One of Bangor’s major health care providers has temporarily stopped providing walk-in care in four clinics on Saturdays, and ceased walk-in services at another clinic entirely, due to staffing shortages.
Penobscot Community Health Care announced the stoppage of Saturday walk-in care in clinics in Bangor, Brewer, Old Town and Belfast, effective Sept. 1, in a letter to patients dated Aug. 30.
The four clinics affected are the Brewer Medical Center on Wilson Street, the Helen Hunt Health Center on Brunswick Street in Old Town, Penobscot Pediatrics on Telcom Drive in Bangor and Seaport Community Health Center on Schoodic Drive in Belfast.
Walk-in care remains available in those four clinics Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and scheduled appointments are still available at all clinics during regular business hours.
Additionally, PCHC temporarily closed walk-in service at its Union Street clinic in Bangor entirely on Sept. 1 due to labor shortages.
“PCHC is experiencing similar challenges seen across the nation in workforce turnover and recruiting healthcare providers,” PCHC’s letter to patients reads. “We are working with a competitive labor market to attract skilled, patient-centered professionals to our practices.”
The agency didn’t return requests for comment on Friday regarding how many additional employees are needed to restart Saturday walk-in care and reopen the Union Street clinic’s walk-in care availability, but said these changes will likely remain in effect through the end of the year.
While PCHC acknowledged widely available walk-in care is important to patients, it wrote the temporary service change is “important to provide safe, quality patient care.”
The change to walk-in clinic availability is the latest alteration PCHC has made, mostly to cut costs while it climbs out of a $4 million financial deficit it accrued following the COVID-19 pandemic. That financial loss stemmed from patients being slow to return to their primary and preventative care providers as the pandemic waned, PCHC spokesperson Kate Carlisle said in February.
None of those previous changes, however, reduced the availability of services to the agency’s roughly 60,000 patients, most of whom are in the Bangor region.
Earlier this year, PCHC sold two non-clinical properties and ended its lease of an administrative building on Odlin Road in Bangor, which housed 35 employees who oversaw patient records and referrals, billing and other communications. Those employees moved to another administration building on Maine Avenue, and none were laid off, Carlisle said at the time.
The organization expected to save $600,000 annually by ending that lease and the associated building maintenance costs.
PCHC also made changes to employee benefits, including requiring workers with spouses who have access to insurance coverage through their employers to switch off PCHC’s insurance and onto their spouse’s coverage. About 50 employees made the insurance switch, which saved PCHC $500,000, Carlisle said in February.