Good Medicine, Good News
Medical advances, innovative programs and treatments, and state-of-the art facilities are improving health care in Maine.
By Meadow Rue Merrill
Northern New England’s First Dental School Is Opening.
The University of New England’s College of Dental Medicine (716 Stevens Ave., Portland, 207-797-7261), to open this fall, is expected to address Maine’s acute dentist shortage. Competition for admission is high, with 1,200 applicants for the initial class of forty-six students. Students will train in a $14.5 million patient care center, now under construction, in all areas of general dentistry, from teeth cleaning to periodontics and radiology. Currently, all of Maine’s sixteen counties have a shortage of dentists, a situation that is expected to worsen as 41 percent of those currently practicing are over the age of forty and nearing retirement. Besides offering a long-term solution to this workforce crisis, the school will provide low-cost care to the public at its center.
Advanced Weight-loss Surgery Is Reducing Recovery Times.
Mainers are recovering from weight-loss surgery faster and less expensively in one of the nation’s first bariatric and general surgery robotic epicenters, located at Eastern Maine Medical Center (489 State St., Bangor, 207-973-7000). Surgeons operate a pair of robotic arms to insert a band that reduces the capacity of a patient’s stomach. The upshot is fewer incisions, less scarring, and reduced risk of infection, says Dr. Bob Peterson, administrator for surgical services at EMMC. Demand is so high that Dr. Michelle Toder, the medical director of the hospital’s surgical weight loss program of EMMC, has completed more robotic bariatric surgeries than anyone else in the world, and surgeons from around the globe are coming to Bangor to train.
Lasers Are Improving Cataract Surgery.
For three decades, physicians have treated cataracts, the clouding of the eye that often develops with age, by cutting out the damaged lens and replacing it with an artificial one. Now a half-million dollar laser machine is allowing doctors to perform the same surgery with better outcomes for patients. Vision Care of Maine (1 Ridgewood Dr., Bangor, 207-945-6200) began offering the new treatment last summer, making it one of the few eye-care centers on the East Coast to do so. “It is a technology that people seek out,” says CFO Andrew Durkovich, whose brother-in-law and nephew have treated a steady flood of patients from around Maine and the country at the family business, which is also a full-care eye center and medical spa. One perk is the accuracy of the surgery, which allows patients to choose implants that see well up close as well as far away. Traditional lenses allow only one or the other, often requiring glasses.
MaineGeneral Is Expanding.
With a grand opening anticipated late this year, MaineGeneral’s (6 E Chestnut St., Augusta, 207-626-1000) $312-million new campus is expected to improve patient care throughout the Kennebec Valley region by recruiting and training new physicians, offering new specialties, and providing easier access to services, says hospital spokesperson Joy Leach. The new orthopedic center, for example, means patients living in the eighty-eight communities the hospital serves will no longer have to travel to Bangor or Portland for spine and joint replacement surgery. The hospital will also have a comprehensive medical library and resource center, a spiritual center for meditation and prayer, and a streamlined emergency department. New technologies will reduce patient wait times, eliminate duplication of services, and improve communication, while 192 private rooms located away from noisy entrance areas promise increased patient safety and comfort. When in need of assistance, patients will be able to directly ring the appropriate nurse rather than pressing an alarm that alerts the nursing station. The health care system’s Thayer Comprehensive Outpatient Center in Waterville is also undergoing a $10 million renovation, with free patient transportation between the hospitals.
Community Health Centers Are Increasing Access to Affordable Care.
Finding a doctor is often a challenge for people living in Maine’s rural communities or for those who lack insurance. Dr. Wendy Wolf, founding president and CEO of the Maine Health Access Foundation (150 Capitol St., Augusta, 207-620-8266) is helping to change that by delivering money and support to organizations improving the health of Mainers. Since 2002, the independent nonprofit philanthropy has given away $44 million to more than 250 organizations across the state. One recent initiative has been to increase the number of Maine’s Community Health Centers, which accept everyone regardless of whether they have insurance. In the past few years, Portland, York County, and Vinalhaven have all opened such centers (Vinalhaven is one of the few islands in the U.S. to have one). “We helped them in the planning process by providing monetary support, and consultants helped them write a bang-up application” that won federal government approval, Wolf says.
Mainers Are Learning How to Get Fit without Getting Hurt.
