York Hospital. Credit: Ioanna Raptis | The York Weekly

YORK, Maine — Construction of a planned 20-bed acute rehabilitation facility at York Hospital remains uncertain, due to a delay at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in releasing a staff recommendation of the project.

DHHS staff was expected to render its recommendation in early August on a Certificate of Need for the facility, a joint project of York Hospital and Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital Network. The CON is required by the state to ensure there is a demand for a facility that can’t be met elsewhere.

DHHS spokesperson Emily Spencer said it is now going to be as late as early October before the staff files its recommendation.

The New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland, which operates a 100-bed acute rehabilitation hospital in Portland, has questioned the need for the facility and requested a DHHS hearing in early June to make its case.

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At the hearing, current and former officials from Portsmouth Regional, Wentworth-Douglass and Frisbie Memorial hospitals in Seacoast New Hampshire all said the York center would fill a currently unmet demand. Officials from the Portland hospital argued that there is a need for decreased capacity at their facility, and another 20 beds in York would create excess.

Following the hearing, there was a 30-day period for written comment on the CON application, which ended on July 8. “Within 30 days” of that July 8 deadline, Spencer said at the end of June, the DHHS staff was to complete and release a preliminary analysis of the application. In an Aug. 7 email, Spencer equivocated, saying that 30 days is the goal but “sometimes, as it is in this case where we had a public hearing and a lot of public comment, it can take additional time.”

The licensing team, she said in the same Aug. 7 email, “is hoping to release the preliminary analysis by the end of the month.” On Sept. 4, she said the report will be released “by late September, early October.”

The Weekly filed a public records request for the written comments following the July 8 deadline, but has not yet received them.

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Following the release of the staff analysis, there is a 15-day public response period. After that, the report is forwarded to acting commissioner Bethany Hamm, who took over following the retirement of Commissioner Ricker Hamilton on Aug. 31. Spencer said there is no timetable for when the acting commissioner has to respond once the report reaches her desk.

York Hospital President Jud Knox said the delay by DHHS “is on the annoying side. There is a process in place, and we made sure we followed it. Quite frankly, if the rehabilitation hospital in Portland wasn’t stirring the pot, this process would probably have gone a lot quicker.”

The partners had secured permission from York voters last May to discontinue the end of Williams Avenue to make room for the new facility; and the Planning Board gave its approval in August. Knox said they hoped that the final decision on the CON would be made this fall so construction could begin. “It may well be the case” that work will be delayed until spring, depending on when the decision is forthcoming.

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