Bangor hospital drops remote ICU program

Eastern Maine Medical Center plans to discontinue a program that connects nurses treating intensive care patients throughout the region to specialists in Bangor.

The Critical Care Connection service, established in 2008, will cease effective June 20, the hospital announced in a Tuesday news release. Insurers don’t reimburse hospitals for the service, limiting the number of medical centers that could participate and leading to unsustainable costs, according to Dr. James Raczek, EMMC’s chief medical officer and chief operating officer.

Ten hospitals take part in the program. EMMC monitors an average of fewer than three patients a day at the other hospitals throughout the region, the news release states.

EMMC will eliminate 10 full-time positions, two part-time positions, and one pool position as a result of discontinuing the program. The hospital is working with affected employees to find them other positions within EMMC, according to the release.

Under the program, nurses caring for seriously ill patients at outlying hospitals connect remotely with critical care nurses and specialists at EMMC for guidance on treatment options. Rather than replace local medical personnel, “eICUs” or “teleICUs” are designed to give hospital staff, particularly in rural areas, access to doctors and nurses trained in critical care who can monitor patients for signs of trouble and step in through video and audio links before complications become life-threatening.

The Critical Care Connection also monitored EMMC’s own critical care and emergency department patients.

“While this program provided an extra layer of oversight for these patients, it never replaced the remarkable care provided by EMMC nurses at the bedside,” Jodi Galli, EMMC’s vice president and chief nursing officer, said in the release. “Hospitals across the country are delivering high-quality care without this type of monitoring service, and we know we can do so at EMMC as well.”

EMMC isn’t the only Maine hospital to drop such a program, citing high costs. In August 2013, Portland-based MaineHealth discontinued a program that remotely linked nine hospital intensive care units to off-site medical specialists.

MaineHealth said operating the program would have run up a deficit of more than half a million dollars annually.

But other hospitals have managed to save money while improving care using teleICU programs, Wendy Everett, president of the Massachusetts-based New England Healthcare Institute, told me back in August. Because patients are so closely monitored, they often avoid complications such as pneumonia and get better more quickly, leading to shorter ICU stays that save hospitals money, she said.

Patients also can stay close to home at their local hospitals, Everett said.

EMMC has notified the participating hospitals of the program’s termination and will work with their care teams to ensure a smooth transition, the news release states.

Along with EMMC, the other nine participating hospitals are: Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, Inland Hospital, Mercy Hospital, Millinocket Regional Hospital, Mount Desert Island Hospital, Penobscot Valley Hospital, Redington-Fairview General Hospital, St. Joseph Hospital, and Sebasticook Valley Hospital. 

Since the Critical Care Connection was established, EMMC has developed other regional services, including a telemedicine center that links doctors and patients virtually.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that MaineHealth would have lost half a million dollars had it continued to run its teleICU program.

 

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Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.