LEWISTON — About half of the state’s hospitals are losing money, including both medical centers in Lewiston.

It has some people worried about the future of medical care in Maine.

“Our guys are big community institutions that don’t like going around scaring people and threatening things, oftentimes almost to a fault where the public didn’t know things were so tough,” said Jeff Austin, spokesman for the Maine Hospital Association. “They should know, things are tough and services and access are in jeopardy.”

According to the Maine Health Data Organization, about half of Maine’s 36 hospitals lost money in 2014. Maine Hospital Association data shows about half of Maine hospitals were in the red in 2015 and 2016.

Locally, only Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway and Mid Coast-Parkview Health in Brunswick made money last year.

Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Rumford Hospital and Bridgton Hospital — all part of Central Maine Healthcare — lost a combined $12 million in 2016.


St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center lost $1.5 million.

Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington has lost millions in recent years and continued to lose money in 2016. Its latest financial audit has not yet finished, so it’s unclear exactly how much that shortfall was last year. 

Losses happen for a variety of reasons.

Some say more employers are offering high-deductible health insurance plans that make workers pay several thousand dollars for health care before insurance kicks in. Workers can’t afford the cost but still need medical care, so more hospital bills are going unpaid.

Some hospitals say they care for a significant number of Medicare and Medicaid patients and those rates are low and getting lower.

Some hospitals, particularly mid-sized ones, say they’re seeing fewer surgeries as people put off care or shift to major medical centers.


Central Maine Healthcare’s CEO said his hospital system lost most of its $12 million last year because it became ineligible for a federal program that pays hospitals to provide medication to poor patients. Central Maine Healthcare wasn’t serving enough of those patients.

“When that went away, it underscored that we had a number of issues we had to address and had to address very quickly,” Central Maine Healthcare CEO Jeff Brickman said. “That’s been the work I’ve been involved in in the last four and a half months.”

Last week, Central Maine Healthcare announced it was laying off 28 people and partnering with the local YMCA to take over its fitness and wellness center. It also dropped plans to become an anchor tenant at Bates Mill No. 5 because it would have lost too much federal money if it set up an outpatient facility there and it couldn’t afford that.

Central Maine Healthcare is also in the middle of developing what the CEO has called a “transformational” plan for its future, including its financial future. 

Central Maine Healthcare isn’t the only hospital looking for ways to handle financial problems. In December, Maine’s largest hospital system announced a new tactic to deal with losses: It’s considering consolidating all of its members under a single authority, with a unified financial system, to save money and better navigate the changing health care industry.

Four of MaineHealth’s eight hospitals, including Franklin Memorial, are in the red. Four are in the black.


“Being able to smooth all this out is a big reason why we want to look at our structure,” said MaineHealth spokesman John Porter.

Although some hospitals have been dealing with money problems for years, many are particularly worried right now. So much in health care is currently uncertain — and may not end up in hospitals’ favor.

President Donald Trump has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and he has the backing of the Republican majority. Depending on its replacement, if there is a replacement, tens of thousands of Mainers could lose their health insurance. Hospital leaders fear that could lead to greater losses for them, with more people skipping out on medical bills and more poor patients needing charity care.  

Gov. Paul LePage has proposed several health care changes in his latest biennial budget, including cuts to MaineCare payments, cuts to state-funded ER visits, cuts to MaineCare eligibility and an increase in a tax that affects hospitals.

“We’re absolutely hammered in this budget . . . It’s grim out there,” said Austin with the Maine Hospital Association. “There are lines where you can’t go back, where it’s too late and once it’s lost, it’s gone. I don’t know where that line is for each of Maine’s 36 hospitals.”

With half of Maine’s hospitals already losing money, hospital leaders say there isn’t a lot of leeway for dealing with future troubles. For some that could mean more layoffs. For others, something bigger — like consolidation or closure. 

Some just don’t know yet.

“We have to be prepared to make changes constantly. That’s our new normal as we go forward,” Brickman said. “Nothing can be seen as a given until we have a clear national and state policy that dictates how we’re going to take care of our patients, how we’ll be paid for taking care of our patients.”

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