The president of Maine Coast Memorial, John Ronan, who has been leading the hospital for about a year, said the turnover among the hospital’s 55 providers is typical of the industry. Credit: William S.Brehm - Riverside | EMHS

Seven physicians — including four in the emergency department — are resigning from Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth.

Hospital officials say the departures are due to changes the hospital is making to improve quality. But other physicians who have left in recent years say the turnover stems from the administration’s increasingly caustic relationship with providers.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one hospital physician said that doctors who are leaving are reluctant to be interviewed for fear that hospital administration will retaliate as they seek other jobs. But one doctor who resigned from the hospital two years ago agreed to go on the record.

“Until about five years ago, I would have told anybody that this was the place to go, the place to work, the place to be a patient,” said Craig Williamson, an orthopedic surgeon who resigned from Maine Coast Memorial in 2015 after being on staff for eight years.

Williamson said a change in administration a few years ago ushered in a new culture that affected the relationship with staff.

“The medical staff has not felt for a long time that the administration has any respect for the medical staff or the nursing staff,” he said.

Williamson said the dysfunctional dynamic has effectively forced many medical staff out. By his count, 30 have left the hospital over the past five years. He said some positions haven’t been filled, leaving the hospital understaffed.

But the president of Maine Coast Memorial, John Ronan, who has been leading the hospital for about a year, said the turnover among the hospital’s 55 providers is typical of hospitals.

“I attribute a lot of it to change and a different way of looking at how we provide services here,” he said.

Maine Coast Memorial was acquired by Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems in 2015. Since then, Ronan said, the hospital has made changes to improve quality, such as establishing a collaborative that allows doctors within the system to fill shifts at various emergency departments depending on need.

Some doctors, he said, may not find these new strategies palatable.

“We want to reassure the community that while there has been some turnover with providers, it’s still great care here and we’re still working through plans to make it better care than it has ever been,” Ronan said.

As health care changes and hospitals face decreasing revenues, Gordon Smith of the Maine Medical Association said the situation at Maine Coast Memorial is playing out at other hospitals.

“When the system is strained, particularly for dollars, it’s going to make it more difficult to have positive relationships with staff,” he said.

But a woman who identified herself as a former patient of Maine Coast Memorial said the changes at the hospital have translated into a poor patient experience. Nadine Lewis of Ellsworth, who contacted Maine Public after seeing news coverage of the recent resignations, says she stopped using the hospital last year.

“At first it was wonderful. I felt the doctors were competent, kind people who were very committed to the community and their patients. And then something happened a few years back, and everything started to change. Doctors started to leave. You were rushed through appointments,” she said.

Lewis says she now travels to Bangor for her health care.

“I’m very afraid and very sad, because this community had a really strong medical team here, and now I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.

The leader of the board at Maine Coast Memorial, meanwhile, is expressing confidence in hospital leadership. In a written statement, Debra Ehrlenbach says the plans that have been developed in partnership with EMHS will “position us for long-term success in a changing health care world.”

This report appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.