Friday, August 14, 2009

Obama States Case for Health Care Reform

By Devin Beliveau
Staff Columnist
In the middle of a vigorous national debate over health care, President Barack Obama decided to visit Portsmouth, N. H. to state his case for reform and hear from people on the matter. Dubbed a Town Hall Meeting by the White House, President Obama arrived at Portsmouth High School at 1p.m. on Tuesday to discuss his hopes and plans for national health care reform.
Packed inside the PHS gymnasium awaiting the president were 1,800 people, most of who secured the free tickets through the online lottery held by the White House. Outside PHS, hundreds of people lined the length of the driveway, including many groups who either supported or opposed the president’s ideas for health care reform.
Excitement filled the gymnasium. After a testimonial given by a woman named Lori about her inability to secure health care coverage due to her medical condition, President Obama took the stage to an enthusiastic standing ovation.
President Obama began by outlining the basics of his health care reform proposals. “Under the reform we’re proposing, insurance companies will be prohibited from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history,” he said. “Period. They will not be able to drop your coverage if you get sick. They will not be able to water down your coverage when you need it. Your health insurance should be there for you when it counts, not just when you’re paying premiums, but when you actually get sick. And it will be when we pass this plan.”
After outlining his proposals for about fifteen minutes, the president moved on to the question-and-answer part of the meeting. Before taking the first question, the president referenced the contentious nature of some other town hall meetings that have recently taken place in the country. “Now, before I start taking questions, let me just say there’s been a long and vigorous debate about this (health care), and that’s how it should be, he said. “That’s what America is about, is we have a vigorous debate. That’s why we have a democracy. But I do hope that we will talk with each other and not over each other, because one of the objectives of democracy and debate is, is that we start refining our own views because maybe other people have different perspectives, things we didn’t think of.”
The president took nine questions over almost an hour span. Jackie Millet from Wells was able to ask her question about Medicare benefits. Ben Hershinson, another Maine resident, asked his question about universal health care: “Good afternoon, Mr. President. My name is Ben Hershinson. I’m from Ogunquit, Maine, and also Florida. And I’m a Republican -- I don’t know what I’m doing here, but I’m here.”
President Obama made repeated requests for questions from those who were skeptical of his reform proposals. Responding to a question about bipartisan support, the president said: “Now, I think that there are some of my Republican friends on Capitol Hill who are sincerely trying to figure out if they can find a health care bill that works -- Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Olympia Snowe from Maine.” After a round of applause for Senator Snowe, the president acknowledged, “Yes, I got to admit I like Olympia, too.”
Local elected officials in attendance for the town hall meeting were Governors John Baldacci and John Lynch from Maine and New Hampshire, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Congressman Paul Hodes and Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, both of New Hampshire.
President Obama wrapped up the meeting around 2:15 p.m.: “If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options once we pass reform. If you do have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.”
Measuring the odds for his success, the president concluded “I am confident we can do it, but I’m going to need your help, New Hampshire.”
Photo caption: President Obama responds to a question at Tuesday’s health care forum in Portsmouth. (Devin Beliveau photo)

Tall Ships Visit Seacoast

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
Tens of thousands of people were drawn to the Seacoast last weekend to see, admire and/or tour tall ships. The Piscataqua Maritime Commission sponsored the festival, hailed as one the biggest events in port history.
It all began Friday morning when people lined both sides of the Piscataqua River to see the ships, the USCGC Eagle, the Spirit of South Carolina, the Spirit of Massachusetts, and Delaware’s Kalmar Nyckel arrive.
They were welcomed to the harbor by a flotilla of small boats that accompanied them to their berths at the docks of the New Hampshire Department of Ports and Harbors, off Market Street Extension in Portsmouth.
Saturday and Sunday saw long lines as people from throughout New England stood in line for lengthy periods to tour the ships. Scheduled rides on the ships were cancelled due to tricky currents.
The Eagle, a 1800-ton steel hull, three-masted sailing ship with more than 21,000 square feet of sail and more than five miles of rigging, left the area Monday morning followed by the other ships.
Eagle is the only active commissioned sailing ship in the United States Military, and is home ported at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. Originally known as the Horst Wessel, it was a training vessel for German Naval cadets in the 1930s before being captured by the United States. It carries a crew of six officers and 48 enlisted men and women.
Kalmar Nyckel has served as an outreach platform for the State of Delaware since 1998.
The Spirit of South Carolina descends from a line of swift, able schooners that served the coastal and harbor pilots along the southeast coast from the mid 1700’s to the early 1900’s.
The Spirit of Massachusetts is based on the design of the Fredonia, a famous Massachusetts schooner of the late 20th century. She was commissioned at Boston in June 1984, and works as a sail training ship for Boston’s New England Historic Seaport, a unique school under canvas.
The Piscataqua Maritime Commission is a non-profit community organization dedicated to promoting awareness and education of the New Hampshire seacoast’s rich maritime history through Tall Ship port calls.
Proceeds from ship tours and marketing fund a variety of sail training scholarships for area students and other educational programs.
Photo caption: The USCG Eagle leaving port Monday morning after a weekend stay in Portsmouth. (Larry Favinger photo)

