been heading Central Maine HealthCare for two years.
Rural hospitals across the country are increasingly closing money-losing maternity services, including Calais Regional Hospital last year. Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln stopped providing obstetrics in 2015.
Central Maine HealthCare, which has a $56 million budget, operated at a $3 million deficit in fiscal year 2015 and a $1.4 million deficit in 2016, according to the company’s most recent public filings with the Internal Revenue Service.
Brickman did not respond to a request for an interview with the Press Herald, but a Central Maine HealthCare spokeswoman issued a statement acknowledging the Bridgton vote and alluding to financial challenges.
“The leadership team joined Central Maine HealthCare at a time of substantial financial shortfalls and shifts in the health care landscape, particularly in Maine,” said Kate Carlisle, director of public relations and community affairs. “Changes, some of them significant, have been necessary to face these issues, and we understand that even necessary change is difficult.”
An employee of Central Maine HealthCare who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal said the Bridgton vote was 20-0 and included doctors, nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants. The vote was partly because of ongoing concerns about Brickman’s refusal to receive input from medical staff and overall management style, the employee said.
“Everyone had finally had enough,” the employee said.
The vote could signal the start of a systemwide protest of Brickman’s leadership of a hospital system that faces restructuring as it grapples with its financial problems.
An informal straw poll of CMMC medical staff at a meeting Wednesday in Auburn produced similar results, the employee said, and more formal no-confidence votes at the Lewiston and Rumford hospitals are expected in the next few weeks.
Brickman, who became CEO of Central Maine HealthCare in 2016, has presided over a rocky time in the system, the employee said. General surgery has been pared back at Bridgton from daily to one day per week, performed by a traveling doctor who usually commands two to three times the wages of a permanent doctor, the employee said. A few years ago, Bridgton Hospital had three surgeons on staff. The hospital employs 199 people, Carlisle said.
Meanwhile, Brickman has told hospital employees that obstetrics is under discussion for closure at Bridgton Hospital, the employee said.
A second person who works for another health care system but is familiar with the situation at Bridgton Hospital told the Press Herald that Central Maine HealthCare is considering eliminating obstetrics.
“The loss of these services at a community hospital would be unacceptable,” the Central Maine HealthCare employee said.
Bob Peabody, Bridgton town manager, said there’s been “scuttlebutt” around town for a year about cuts at the hospital.
Peabody said concern had grown to the point that the Board of Selectmen sent a letter to Bridgton Hospital on Wednesday asking to meet or address concerns about cuts in services.
“As they cut services, people will go elsewhere, and that will affect the quality of life here,” Peabody said. “We look at Bridgton Hospital as an integral part of the community and is part of what makes Bridgton a great place to live.”
Carlisle, the health care system’s spokeswoman, said the system remains “very committed” to Bridgton Hospital. “The leadership of (Central Maine HealthCare) values our providers, staff, patients and communities, and will continue to work collaboratively to address any issues or concerns identified,” she said. “Rest assured, we remain very committed to Bridgton Hospital, its providers and staff. We look forward to our second century of service in the Bridgton community and will not waver in our goal to provide the quality care our community deserves.”
Carlisle declined to comment beyond the information in her statement.
Peabody said he was told that several doctors have left Bridgton Hospital recently or turned in their resignation notices, which the Central Maine HealthCare employee confirmed.
Jeff Brickman, president and CEO of Central Maine Healthcare, on the LifeFlight helipad at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. (Sun Journal file photo)