BRIDGTON ā€” A longtime Bridgton Hospital board member has resigned from the Central Maine Healthcare board and any affiliated boards and committees, saying he is worried about health care access in his town and no longer comfortable with decisions being made at CMHC.

Philip Libby resigned Wednesday, effective immediately. His resignation is the latest twist in a tumultuous several months for the health system.

Philip Libby

“Personally, I’m concerned about my personal liability … as a director,” Libby said Thursday. “I was not and have not been happy with the direction that the organization has been taking.”

CMHC leaders said they appreciate Libby’s service to the hospital system but do not understand his decision to resign.

“He hasn’t attended any meeting I’ve been at nor engaged with me outside of a brief interaction at Hannaford,” said Peter Wright, who started as president of Bridgton and Rumford hospitals last month. “I think it’s fair to say he certainly hasn’t given me a chance. IĀ  don’t think he’s given the system a chance as of recently.”

CMHC is one of the largest health systems in Maine, and one of the largest employers in the area. It owns Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Bridgton Hospital, Rumford Hospital and a collection of medical practices in more than a dozen communities.

Libby, a Bridgton businessman, joined the board for Bridgton Hospital about 25 years ago. He served as chairman for 12 years.

Libby joined the CMHC board, which oversees the entire health system, last year. He also continued to serve on the Lakes Region Community Health Committee, formerly the Bridgton Hospital board.

“Bridgton Hospital was a great, great institution that won many, many national awards recently,” Libby said. “With the change in management in Central Maine (Healthcare), there’s obviously been much turmoil within the entire system, and that turmoil has resulted in a tremendous loss of availability of services and accessibility of services in the Bridgton area.”

That turmoil became public last summer, when members of the medical staffs at all three hospitals issued votes of no confidence in CEO Jeff Brickman. One day after CMHC’s board voted to keep Brickman as CEO, the president of Bridgton and Rumford hospitals resigned.

In August, CMHC acknowledged 27% of its doctors had left over the past year. Current and former staff members told the Sun Journal that doctors were fleeing CMHC because of Brickman’s management, a perceived lack of concern for employees and patients and what some called a “toxic” atmosphere.

Earlier this year, a citizens’ group proclaimed CMHC was failing Bridgton Hospital and the Lakes Region by, among other things, not keeping enough doctors in the area. Representatives for the group said they wanted CMHC to step aside so someone else could take over care in the area.

Libby said Thursday he has watched Bridgton lose doctors and he does not like it.

“The access and availability of services just isn’t what it was,” Libby said. “Consequently, a tremendous amount of the patients down here, in my opinion, have followed providers to other hospitals.”

He said he is particularly concerned about the lack of primary care.

“Central Maine for the last four months or so has made a concentrated effort to improve access, but all you’ve got to do is call and try to get an appointment with your existing or prior primary care physician and realize it’s not an easy thing to do, even today,” he said.

Libby is also worried about the lack of surgeons for the hospital. He said he knows of just one, and that doctor is very part time.

“There hasn’t been coverage here more than one day a week for a while,” he said.

Libby said he could not serve CMHC any longer.

“I felt that I was in a minority on that board and my advice was no longer respected, nor was it followed by top management,” he said. “I just felt I had no real choice but to move on. I did not want to be part of it.”

Brickman and Wright acknowledged the Bridgton area has recently lost 10 doctors and nurse practitioners. They said the system has since brought 14 or 15 doctors and nurse practitioners to Bridgton, some who work in the area part time. They expect the area will be fully staffed for primary care this summer.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Wright said.

He said patients can get the care they need now, even if it is not with the first doctor they chose.

“As these new providers come on, there’s some load balancing that happens. But the rest of the folks in the area have been taking care of the community quite well, albeit not what in patients might expect to be the time frame, but that changes every day,” Wright said.

“You can get an appointment today with someone within our system, if you need to see a primary care provider. It might not be the person you called to see right away. That might take a couple of days to a week.”

Brickman and Wright also said Bridgton Hospital is staffed by specialty surgeons on different days, though the lone general surgeon does operate there only one day a week. A surgical clinic is also open two days a week for office visits and evaluations. Hospital leaders believe that is enough for the moment.

“That level of service is exactly what we need right now,” Wright said. “We don’t have more volume.”

They said they take seriously concerns about medical care in Bridgton, and are working to improve things with new hires, a new walk-in clinic and a new strategic plan.

“On all accounts, access is improving, patient satisfaction is high,” Wright said.

CMHC must now fill Libby’s seats on the CMHC board and the Lakes Region Community Health Committee. Brickman said the health system has a “pipeline of candidates” it will consider. The board must approve any new members.

“I think it’s always a loss when you lose somebody who has been on the board for quite some time,” Brickman said, “but I also think it’s an opportunity to bring someone in with a new perspective.”

It is likely to take several months before a new member is elected.

This will be at least the fifth new member in recent months. The CMHC board added four people in December.

“We want to thank Phil for all of his years of service,” Brickman said. “We’ll find the appropriate way to recognize him for his years of service at a future date, but the organization continues to grow stronger.”

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