PORTLAND (AP) – The two hospitals in Lincoln County may become one.

A feasibility study will begin in October on the proposed consolidation of St. Andrews Hospital and Healthcare Center in Boothbay Harbor and Miles Health Care in Damariscotta.

Under the plan, the two hospitals would combine services and build a larger facility at an unspecified location along U.S. 1.

Backers of the change say a new and improved hospital would promote efficiency and better care, and help attract doctors.

“We want to make sure there is health care in Lincoln County into the future, and we feel this is the right direction we should take today,” said Peggy Pinkham, president and chief executive officer of St. Andrews.

The plan requires approval of the state, which has become less prone in recent years to approve million-dollar hospital projects. But projects that reduce costs and improve efficiency are given a high priority, the state’s top health policy official said.

“We’re really encouraged by this,” said Trish Riley, director of Maine’s health policy office. “I think this kind of collaboration brings their strengths together and talks about new ways to deliver services.”

The two hospitals began discussing money-saving opportunities several years ago in response to growing pressures that range from lower insurance reimbursement rates to difficulties in recruiting and keeping employees.

St. Andrews, with 25 licensed beds, and Miles, with 38, are both part of the MaineHealth hospital system, which also owns Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Officials are considering a new hospital with a capacity of 60 to 80 beds that also can offer more specialty services and newer technology.

The feasibility study is expected to take six to eight months. Construction of the new hospital would take at least five to seven years.

Public forums on the proposed consolidation are scheduled for Aug. 23 in Boothbay Harbor and Sept. 8 in Damariscotta.

Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

AP-ES-08-11-06 0838EDT

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