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

State regulators have given preliminary support to a proposed merger of Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft with Northern Light Health, the statewide health care system that includes Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

In a 72-page report released this week, staff from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services said that because of financial difficulties, the Dover-Foxcroft hospital probably would not be able to survive in the long run without affiliating with a larger organization.

The hospital has had operating losses every year since 2010, but leaders of it and Northern Light Health have projected that they could reduce those losses to zero within three years of merging, according to the report.

Northern Light Health officials have said that the merger would allow Mayo Regional Hospital to cut costs by consolidating various administrative, financial and legal functions. Mayo’s president and CEO, Marie Vienneau, has also said that merging with a larger system could give Mayo Regional Hospital more leverage to negotiate higher prices for medical care from insurance companies.

In the preliminary report from Maine DHHS, which must now undergo a 10-day public comment period, staff recommended that Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew approve the merger, which would make Mayo the 10th hospital in the Northern Light system.

After the public comment period ends, it could take at least three or four weeks for the department to review the report and make a final decision, according to Maine DHHS spokesperson Jackie Farwell.

By law, all Maine hospital mergers must receive a so-called “certificate of need” demonstrating that they will improve the availability of health care in the state.

The proposed merger has received several other approvals, including from the boards of Northern Light Health and Hospital Administrative District 4. If the state authorizes the merger, both boards would again have to vote to finalize the deal. Because the merger would require other operational changes to occur, Northern Light Health spokeswoman Suzanne Spruce said that it could be completed during the first quarter of 2020.

The merger also required a legislative change that was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills in June. That’s because HAD 4 is a quasi-municipal entity that was formed under state law to own and run the hospital. Twelve of the 13 communities in HAD 4 have held local votes endorsing the merger. Just one, Cambridge, opposed it.

The other member communities of HAD 4 are Abbot, Atkinson, Bradford, Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft, Guilford, Milo, Monson, Parkman, Sangerville, Sebec and Willimantic.