A program designed to prevent injuries in athletes is improving the lives of many fitness-minded Mainers by making them stronger and more agile. The OA Centers for Orthopaedics’ Performance Center (15 Lund Rd., Saco, 207-710-5509) offers classes for participants age six through adult at its state-of-the-art facility offering turf fields, an indoor track, multi-camera biomechanics lab, and an indoor ice arena operated by the MHG Junior Pirates. The youngest participants focus on often-missed skills such as skipping and balance, while competitive athletes often work with private trainers to improve performance or stay in shape during the off-season. Last month the center got its first Michael Phelps swim tank. But you don’t have to be an athlete to benefit. “A lot of this is about getting in better shape and improving confidence,” says Linda Ruterbories, an OA director.
Cancer Patients Are Finding Support Outside the Doctor’s Office.
The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing (29 Lowell St., Lewiston, 207-795-8250) offers free services for cancer patients and their families, from counseling to case management to services for children and adolescents. Founded in 2008 by actor and Lewiston native Patrick Dempsey, the agency, which is part of the Central Maine Comprehensive Cancer Center, offers a toll-free cancer assistance hotline ( 877-336-7287 ), educational classes, a cancer resource center, and professionally facilitated care groups. In the past year the center has expanded its massage services and cancer prevention workshops as well as adding an adult- and youth adventure-based summer camp programs, such as “Space to Breathe,” a five-day, wilderness adventure camp for adolescent siblings or children of cancer patients.
Practical, Effective Strategies Are Reducing Underage Drinking.
It may sound obvious, but keeping track of alcohol, getting to know your teen’s friends, and planning what you’ll say the first time you discover your teen has been drinking are among a handful of suggestions helping decrease underage drinking. The list, compiled by Mid Coast Parents Connect (66 Baribeau Dr., Brunswick, 207-373-6957), a substance abuse program coordinated through Access Health by Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, is meant to combat one of the highest health risks to Maine’s young people. “They seem very simple, but parents need to be reminded of how effective they can be,” says program director Melissa Fochesato. The group, which is part of a community coalition, seeks to discourage underage alcohol consumption by connecting parents, law enforcement officers, schools, community agencies, and others. As a result of this and other state programs, the number of high-school students who reported having a drink in the past thirty days has dropped from 32 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2011.
An Anti-Obesity Program Has Gained National Recognition.
Dr. Victoria Rogers, a health educator and pediatrician at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, is on a mission to improve the health of Maine’s kids by reducing obesity. As director of Let’s Go! Maine (22 Bramhall St., Portland, 207-662-3734), a campaign to get kids moving and eating healthier, Dr. Rogers works with nearly six hundred schools, child care sites, after school programs, and health-care practices statewide. “Prevention is the way to go,” Dr. Rogers says. “Obesity is very difficult to treat.” The objectives she teaches are simple: Eat five or more fruits and vegetables each day; watch less than two hours of screen time; get one or more hour of exercise; and consume zero sweetened drinks. And it’s working. The six-year-old program has spread to more than fifty communities across the country.
Three Programs are Partnering Up to Treat Addiction.
One of the biggest threats to the health of Mainer’s is drug abuse and addiction. Maine’s largest substance abuse center for adults, the Mercy Recovery Center (40 Park Rd., Westbrook, 207-857-8282) at Mercy Hospital is helping change that through a new partnership with two local advocacy programs — one for women struggling with substance abuse, and one for at-risk youth. Together with Crossroads for Women and Youth Alternatives Ingraham, the Recovery Center is using a $1 million grant to increase the capacity of residential treatment programs in Greater Portland and to reduce the cost of treating addiction through a financially sustainable client-centered collaborative. The center treats the entire spectrum of substance abuse issues from alcoholism to drug addiction and also provides outpatient counseling and support.
Why do you choose to practice medicine in Maine?
“I’m originally from Maine. The state of Maine helped get me through medical school. I’m giving back to those who gave to me years ago.”
Irvin Paradis, Augusta
“I was raised here and feel a strong commitment to help the communities and health of our Maine residents.” John Dickens, Jr., Lewiston
“I love the Maine lifestyle!” Rita L. Seger, Ellsworth
“The patients are thankful and appreciative of my care.” Andrew Ehrhard, Bangor
“It’s a great place to raise a family.” Kathryn Galbraith, Limerick
“There is a great balance between medicine/career and personal life — great place to raise a family.”
Melinda Schimmack, South Portland
“It’s where I want to live.” Edward Fels, Portland
“It’s my home, and Mainers are satisfying patients — they want to be healthy and they want to stay out of my office!”
Cameron Trubey, Bangor