Peter Wright, president of Bridgton Hospital and Rumford Hospital, answers questions at his Rumford office Tuesday. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

RUMFORD — Peter Wright knows people have not been happy with the way Central Maine Healthcare has been running things.

There was last summer’s turmoil, including no-confidence votes from hospital medical staff over Central Maine Healthcare CEO Jeff Brickman.

There was the fact that the last president of the Bridgton and Rumford hospitals resigned a day after the Central Maine Healthcare board voted to keep Brickman.

And there was the situation last month, when a citizens’ group proclaimed CMHC was failing Bridgton Hospital and the Lakes Region. At the time, Wright stood in front of the Bridgton Board of Selectmen to help defend the health system.

He had been hired as the new president of Bridgton and Rumford hospitals, but he had not officially started yet.

Now, a couple of weeks into the job, Wright is optimistic the worst is over.

“The moment you think you’re done, you should retire,” he said. “But we’re through the tough times. … At least in my mind.

“Maybe there are some other people who don’t think we’re done yet, but, you know, I’m the president of the organization, and from my perspective we’re done having those debates. We understand what the community wants.”

What the community wants, he believes: Local primary care; access to specialists close to home; and low-cost, high-quality care. And he believes CMHC is moving in those directions.

“It’s not overnight,” Wright said. “Nothing in health care is overnight. But we’ve done the things we need to do to reassure that access will be there.

“The story is we’re bringing more specialists to the community so people will have to travel less. We’re expanding access to primary care. We’re talking about master facility planning … and upgrading our space.”

Wright, 46, grew up in New Jersey, moved to Vermont for college and graduated with a degree in business administration from what was then Lyndon State College, now Northern Vermont University. He held a variety of jobs in the ski industry, broadcasting, marketing and other fields. He never considered health care until a friend encouraged him to apply for a marketing and public relations job with Copley Hospital in Morrisville, Vermont.

Wright got the job, but he almost didn’t. The CEO had thrown away Wright’s résumé because he lacked health care experience. Wright’s friend pulled it out of the trash and urged the CEO to interview him.

“I call him June 6 every year, which was my first day at Copley Hospital, and I thank him for changing my life,” Wright said. “Because I had worked in a variety of different industries, but it wasn’t until I started working in health care that I found out what my purpose was.

“I was working at Copley for about six months, and I was driving to work one day,” he said. “I was excited to get to work and I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to do this for the rest of my life,'” he said.

Wright moved up at Copley Health Systems before becoming chief operating officer at Littleton Regional Hospital in New Hampshire. For the past six years, he has served as president and CEO of Valley Regional Healthcare in Claremont, New Hampshire.

He also earned a master’s degree in administration from St. Michael’s College in Vermont and a master’s degree in health care delivery science from the Tuck School of Business/Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire

Wright had been happy at Valley Regional, a rural hospital he helped turn around. But his two oldest children lived in Portland and he and his wife had bought a lake house in Winthrop a couple of years ago. They always thought they would like to work and retire in Maine. When the job at Bridgton and Rumford hospitals came up, it seemed like the perfect fit.

Wright had been watching both small rural hospitals and their parent, CMHC, for years.

“The Central Maine health system is really much further along in providing high-quality, low-cost care than many other places,” he said.

Wright officially started as president this month, though the citizens’ group complaints had him stepping into the role a bit last month. He has been on a public speaking tour in front of town councils, boards of selectmen and community groups ever since.

“It’s a lot about going: ‘OK, so let’s talk about the elephant in the room. We had some struggles, right? And now we’re through and it’s behind us. Let me tell you about where we’re going,'” he said.

They are going, he said, toward more primary care in the community and specialists who travel to the area to see patients rather than requiring patients to travel to see them. They are talking about a master plan for facilities and upgrading spaces, including a dated medical office building in Bridgton.

“If we’re providing that grade-A level service, well, heck, we ought to have grade-A level space,” he said.

They are also exploring ideas that could get the hospitals involved in other-than-traditional care.

“We’re talking with a company that’s going to provide, that we’re going to partner with to look at independent and assisted living, maybe some memory care,” he said. “We’re talking with the community about what to do with seniors and youth during the day.”

He added that at this point, “it’s just talk.”

“There’s no plan,” he said. “We’ve identified that’s a need in the area.”

Wright said he understands the unique problems of small, rural hospitals, including finding and keeping employees. He believes he understands the unique problems of Rumford and Bridgton hospitals in particular, including the need to win back community confidence.

“It’s no secret there’s a disconnect with the community, with community leaders,” he said. “So I’m going to be spending my time there working with them, helping them understand where we’re going, asking for their input.”

He wants community members to know they will not get better care anywhere else. And if something goes wrong, he said, he wants to know.

He is, after all, a member of the community.

“I want them to know: When things don’t go according to their plan, tell us about it,” Wright said. “We’re right here. Tell us about it. Give us the opportunity to fix it. Give us the opportunity to serve them well.”

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