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Public hearing Thursday on hospital plans to join MaineHealth

By Erik Eisele
CONWAY — For the second time since November, Memorial Hospital officials will be at the Red Jacket Resort on Thursday discussing their plan to become a subsidiary of Maine Medical Center's parent company.
The hearing, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., is "to discuss the hospital's decision to become a member of the MaineHealth system," according to a Memorial Hospital statement.
And when hospital officials says "membership," what they mean is "ownership." CEO Scott McKinnon made that clear at the last hearing.
"It is an ownership model," he said back in November. "It is a membership model, which is an ownership model."
"Memorial will continue to provide the same basic health programs and services," Memorial said in a statement last month announcing the board of trustee's approval of the agreement. "Its operating margin and charitable assets, including buildings, equipment and charitable endowments, will continue to be controlled locally by its board of trustees."
MaineHealth will, however, gain "reserved powers," according to the statement, "including input on Memorial's operations, for example, budgeting, services and approval of CEO selection, based on recommendations of the Memorial Board."
"This arrangement gives us the strong partner we need to ensure a healthy future for our hospital," McKinnon said in the statement. "MaineHealth is a good fit for Memorial and the Mount Washington Valley community."
Not everyone agrees, however. Former Memorial trustee George Epstein, who first resigned from the board in protest of what he called a lack of due diligence in handling the review of possible affiliation options, continues to point to what he sees as problems with the proposal. Memorial Hospital is looking at paying for the privilege of being owned, he said last November. "We're going to pay $250,000 a year to be taken over," he said, and MaineHealth is not obligated to put any money into Memorial.
"Numerous hospital staff members have told me they have been flat-out threatened with their jobs if they speak out publicly in opposition to the deal," Epstein said in a column he wrote for the Sun on Wednesday. "The Memorial Hospital has served our community and been supported by our community for 100 years, and now a small group of individuals wishing for anonymity and secrecy wish to hand it over to a Maine corporation. Is this how we do things in the valley?"
Epstein continues to criticize the board for the deal and way the entire process has been handled. In his column he urged residents to come to Thursday's meeting and demand clear answers. "Don't get blown off with vague generalities," he said.
The public, meanwhile, is caught in the middle, with few definitive answers about who is right and who is wrong. State regulators still have to review the deal, but Thursday's meeting will likely be the last time hospital officials discuss it in a public forum.
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