Northern Light A.R. Gould Hospital announced June 28 that it would close its Mars Hill Health Center on Aug. 1. The center is located on Main Street in Mars Hill. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

MARS HILL, Maine — Aroostook County will lose a primary care medical practice on Aug. 1 when Northern Light A.R. Gould Hospital closes its Mars Hill Health Center.

The closure was prompted by shortages of staff and medical providers, Gould officials said Tuesday.

Although the hospital will offer Mars Hill’s three staff members positions in the system and says it can absorb the patients at its other practices, it means the town’s residents will need to travel farther for basic health care.

Maine’s medical facilities, like many other businesses, were launched into employment crises with the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation prompted York Hospital in Wells to suspend emergency services last October, and in January, Maine Army National Guard personnel reported at several state hospitals to assist in the face of staff shortages.

The decision was a difficult one, Gould President and CEO Greg LaFrancois said.

“Ultimately, with the challenges of regular provider coverage at the clinic and overall staffing shortages at our facilities, it made the most sense to close this practice that has low primary care use,” LaFrancois said. “We do have the ability at other locations to cover the need.”

The Mars Hill facility is a small practice staffed by a single medical provider, he said. Although there are about 900 patients officially enrolled there, some have not been active in recent years, and others may have moved to another provider or left the area.

Patients will have to find a new medical home, either at one of Gould’s other primary practices in Presque Isle, Caribou or Fort Fairfield, or another provider altogether.

It’s tough to fill provider and staff vacancies across the board in today’s environment, but due to the Mars Hill office’s low volume, the challenge has been particularly difficult, LaFrancois said.

The health center closure will not affect patients or staff at the Northern Light Continuing Care facility in Mars Hill, which provides long-term care and rehabilitation services for 72 patients.

Letters have gone out to health center patients about the shutdown and other available providers.

“Our biggest priority now is to help our primary care patients get established with another provider. We want to ensure their care continues with very little disruption,” LaFrancois said.

The hospital can offer patients care at another of its facilities until they find a new provider of their choice, he said.

The health center has three staff members, and Gould will transition them to other openings if they wish. The hospital has given them the option to pick any position for which they are qualified, LaFrancois said.