Sebec residents favor HAD 4 charter amendments for citizens vote on merger

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SEBEC — Citizens of the 13 Hospital Administration District 4 member communities should have a voice in determining the fate of the potential merger between the district’s Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft and the statewide Northern Light Health system, Sebec residents indicated with their vote at a special town meeting during the evening of March 21 at the Harland A. Ladd Municipal Building.

In order for any merger to go forward — both the HAD 4 board of directors and the Northern Light Health directors have given approval to the agreement in its current state with more formal votes to be taken — state regulators must approve the deal and the Legislature must also agree to eliminate the HAD 4 charter initially approved in the 1970s. Sebec residents gave their approval via a 17-5 vote to request the Legislature amend the charter with the addition of four sections.

“The procedure that is being pursued to cut out everybody is the problem as I see it,” said Gerald Nessman, Sebec’s HAD 4 representative. Last month Nessman was one three directors to vote against the merger agreement in a 15-3 decision. “I really don’t think the board has the authority to do this,” he said.

The 161-page merger agreement is available at Mayo Regional Hospital officials have said that joining with Northern Light Health will help the hospital survive after years of operating losses.

Per the HAD 4 charter, which has been amended seven times since 1973, there are provisions for dissolving the hospital but not for merging with another healthcare system. Nessman said all 13 towns would need to be in the affirmative for dissolution per the charter.

The near three pages of amendment language specifies HAD 4 “shall always be governed by the citizens of the established district towns and plantations and shall not be governed independently or autonomously in its existence by any board or administration save that for all decisions and actions necessary relating to personnel, medical, and surgical supplies and equipment and day to day operations shall only be in purview of the Board of Directors but the exercising of these duties shall not be construed as a right to exempt the citizens of, district Town and Plantations, their legal rights to the governing oversight of the body politic and corporate now known as ‘Hospital Administration District No. 4.’”

Other amendments provide guidelines for fulfilling information requests made by members of the board of directors as well as the sale of district real estate in the event of a merger.

The last of the four amendments being proposed requested states “no amendment to this Charter set forth by the State Legislature shall be enforceable as law unless the citizens of each member Town and Plantations agree to incorporate said changes or amendments” using the same procedures established elsewhere in the document.

During a public information session before the special town meeting, Sebec Select Chair Walt Emmons said the proposed HAD 4 charter amendments requests to the Legislature were developed in Cambridge and approved at the Somerset County community’s annual town meeting earlier in the month.

“Basically because the charter does not have a provision for doing anything but closing the hospital and paying the bills and distributing the assets to the member communities, this is a suggestion to the Legislature to modify the charter,” Emmons said.

“This was drafted so towns will still have a vote by the townspeople,” he said. “I assume this would refer to a vote that would be done as a special election in town rather than a town meeting vote, either way the people would have the power to make a vote on the merger of the hospital.”

“It is my personal preference in towns that have been on the hook for the bills of the hospital, it would also be nice to have a say in how we hand off the hospital if that’s what we choose to do,” Emmons said.

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