Does Your Community Have a Right to Healthcare?

Posted Friday, August 22, 2014 in Customer Culture by Patricia Seybold

Guess what? The Governor of Maine will soon be my neighbor! Paul LePage and I don’t see eye to eye on politics. He’s a Tea Party Republican. I’m a Liberal Democrat. But, when I met with him last summer to ask for his help to save our local hospital, he told me that he and his wife were shopping for a second home on the Boothbay peninsula. I told him we’d be pleased to welcome him as a neighbor. I recommended that he take advantage of our crashed real estate prices and glut of properties on the market due to the then-imminent closure of our local community hospital. Then I added, “after you take advantage of our low real estate prices, you could help us save our local hospital, you’d have 24/7 local emergency care for yourselves and your guests, and your property value would rise!”

Boothbay Urgent Care Drawing by Dolores RollinsMany people buy second homes and vacation homes on the scenic Boothbay peninsula and then find themselves deciding to live here year round. That’s what happened to me. It’s a wonderful place to vacation and an even nicer place to live once all the seasonal residents have gone back south.

When I sent the governor a thank you note for meeting with our small team of community hospital advocates, I sent along a set of real estate listings for the Boothbay region.

Last week, Paul and his wife Anne bought a foreclosed property down the road from us. It caused quite a stir! I don’t think my note had anything to do with their plans coming to fruition. But, now, the question remains. As a seasonal resident, will Paul LePage regret any of the actions he has taken that have led to the shuttering of the only healthcare safety net we had? He has refused Medicaid funding in Maine. And he has refused to become involved in our local struggle, despite the fact that he really doesn’t like our main adversary at all.

In our meeting, Paul LePage told us candidly that he was not a fan of the CEO of MaineHealth, Bill Caron (a CPA by background). He finds him to be an “arrogant bully.” (His words, but they echo my sentiments.) He said that he didn’t like monopolies and felt that there should be more competition in the healthcare market. But he also said there “are too many hospitals in Maine. We can’t afford this many.” And that the decision was out of his hands. The democratic Attorney General (the AG is appointed by the legislature, not the Governor, in Maine), Janet Mills, had already determined that our hospital closure was not illegal. And he didn’t think that the Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Mary Mayhew (a Republican appointed by LePage), would get involved, because there was no need for a Certificate of Need (CON) process to close a hospital.

Fast forward three months. Our lawyer informed the DHHS that a Certificate of Need was required to merge two hospitals (which is what MaineHealth wound up doing). A public hearing was held retroactively (after the merger took place that resulted in our hospital’s closure).

After appearing on a radio talk show in February, 2014, criticizing LePage’s lack of action, I received a hand-written note from him, with a terse sentence. “In retrospect, a CON should have been required.” He felt comfortable making that statement because the hospital mergers in question actually took place in 2008 and 2013. The first one was not on his administration’s watch. It was under a Democratic governor.

So, now, Paul LePage’s first term is coming to a close. He’s running for re-election. He’s moving down the street from me. The two strong women in his administration—Janet Mills, the Democratic Attorney General, and Mary Mayhew, the Republican Commissioner of DHHS—are planning to run for Governor of Maine in four years against one another. The three of them hold the fate of our community in their hands. This is just part of the backdrop and context of the battle the people in my community have been fighting for two years.

Our local community healthcare story is also playing out in hundreds of communities across this country. It’s not really about politics. It’s about how customers can regain control over a vital service. It’s our insurance dollars and our tax dollars that pay for our healthcare, and yet we have no say over what services are available or how much they cost. Other communities are reacting the way ours is: we want to take control over the decisions about what services should be available to us.

A Community Fights for Its Right to Healthcare
Customers Enlist Regulators to Preserve Services in Boothbay, Maine
By Patricia B. Seybold, CEO and Sr. Consultant, August 22, 2014



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