September 12, 2008

St. Mary’s Gets Approval for Expansion

By Lindsay Tice

LEWISTON - The state has approved St. Mary's Regional Medical Center's $24.5 million plan to expand its operating room, lab and pharmacy.

Under Maine law, hospitals must get approval for major building projects. Regulators from the Certificate of Need Unit, which is part of the state Department of Health and Human Services, had originally recommended the department deny the St. Mary's project. They said the Lewiston hospital didn't prove that its expansion would address the health needs of the community and they weren't convinced that improved services would be available to everyone in the area.

Over the summer, St. Mary's resubmitted paperwork, clarifying its proposal and addressing regulators concerns. With that new information, the head of DHHS this week approved the project.

"This is great news and we're very appreciative that the state looked at the argument we presented and agreed with what we offered to them as a solution to our needs," St. Mary's spokesman Russ Donahue said.

Commissioner Brenda Harvey gave her OK on three conditions:

Before this new project spends more than $4 million, the hospital must complete construction on its current emergency room expansion. This will ensure both projects will be funded without placing financial stress on St. Mary's, Harvey said.

The hospital must address the concerns of the College of American Pathologists, which found the chemistry department very cramped and the technical bench space inadequate for work.

For three years, the hospital must report on improvements to laboratory error and infection rates, patient and employee satisfaction, laboratory turnaround times and other quality standards.

With the DHHS approval, St. Mary's can now start construction.

When state regulators recommended against St. Mary's proposal last spring, they also opposed projects at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston and Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

EMMC proposed spending $253 million to expand its inpatient facility, fulfilling the next phase of its master plan. State regulators said EMMC failed to show the project would make the hospital more efficient. The commissioner has not yet given her final ruling.

CMMC proposed spending more than $47 million to renovate and expand its emergency room and lab. State regulators said the application didn't show how the project would improve health care and help the community. They also said the project would duplicate some of the services at St. Mary's, which is working on its own ER expansion, and they suggested the two hospitals collaborate more.

CMMC pulled its application soon after. It recently resubmitted its paperwork, revising and clarifying information, including patient numbers.

The Certificate of Need Unit will leave CMMC's application open for 10 days to allow members of the public and other interested parties to comment on the hospital's proposal. After that, it will review the new paperwork and make another recommendation.

Originally published by Staff Writer.

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