Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft Credit: Stuart Hedstrom | Piscataquis Observer

On Friday, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law legislation that will allow Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft to move forward in merging with the statewide health care organization, Northern Light Health.

Hospital officials have been pursuing the merger since earlier this year. Mayo Regional Hospital administrators have said that merging with Northern Light Health will help keep the hospital financially stable after nearly a decade of operating losses.

“Small hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to provide access to quality healthcare in a way that is financially viable; our integrated healthcare system has the infrastructure and resources to help in that regard,” Michelle Hood, Northern Light Health president and CEO, said in a press release Friday.

The merger required legislative approval because it is owned and overseen by a quasi-municipal entity, Hospital Administrative District 4, which has a charter that’s set in Maine law. The district includes Abbot, Atkinson, Bradford, Cambridge, Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft, Guilford, Milo, Monson, Parkman, Sangerville, Sebec and Willimantic.

Of the 13 communities that make up Hospital Administrative District 4, 12 voted in favor of the merger, with Cambridge opposing the merger.

Amendments from Piscatiquas County lawmaker Rep. Paul Stearns, R-Guilford, were not included in the legislation that was passed. Stearns proposed several amendments that would have given the 13 communities more say over the happens to the hospital after the merger.

One of the amendments would have liquidated the assets of the Mayo Regional Hospital at the time of the merger and have the money go back to the communities instead of to Northern Light Health.

However, if the merger goes through, few assets are expected to be left over from the financially troubled hospital. Mayo Regional Hospital did have about $13.7 million in a reserve fund early this year, those funds would be needed to pay the hospital’s debts as part of the merger, according to CEO Marie Vienneau.

With approval from the Legislature and the governor, the next step in the merger will be for Mayo and Northern Light Health to submit a certificate of need application with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, according to Friday’s release.

If the merger receives approval from DHHS, Mayo’s board and Northern Light Health’s board will hold a final vote on the merger this fall.

Formerly known as Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, Northern Light Health is a Brewer-based organization that includes nine other hospitals stretching from Portland to Presque Isle, including Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.