Maine Medical Center’s new president said he believes one way to improve health care is to focus more on what’s happening beyond the walls of the institutions that provide it.
Jeffrey Sanders, the Portland hospital’s former executive vice president and chief operating officer, became president in January. His immediate predecessor, former President and CEO Richard Petersen, remains CEO of the hospital but has taken on a new role as president of its parent organization, MaineHealth.
Sanders has been the point man on Maine Med’s five-year, $534 million expansion plan, which includes a new parking garage on St. John Street and a six-story medical building on Congress Street. That effort included working with neighborhood groups and city officials in Portland to mitigate potential opposition to the project.
In an interview Tuesday, Sanders said he wants to bring that same collaborative mindset to other aspects of the hospital’s mission.
“I think it resulted in a good zoning approach for us that did not result in a lot of backlash, which you sometimes see,” Sanders said. “One of the things I want to build on in my current role is how do we continue to effectively engage the broader community in improving health care.”
Whereas Sanders was deeply involved in the minutiae of Maine Med’s day-to-day operations, he is now taking on a more strategic role. Meanwhile, Petersen will focus more attention on parent company MaineHealth. Maine Med is the state’s largest hospital, and MaineHealth is its largest health care system.
Both executives are well-compensated, with Sanders earning about $639,900 in salary and benefits during Maine Med’s 2018 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, and Petersen earning a total of over $1.3 million. The hospital would not disclose how the recent change in titles has affected their compensation.
Sanders said a real-life example of how collaboration can improve community health care is a joint project between Maine Med and Portland’s Preble Street Resource Center, which provides a variety of services to the city’s homeless population and other at-risk groups.
The hospital opened a clinic across from the nonprofit Preble Street center in early 2017 to provide medical services to Portland’s homeless population. It is staffed by Maine Med personnel in residency, the medical term for on-the-job training.
“Our team that worked on it developed a model that I think is pretty enduring for a good and important access point for the community to access services there,” Sanders said. “It’s also an important training site for our residents.”
Hospitals in Maine are facing a variety of financial challenges that have resulted in relatively high medical costs, particularly at smaller, rural hospitals. One way they have responded is to band together under the umbrellas of large, regional health care systems such as MaineHealth.
Sanders said that as MaineHealth’s largest institution, Maine Medical Center expects to take on an ever-increasing role in providing specialty care to patients throughout the health care system’s expanding territory. MaineHealth recently underwent a process to unify its 10 member organizations, placing them under centralized leadership.
The cost benefits of unification remain to be seen, Sanders said, but it will give smaller hospitals in the MaineHealth system access to resources they would not otherwise have. He added that the recent implementation of Medicaid expansion in Maine also will benefit both patients and health care providers.
Sanders said even a large hospital such as Maine Med – one of the area’s largest employers with a staff of over 7,000 – can’t go it alone when it comes to tackling the challenges of making health care services more accessible and effective.
“It’s easy to get lost inside the walls of the organization,” he said. “It’s important to remember not to, and to engage the community.”