Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital is seen in this 2018 file photo. Credit: Nick Sambides Jr. / BDN

Northern Light Health plans to replace two of its rural hospitals in Piscataquis and Hancock counties, with construction beginning by spring 2022, the health care organization said Tuesday.

The construction will replace century-old buildings at Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital in Hancock County and Northern Light CA Dean Hospital in Greenville. The new buildings will be located on the current hospital campuses, Northern Light spokesperson Andrew Soucier said.

The existing buildings have become outdated, and the cost of renovating them would exceed the cost of new construction, Soucier said.

At CA Dean Hospital, Northern Light will remove the main hospital building and dental office. The hospital’s east wing will be attached to the new building and contain patient rooms. The network will continue to use the existing health center and administrative buildings, with the latter being used as a staff dormitory.

In Blue Hill, Northern Light will replace the current hospital building, though the Sussman Health Center on the campus will remain.

The new facilities will include all private patient rooms and emergency departments that are open 24/7, and they will offer lab and imaging services. The new Greenville hospital building will also include a new helipad, ambulance garage and dormitory, according to Northern Light.

The new hospitals will also be equipped to offer expanded telehealth services, which have grown in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic hit a year ago.

Fundraising campaigns in Hancock and Piscataquis counties would be one of various sources of funding for the two projects, Soucier said. He said Northern Light would have more information on project costs when it finalizes designs.

The Blue Hill and Greenville hospitals are both 25-bed hospitals that the federal government designates as “critical access,” meaning they serve patients in rural areas and receive greater Medicare reimbursement than more urban hospitals.

Blue Hill and CA Dean Hospital have had positive operating margins for the last three years for which the Maine Health Data Organization had financial data. In fiscal year 2018, both hospitals’ net operating margins were 11 percent. Those were among the highest margins among Maine’s critical access hospitals.

News of the new facility construction follows a year in which Northern Light, which includes 10 hospitals stretching from Portland to Presque Isle, lost $82.6 million from its operations as the hospital network saw its revenue take a hit during the pandemic. The hospital system lost millions in patient revenue as COVID-19 forced it to cancel numerous non-essential surgeries and other appointments in the pandemic’s early months to prepare for a potential surge in coronavirus cases.

That loss marked a steep decline from its $32.1 million in operating gains in 2019, according to Northern Light’s latest annual report.

Northern Light has one other major construction project in the works: the consolidation of its two campuses at Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland. The hospital system borrowed $45 million for that project.