Barbra Sergio, left, reads from her notes as she shares with the Wilton Select Board on Tuesday, Feb. 6, on what changes are in store for Franklin Memorial Hospital. The hospital will be changing to a critical access hospital, which means a reduction in bed count for increased government reimbursement. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

WILTON — President of Franklin Community Health Network Barbara Sergio came to the Wilton Board of Selectpersons on Tuesday, Feb. 6, to clarify some misconceptions about the upcoming changes to Franklin Memorial Hospital [FMH] in terms of becoming a critical access hospital.

The change to critical access hospital was announced in June of last year, with FMH holding an open forum to go over what the change in status would mean for the hospital and the community. The changes included reducing the bed count from 65 to 25, a move that Sergio stated was a “vital step for the future of Franklin Memorial Hospital.”

At the Feb. 6 meeting in Wilton, Sergio stated that she has spent the last six to nine months speaking with different town selectboards on what this change means to their community, as well as to clear up some misconceptions.

Sergio stated that the change was initiated when the federal government altered the criteria for critical access hospitals. Previously, hospitals could not apply for critical access hospital status if they were less than 35 miles from a hospital or another critical access hospital.

Sergio said that their proximity to Rumford Hospital, in Rumford, and Bridgton Hospital, in Bridgton, made FMH ineligible for critical access hospital status. However, several rural hospitals petitioned to change this to “more than 35 miles from a hospital or another critical access hospital or more than 15 miles in mountainous terrain or only secondary roads.”

“It sounds scary when you talk about licensing for fewer beds,” Sergio stated. “I want to go through that a little bit in detail and give people an opportunity to ask questions or have contact information to do so.”


According to Sergio, the federal government began to address the concerns of small rural hospitals closing due to financial difficulties sometime in the 1980s. Congress created critical access hospitals as part of the Rural Hospital Flexibility Program in 1997 as a way to help sustain these smaller rural hospitals.

The program is designed to help states improve access to health care services in rural areas through the development of limited service hospitals and rural health networks, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. By transitioning into a critical access hospital, FMH will receive increased federal reimbursement for the true cost of delivering care.

Sergio stated that FMH had licensed 65 beds for the hospital, but it has not utilized those 65 beds for the last 10 to 15 years by her estimates. She added that FMH currently has 48 physical beds, but the hospital does not exceed an average daily census of 21 people in inpatient care.

She followed this by stating that during the COVID-19 pandemic, they barely tipped over 25 inpatients, but those numbers have reduced back to normal.

“Several months back,” Sergio stated, “We applied to the state to reduce our bed count, which caused a little bit of stir in the newspapers. What the public didn’t know of that article, because we didn’t have the ability to comment on it or to provide information, was that we don’t have 65 physical beds to start with, and we haven’t used 25 inpatients in a long time.”

Vice-Chair Mike Wells asked what will happen to those remaining beds once the hospital reduces its bed count. Sergio stated that no physical changes will occur to the floor plan and those beds and rooms will remain in the event of a pandemic or natural disaster.

Sergio also stated that hospital staffing and services will remain intact. Wilton resident Nick Santora asked Sergio if the hospital was contracting nursing agencies to fill out their staffing positions, to which she said they were.

“Nobody ever wants to have travel staff in their facility,” she said. “It’s never an ideal thing.”

Sergio stated that when she started working at the hospital five years ago, they had no travel staff. During COVID-19, the hospital saw a significant departure in staff due to multiple reasons. At one point, the hospital utilized 40 travel staff in nursing, radiology and physical therapy, but FMH has managed to reduce that number to nine.

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