In this Aug. 26, 2021, file photo, Northern Light Health Eastern Maine Medical Center is seen in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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Timothy Dentry is the president and CEO of Northern Light Health.

Northern Light Health recently announced a long-term relationship with Optum, a national leader in information and technology-enabled health services, that will help Northern Light make health care work better for people across Maine. Optum and Northern Light share similar missions focused on transforming care and helping people live healthier lives.

As part of this comprehensive relationship between Northern Light and Optum, approximately 1,400 team members, around 10 percent of the Northern Light Health workforce, will transfer to Optum where they will continue to support Northern Light Health right here in Maine. And they will have new opportunities for growth and career advancement.

Please allow me to offer a bit of background as to how we reached this decision. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Northern Light Health lived up to a “culture of yes.” We ensured Mainers had access to safe care. For example, we made vaccines easily accessible at physician practices, shelters, homes and schools, and even at pop-up sites for those with difficulty reaching our services. On many occasions, we were the first responders to outbreaks in care centers for the elderly — our Northern Light Home Care & Hospice clinicians were absolute rockstars. We took a lead role in new therapies designed to keep people out of hospitals, such as monoclonal antibody clinics. We took steps to ensure the health, safety and needs of our staff were met through wage adjustments, accelerated hiring, staffing solutions, local partnerships for personal protective equipment and more.

In many cases, we said, “Yes,” and then figured out a way. These were the right choices because we knew how we conducted ourselves during the pandemic would define community trust in Northern Light Health for decades to come.

We took every step to ensure quality and safety, and took on long-term needs: developing our workforce, advancing the digital patient experience, creating a center of excellence in behavioral health and investing in modernizing five health campuses across Maine, including the new Northern Light Acadia expansion, to relieve the dire need for more behavioral health beds and services in Maine, and ensuring critical services remained available in Bangor through continued investment in Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center.

COVID-19 accelerated, and made more urgent, many of these changes. However, these decisions also added to deep deficits, which now are being corrected. The pandemic, inflation and workforce shortages added to the health care industry as a whole facing uncertain economic times and increased financial pressures, which have been immense. We are grateful for substantial assistance from federal and state officials. Systemic changes in health care expenses (medicines, supplies, labor, etc.) rose during and after the pandemic that greatly put at risk a sustainable financial outlook. We need a fundamentally different cost point and must reorient our assets more toward clinical services.

Northern Light Health and Optum will work together to improve business processes through investment in technology and innovation. Optum brings expertise to a broad range of support services that will help Northern Light focus on what we do best — care for the people of Maine. Together, Northern Light Health and Optum will improve the scheduling and billing experience for patients and providers; advance digital capabilities to improve the patient and provider experience; leverage new technology and tools to ensure patients are getting the right care, at the right time and in the right place; and use data and analytics to anticipate and respond directly to patient, community and staff needs.

Northern Light Health is on a path toward economic stability, allowing us to continue to invest in the future for our staff and the communities we serve. Working with Optum, a partner with scale and efficiency, will help us live up to this commitment. To successfully meet these changing times, Northern Light Health recognizes it is better to go forward together rather than alone.