27% of Central Maine Healthcare physicians leave amid CEO dispute

While the three hospitals within Lewistown-based Central Maine Healthcare have recently begun to voice their concern with the system's executive leadership, many current and former staffers claim conditions for staff within the system have been on the decline for at least the past fiscal year, according to the Portland Press Herald.

The Portland Press Herald notes at least a dozen current and former hospital employees spoke with the Sun Journal under a condition of anonymity about conditions at CMHC, which owns and operates three hospitals and a collection of medical practices in 15 communities statewide.

Tension between the medical staff and system executives came to a head last month after the staff at all three hospitals voted no confidence in system CEO Jeff Brickman. However, the health system's board voiced its support for Mr. Brickman earlier this month and altered its bylaws to give physicians more authority. The day after the board's meeting, the president of two of the system's three hospitals resigned.

"Every couple of days there are several more resignations," an anonymous provider said, according to the Portland Press Herald.

However, physician discontent has been brewing across the system for at least the past year. CMHC officials told the publication roughly 80 of its 300 physicians have left this past fiscal year, which ended in June — a 27.1 percent turnover rate higher than the national average of 18.6 percent, according to data cited by the Portland Press Herald.

System officials said the 27.1 percent turnover rate is lower than it had been the past two years.

"Change is hard and [some physicians] may decide that they aren't up for the change," David Tupponce, MD, president of Lewiston-based Central Maine Medical Center and executive vice president of the system, told the Portland Press Herald.

A CMHC spokesperson reiterated Dr. Tupponce's sentiment to the publication: "Significant change has been necessary to ensure the organization's financial stability. We recognize that change can be difficult and may create a sense of disruption or uncertainty. We encourage our staff to ask questions and raise concerns, and it is certainly not our practice to terminate employees for doing so."

After the votes of no confidence, several staffers told the publication they understood the need for change, but were dissatisfied with Mr. Brickman's management style, which they claimed was neither collaborative nor cooperative.

"From my perspective, it seems like the goal of healthcare has shifted from more of something that's focused primarily on quality more toward the quality we can afford[,] going from, 'Let's do this the best way we can,' to, 'As long as we can do it good enough, that seems to be OK,'" a CMHC staffer said.

In an Aug. 13 prepared statement to Becker's Hospital Review, CMHC said the system "has undergone a period of significant transition and redesign over the past two years, ensuring financial solvency and stability in support of a clear strategic vision for future growth. Unfortunately, local media coverage does not reflect the accomplishments associated with our transformation, such as physician recruitment and strategic growth in key areas of focus including surgery, trauma, heart and vascular and oncology.

"As one of the few non-Medicaid expansion states, we are faced with a particular set of challenges and must press forward with an aggressive agenda. We recognize that provider turnover can be disruptive and CMH is working aggressively to minimize any inconvenience while ensuring that our patients receive the care they need. The turnover information provided in the media represents all departures, including retirement and relocation, as well as those for other professional and person reasons. Not everyone who leaves an organization is 'fleeing' and it is irresponsible to suggest so.

"In these times of intense media focus and attention, it is important to remember that CMH, our staff, providers, patients and communities all share the same goal — to ensure that safe quality care is available to all who need it."

To access the full report, click here.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 4:25 p.m. Aug. 13 to include additional comment from CMHC.

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