MaineHealth is taking the next step in a plan to merge all of its member organizations into a single nonprofit entity that would make financial decisions for the entire group.

Based in Portland, MaineHealth is the parent entity of Maine Medical Center and nine other health care networks, including Franklin Community Health Network, Western Maine Health, Maine Behavioral Healthcare, Memorial Hospital in New Hampshire and Southern Maine Health Care. It is Maine’s largest health care system with about 18,000 employees.

The organization said Thursday that nine of its 10 members’ boards of trustees have voted to seek community feedback on the concept of merging all of its affiliated health systems into one nonprofit MaineHealth entity. Memorial Hospital, the only member located outside of Maine, has yet to vote because of additional regulatory hurdles, representatives said.

The next step will be to organize community meetings in areas where MaineHealth affiliates operate to answer questions and receive input on the merger plan, they said. That feedback will be taken into consideration when deciding whether to unite the organizations in the fall.

“We knew that we wanted to hit the pause button at this point and reach out to our communities,” Maine Medical Center board Chairman Bill Burke said during a media conference call.

The proposal would unify all 11 separate nonprofits into a single organization with one board that would make decisions for the entire system. However, Burke and others said each member would retain a local board that would provide feedback and recommendations to the parent board.

When MaineHealth first announced the unification plan in December, some affiliate members objected to the idea of giving up local control.

Burke said the community meetings will allow MaineHealth to clear up misconceptions about how the organization would operate under one umbrella.

“People can make things up and spread rumors,” he said. “We want to dispel a lot of those things.”

MaineHealth already has consolidated some functions such as human resources, information technology and finance. Physicians also are being shared among some health systems, such as between Waldo County General Hospital and Pen Bay Medical Center.

Throughout the summer, MaineHealth member organizations will meet with individuals and community groups to explain the unification proposal and answer questions. Each organization also plans to hold at least one public forum between now and the end of August.

A final decision on unification will be made in the fall. If approved, the new corporate structure would be implemented in late 2018.

Suzannah Swihart, chairwoman of the MaineHealth Board of Trustees, said unification would give the organization more flexibility to deliver the needed resources to patients.

“This is all about giving our patients better and better care,” she said.

This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. June 9 to clarify the process MaineHealth intends to use to seek feedback.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

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Twitter: @jcraiganderson