BRUNSWICK, Maine — Having two choices about where to receive health care squared off at an all-day hearing Wednesday against the notion that two hospitals is one more than the Brunswick area can support.

Hundreds of people turned out to tell the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Licensing and Regulatory Services why they support or oppose a merger between Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick and Central Maine Healthcare in Lewiston. Many of those opposed to that plan said they favor instead a merger between Parkview and nearby Mid Coast Hospital, which is seeking to block CMHC’s certificate of need application so it can try to take over Parkview and create a single hospital in Brunswick.

The certificate of need application is the mechanism the state uses to consider major changes or investments in the state’s health care system.

The hearing Wednesday at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Brunswick attracted a capacity crowd, many of whom wore stickers or held signs in support of either Parkview or Mid Coast Hospital. For the most part, members of the public echoed talking points voiced by officials from the hospitals.

Chuck Gill, vice president of public affairs for CMHC, said he hoped the event would bring clarity to what he said is a confusing and complex issue.

“We’re going to talk a lot today about why hospitals are joining larger systems throughout the country,” said Gill. “Anyone involved in health care understands that this system is getting more and more and more complex. Standalone hospitals are really becoming outliers.”

Mike Ortel, chairman of the Parkview board, said the hospital has wanted to join with CMHC for more than a decade and has rejected repeated queries about joining with Mid Coast.

“Control of Parkview has never been out to bid,” said Ortel. “We have told Mid Coast ‘no’ multiple times over the past 30 years because of who we are and what we stand for. Our future looks good and we have no desire to go away.”

Shirley Savage of Bath said she fears the loss of Parkview’s faith-based mission, though Parkview would lose its affiliation with the Adventist Church in a merger with either CMHC or Mid Coast.

“I choose to go to a hospital that treats my mind, my body and most of all my spirit,” she said. “Without my spirit, it doesn’t matter what equipment you have or what treatment I get. I will not heal because my spiritual needs aren’t met.”

Others said a merger between Parkview and Mid Coast is what’s best for the community because it would save health care costs in the area — which Mid Coast estimates would be about $24 million a year, a figure that Parkview and CMHC contest — by eliminating redundancies in staffing and equipment. One speaker referred to CMHC’s proposal as a “perpetuation of a $24 million-a-year forced tax.”

Ralph Perry, who said he has been involved in fundraising for both hospitals, said he opposes CMHC’s application.

“Mid Coast is truly a community hospital for this area,” said Perry. “In 2012, this community faces changes that will definitely affect the future of health care for all of us. It is imperative that we work together.”

Several businesses also weighed in, including nearby Bath Iron Works, one of the state’s largest employers. Chris McCarthy, BIW’s director of integrated health services, said health care costs create a competitive disadvantage. He said Parkview merging with Mid Coast Hospital would save money for community members and BIW by reducing the number of hospital beds in the area.

“The bottom line is that those beds have to be paid for,” said McCarthy. “It’s not the providers who pay for that and not the insurance companies who pay for that. We’re paying for it.”

McCarthy said Maine’s health care costs are much higher than in most other states, most notably Mississippi, the home of BIW’s primary competitor, Ingalls Shipbuilding.

“We spend about $100 million a year in health care,” he said. “Most of that is spent in the Brunswick Health Service area. This is big dollars for us as we compete against somebody who spends an awful lot less. We at BIW would like the providers in the community to put aside their differences and get together to figure out how to come up with a solution that is going to solve our problem.”

The certificate of need approval process, which will culminate in a decision by DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, is expected to take several more weeks. Written comments will be accepted until 5 p.m Nov. 26 and can be mailed to DHHS, Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services Health Care Oversight Unit, Station House 11, 41 Anthony Avenue, Augusta 04333-0011.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.