FARMINGTON — The health care climate for the upcoming year will be challenging, but Franklin Community Health Network officials said Monday that they are optimistic about the challenges after joining a Portland-based health network.

The Farmington-based network held its annual meeting Monday and, per tradition, reviewed the challenges and successes of the previous fiscal year, which ended June 30. Effective Wednesday, the network will be an official member of MaineHealth, and officials said in the coming year their membership with the larger system should help them find ways to save and increase services.

The network operated at a $7.3 million loss for the year ending June 30, 2013, and after making major changes, operated at a $3.4 million loss for the last fiscal year.

Joseph Bujold, president of the hospital board of trustees, said last year the board looked at challenges in health care and realized the problems the network faced were not going away.

“In fact, you could argue that they will accelerate,” he said.

So he said the board started to do its homework and research larger networks to see what would be a good fit for the Farmington based network.

Among the challenges the hospital faced last year, President and CEO Rebecca Arsenault said hospital staff struggled to adapt to constant changing regulations that required more people to keep up with.

“The regulations have been mounting faster than we can keep track of them,” she said.

Revenue is down from last year, said Arsenault, in part because of decreased government and private insurance reimbursements.

During that fiscal year, the network billed patients for $159.7 million in services, but lost $86.2 million in amounts not compensated for by Medicare, MaineCare and other insurance companies. The hospital also provided $4.2 million in charity care.

She said another reason revenue is down is because people overall are seeking less care.

“Particularly if they have out of pocket expenses,” she said.

Recruitment and retention of doctors and nurses has also been an ongoing challenge that continued through the past year.

“The demand is high so people can choose,” said Arsenault.

Arsenault said the network is still working with MaineHealth to find ways they could save money together, but expects to find savings in insurance, legal services and sharing supply chains.

She said they are working to share clinical services with other members in the region to expand those services. For example, the hospital will offer cardiology services five days a week now instead of part-time and is working with St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston to share orthopedics.

“This is a real breakthrough for us,” said Arsenault.

The larger network also has the resources for analyzing the health and wellness of a community that the smaller health network was not able to gather.

She said MaineHealth is also looking at ways the arrangement would not only help the Franklin County network, but at ways the network could help MaineHealth.

In the past year, Arsenault said the network had successes in expanding behavioral health, forming a new pediatric walk-in service, promoting domestic violence awareness and in securing grants for the Healthy Community Coalition program.

Arsenault said they expanded Evergreen Behavioral Services by offering case management for adults and children at the service.

She said the program took eight months to set up and is meeting a community need. In the past year, the service also started offering cranial electrotherapy, which Arsenault said is a “clinically relevant model for some patients with mental illnesses.”

She said the behavioral health staff should be acknowledged for their success because when it comes to reimbursements, through government or private insurance, “from week to week, month to month, the funding level is always in flux.”

The network also started a new pediatric-walk in service where parents can come by with their chidlren and see if the child should stay home from school or is too sick to go to daycare. The service, said Arsenault, has been “a huge success” in meeting a community need.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]