The state’s largest hospital group is one step closer to taking over Franklin Community Health Network, including the only hospital in Franklin County.

On Friday, state officials recommended that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services let MaineHealth acquire FCHN. The 62-page preliminary report said MaineHealth had shown it would be able to provide financial support to FCHN, improve health care in the area and positively impact the health of the community. 

Officials recommended DHHS allow the takeover with a few conditions, including that MaineHealth report the outcomes of community services created to reduce chronic disease, obesity, domestic violence, suicide and other health-related issues. That report would be presented to the state once a year for three years.

In its application, MaineHealth said it could improve health in the community if allowed to take over Franklin Community Health Network. The annual report would show whether the hospital group did what it said it could do.

Officials also recommended approval on the condition that MaineHealth report every year on where FCHN community members were getting their health care. That report would be presented to the state once a year for three years.

Officials from Central Maine Healthcare, the parent organization of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, have questioned whether MaineHealth would push patients toward its flagship hospital, Maine Medical Center in Portland, and away from CMMC. The annual report would show whether that concern was valid.

MaineHealth President William Caron said his organization was happy state officials favored approval.

“We are very pleased with the preliminary recommendation that is being advanced to the commissioner,” he said. “We look forward to Franklin Community Health Network joining our system and working with them to effect some of the changes they’ve identified as needed in their community.”

Franklin Community Health Network President Rebecca Arsenault also was pleased.

“It is definitely in alignment with what the local governing board is working toward in terms of the organization’s overall strategic direction and in alignment with, really, the feedback we’ve had in our community,” she said.

In April, more than a dozen doctors, business owners and community leaders urged state officials to let MaineHealth take over FCHN, saying the acquisition would improve health care, cut costs and save Franklin Memorial Hospital, the only hospital in the area.

Many said MaineHealth could also bring technological advancement and specialty care to the area.

FCHN is the parent organization of Franklin Memorial Hospital, NorthStar ambulance service, Evergreen Behavioral Services and the Healthy Community Coalition of Greater Franklin County. It also owns a number of doctors’ offices.

FCHN has struggled in recent years with high costs, low payments and national health care reforms. Last year, its board of directors began looking for a larger hospital organization to take over the Franklin County network.

The board considered four organizations. MaineHealth was one of them.

FCHN’s president has refused to say who the other three were, though all are public nonprofits.

The state’s Certificate of Need Unit will accept comment on the proposal through June 9. It will then go to DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew for her decision, which is expected in early July.

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