Goodall Hospital Enters Agreement
to Become MaineHealth Member

Goodall Hospital, an acute-care hospital based in Sanford has entered an agreement to become a member of the MaineHealth system. MaineHealth, a not-for-profit integrated healthcare system, is the parent organization of Maine Medical Center, Southern Maine Medical Center and several other hospitals and healthcare organizations. The agreement was unanimously approved by the board of directors of each organization.
The Goodall Hospital board of trustees developed an exploratory committee several months ago to analyze options for the hospital’s future and concluded that membership in the MaineHealth system would protect the accessibility and quality of healthcare in the area of York County it serves. Merilee Mapes Perkins, chair of the Goodall Hospital board of trustees explained, “We did our homework and decided that MaineHealth was the best option for the hospital and our community.”
With the downturn in the economy and healthcare reform on the horizon, many independent hospitals are in merger discussions. “The changing landscape of government reimbursement, skyrocketing costs, increasing regulation and a drive to improve quality is paving the way for many small hospitals to seek membership in larger systems,” said Darlene Stromstad, president and CEO of Goodall Hospital.
Goodall Hospital’s membership in the MaineHealth system, which will make MaineHealth the parent organization of the hospital, will allow Goodall to strategically partner with MaineHealth and its members to improve healthcare in York County. “Membership will help Goodall improve its delivery of care to patients, realize efficiencies and cost savings, and ensure healthcare remains available in the area of York County it serves,” said Bill Caron, Jr., president of MaineHealth.
“By coordinating resources and collaborating on healthcare delivery, we’ll be able to deploy resources more effectively,” added Stromstad. “MaineHealth’s access to technology and specialists will help our hospital to more fully develop quality healthcare models. We’re thrilled to be bringing the resources of Maine’s premier health system to our community.”
“We’re excited about the opportunity this membership addition to MaineHealth presents,” stated Ed McGeachey, president and CEO of Southern Maine Medical Center. “It allows us to broaden our efforts for a rational and appropriate healthcare services planning approach for the York County regions we collectively serve.”
As MaineHealth and Goodall Hospital begin the due diligence process, they will simultaneously prepare an application to the State of Maine for a Certificate of Need and request an antitrust review. The merger may be completed by the end of 2009.
Goodall Hospital has a history of collaborating with members and affiliates of the MaineHealth system, including development of the Cancer Care Center of York County, a joint partnership with Southern Maine Medical Center and Maine Medical Center. Membership in MaineHealth allows Goodall to plan for York County’s community healthcare needs in conjunction with Southern Maine Medical Center.
MaineHealth is a not-for-profit family of leading, high-quality providers and other healthcare organizations working together so their communities are the healthiest in America. Ranked among the nation’s top 100 integrated healthcare delivery networks, MaineHealth’s member organizations include Maine Medical Center, Miles Memorial Hospital, St. Andrews Hospital & Healthcare Center, Southern Maine Medical Center, Stephens Memorial Hospital, Waldo County General Hospital, Spring Harbor Hospital, HomeHealth Visiting Nurses, Maine Physician Hospital Organization, NorDx and Synernet. Affiliates of MaineHealth include MaineGeneral Medical Center, Mid Coast Hospital, St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and Penobscot Bay Medical Center.