LEWISTON — Facing shortfall, uncertainty and a community in need, one of the area’s largest employers and providers of medical care is looking “deep” into its operation and preparing to make decisions to ensure its long-term future.

Three months after joining Central Maine Healthcare, CEO Jeff Brickman has hired an Illinois-based consulting firm to help develop what he calls a “transformational” plan for the health system’s future.

The results could ultimately lead to changes for virtually every aspect of Maine’s third largest hospital system, including how and where patients get medical care, which programs and services it offers and how it is run.

The move comes after CMHC lost what Brickman called a “significant” amount of money this past fiscal year and as CMHC is, like other systems, struggling to deal with the rapidly shifting health care industry.

“I am working like hell to make sure that we can sustain this organization for the long term because of the community dependence on what we do for them,” Brickman said.

The strategic plan could take up to a year-and-a-half to complete. In the meantime, Brickman is moving forward with other changes, including replacing CMHC’s chief financial officer.

Nonprofit CMHC is the parent of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, as well as Rumford and Bridgton hospitals, the Dempsey Center, the Central Maine Heart and Vascular Institute and a collection of medical practices throughout central and western Maine. Its service area covers about 320,000 people and, with 4,200 workers, CMHC is one of the largest employers in the area.

Brickman, who’s spent nearly four decades helping lead hospitals and health care systems around the country, took over as CEO in September. He replaced Peter Chalke, who retired after 33 years at CMHC, 14 of them as CEO.

Brickman told the Sun Journal in October that he planned to spend his first months in Lewiston learning about CMHC, from both people and data, to get a better sense of what he’d propose for the system’s future.

In November, Brickman told employees that consulting firm Kaufman Hall had been hired to help him develop a “transformational strategic plan.” Such a plan, he said, will address CMHC’s long-standing needs, including those involving facilities, programs, technology, employee pay, recruitment and retention.

Brickman told the Sun Journal this week he’s used Kaufman Hall “almost my whole life” to help him assess the various health systems. The firm, he said, will compare CMHC to other systems nationally, regionally and in Maine, looking at performance, quality, finances and other measures.  

“We’re really going through that deep, deep, deep dive to really understand how we sit as an organization,” he said.

Brickman declined to say how much Kaufman Hall will cost CMHC except to say it will be “a lot of money” and “a very significant investment in resources” that will be taken out of CMHC’s strategic reserves.

He said he didn’t want to name the amount because “Without the right type of context . . . we’re really trying to get people to look at the higher-level aspirational goals that we’re going to try to achieve and not allow some of the detail to obscure what people really need to focus on. And that’s how to get better, so we can better serve our communities.”

He acknowledged the deep dive will take time.

“I don’t like to work in an organization that feels that everything they do has to be rushed,” Brickman said. “One thing you should know, I’m slowing everything down to make better decisions for our organization. That’s why we’re using Kaufman Hall, to really slow things down and make some decisions about our future.”

Those decisions could change CMHC, its hospitals and doctors’ offices. It’s unclear yet what those changes will be, but Brickman said there could be impacts on programs and services, how and where CMHC serves patients and how CMHC is structured.

Employees could also see an impact at some point.

“It’s too early to know (about layoffs), but I think part of what we’re doing is (asking) ‘How do we work through these set of issues and really minimize the impact on a lot of our staff?'” Brickman said.

He said CMHC would look first at other ways to save money, such as reducing the costs of supplies and delivering care more efficiently.

System spokeswoman Ericka Dodge said no part of CMHC is currently in danger of closing, adding, “That’s not our strategy.” She noted, however, that Brickman is still gathering information about the state of the system.  

“His strategic plan is to ensure that (CMHC) is here for another 125-plus years,” she said.

Although CMHC had a $9.8 million profit in fiscal year 2015, it lost money in fiscal year 2016. Dodge said the amount of that shortfall will not be publicly available for a couple of weeks.

As Kaufman Hall starts its work, Brickman has already moved forward with some changes.

This week he announced the hiring of David Thompson as CFO. Brickman worked with Thompson for five years at Centura Health, the Colorado health system Brickman served before CMHC. 

Thompson replaces current CFO Phil Morissette, who will now serve as vice president of finance and controller for CMHC. 

Brickman has also created the position of vice president for human resources.

“We did not have a senior executive for human resources in a people-oriented organization such as ours, so I started a search to find a senior executive who could help me work with our frontline staff to work on culture, to work on recruitment, to work on retention, to work on talent development, to work on leadership development,” he said.

CMHC is not the only Maine hospital system dealing with financial problems or struggling to navigate the ever-changing landscape of health care — likely to change even more since president-elect Donald Trump has said he plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and transform health care.

MaineHealth, the largest health care system in the state, recently announced that it is thinking of consolidating all of its member health systems under a single authority, removing local control in an effort to save money and better navigate the changing health care industry. At least three MaineHealth hospitals, including Franklin Memorial in Farmington, are losing money. Outside MaineHealth, a host of other Maine hospitals are reported to be operating in the red.  

 “At the end of the day, we recognize our responsibility to take care of the communities we serve,” Brickman said of CMHC. “It’s very, very important that the communities understand that we’re not ducking from the challenges, that we’re addressing the challenges head-on, and everything that we’re doing is to ensure the sustainability and quality of services that we’ve spent 125 years building, that we want to continue.”

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Central Maine Healthcare:

Service area: About 320,000 people

Number of employees: 4,200

Number of hospitals: 3

Fiscal year 2015: $9.8 million profit

Fiscal year 2016: Shortfall (not yet released)


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