On April 29, I awoke with a serious medical problem and had my wife call 911 to take me to our new hospital for emergency treatment. Shortly after arriving around 5:15 a.m., I was told that no beds were available and that I needed to be transferred as soon as possible to either Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor or Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.
I was stunned by this news, as I was sure this new state-of-the-art facility would be able to meet my needs. My medical problems, however, would mandate a hospital stay of at best a few days. The hospital staff apologized and told me this has been a frequent occurrence since the new facility opened its doors.
When the new hospital was built, I didn’t like the idea it was moved out of downtown. Little did I know, however, just how far I might have to go for a hospital stay or how much of a burden it would place on my wife and family.
The emergency room doctor told me I needed to make a decision quickly because the Lewiston hospital had only one bed left. Since Lewiston was my first choice, arrangements were made and I was transferred to Lewiston about 2 p.m. Before I continue, I want to thank the MaineGeneral emergency staff and the Augusta paramedic team who took me to the hospital, first in Augusta and then to Lewiston. I also want to thank my Central Maine Medical Center doctors, nurses, lab and endoscopy staff for their excellent care and compassion during my hospital stay.
After I returned home on May 1, I decided to do some research to see why we had a new hospital without enough beds to serve a growing aging population. A Kennebec Journal article dated Dec. 13 included the following information:
â€¢ In 2010, MaineGeneral was licensed for 287 beds between its Waterville and Augusta campuses.
â€¢ Currently, the new MaineGeneral Medical Center has only 192 beds.
â€¢ MaineGeneral initially proposed a 226-bed hospital to accommodate in-patient services offered at its Thayer campus in Waterville and the East Chestnut Street hospital in Augusta, both of which would be absorbed into the new hospital.
â€¢ State regulators ordered a cut of 34 beds and a corresponding reduction in the size of the proposed building. Hospital officials sought a compromise, offering to reduce the beds — all of which are in private rooms — by 10. Alternatively, they asked to build shell space so up to 34 beds could be added later. Both requests were denied.
The lack of bed space at the new hospital is a serious problem, as I learned firsthand.
After my initial hesitation about its location, I came to support the new hospital and went on the Sept. 29 grand opening tour. I felt very secure we would receive excellent treatment at my community hospital. Little did I know, however, that state regulators had required the hospital to reduce its proposed beds by almost one-third, from 287 to 192.
Because of this bed crisis, all Central Maine residents need to realize that whenever they require hospitalization — even in emergency situations — their transfer to another hospital — in Bangor, Lewiston or even somewhere else — is not only possible, but probable. Patients have been transferred on a regular basis ever since the new hospital opened.
My main concern was not the treatment I would receive to the Lewiston hospital but the added distance to that facility. My family had to travel hundreds of miles during the week to visit me during my stay; some patients’ families might have to incur the cost of a hotel room.
It is bad enough to have a loved one in the hospital with a serious problem. Being transferred to another hospital because of bad bureaucratic decisions is unacceptable.
Obviously, this problem is ongoing and not going away. All parties need to get together soon to re-evaluate what is happening and find a better solution for the residents of Central Maine. We deserve better and, with our aging population, this problem is only going to get worse. I encourage others to join me in asking their legislators to get involved, to learn why the number of beds was reduced so severely, and how we can fix the problem.
I am not looking for excuses; I am looking for a serious discussion. This is a serious problem, and failure to find a solution is not an option.
David H. Crockett is retired senior supervisor and project manager from the Bath Iron Works engineering department. An Augusta native, he is a lifelong resident of the capital area.