Opinion

Rep. Stearns feels citizens’ vote would clarify what they want to happen with their hospital

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One of the most pressing and important issues is the proposed merger between HAD #4 and Northern Light (formerly Eastern Maine Health Care).

HAD #4 is the last remaining Hospital Administrative District in Maine. The HAD board of directors has been analyzing this issue for some time, and recently voted 15-3 to move ahead with the necessary steps for the merger.

Rep. Paul Stearns, R-Guilford

Rep. Paul Stearns,
R-Guilford

Increasing operating costs, a high percentage of clients that are uninsured or are in programs that pay rates that do not cover the cost of services, extreme difficulty in recruiting doctors, ambulance system costs and regulatory requirements are some of the key issues driving the decision of the board.

Since its formation in 1973, HAD #4 has always had the power to levy a property tax assessment to the member communities if needed. The majority of the board has decided that this will be necessary if changes are not made. While Mayo Regional Hospital is the flagship asset of the HAD the system involves other clinics and programs as well.

The formation of the HAD required legislative action in 1973, as the charter created an entity with taxing authority. To change the charter in order to facilitate a merger/dissolution and transfer of assets from the HAD to Northern Light will require legislative action as well.

The board has approached the legislators with towns in the HAD to submit such legislation. The legislators include myself, Rep. Higgins of Dover-Foxcroft, Rep. Foster of Dexter, Rep. Stetkis of Cannan, Rep. Lockman of Bradford and Sen. Davis of Sangerville. One thing that has been apparent during our discussions is that everyone understands and agrees upon how important excellent medical and health care services are to the area.

The HAD charter language addresses the powers and restrictions of the board of directors. We all elect board members to provide oversight in most of these matters. However, section 11 of the charter states specifically that if the HAD dissolves it will take a positive vote by the citizens in each town of the HAD, in a town meeting format, for dissolution to occur. It also states that at that time most assets will be returned to the towns. While it is fair to say that this is a very high bar, perhaps too high, and that the asset transfer language does not work with the currently proposed plan, it is my opinion that the charter specifically reserves these important decisions to the citizens of each town. Here is the section 11 language:

Sec. 11. Dissolution The district may be dissolved only if all member towns and plantations agree to dissolve it by vote at legally constituted town or plantation meetings in said such towns or plantations. If the hospital district has any outstanding indebtedness, it may not be dissolved.

In the event of dissolution of the hospital district, all property, real, personal or mixed, shall be marshaled and converted into cash in a manner to be determined by a majority vote of the board of directors and distribution shall then be made among the respective towns and plantations in proportion to their state valuations as herein set forth in this chapter.

While legislation could be submitted immediately on behalf of the board, I believe that to do so would place a decision reserved for the citizens of HAD 4 directly with the Maine Legislature. I represent the citizens in seven of the towns in the HAD, and I believe that given the information and opportunity, the townspeople will make the right decision. The results of a vote by the citizens would indicate to legislators that the process in the charter had been followed and would hopefully provide more clarity to what the people want to happen with their hospital and health care services.

Rep. Stearns represents House District 119, Abbot, Beaver Cove, Bowerbank, Greenville, Guilford, Monson, Parkman, Sangerville, Sebec, Shirley, Willimantic plus the unorganized territories of Blanchard Township, Northeast Piscataquis (including Barnard and Elliottsville Townships) and Northwest Piscataquis.

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