Lawsuit Objecting to Hospital Merger Dismissed by Maine Court

A superior court judge in Maine recently dismissed a lawsuit objecting to the merger of a hospital in Dover-Foxcroft.

The former Mayo Regional Hospital is now a part of Northern Light Health. The Northern Light Mayo Hospital provides advanced medical services to more than 26,000 residents in Piscataquis County. It also provides services in adjacent Penobscot and Somerset counties.

Northern Light Health has 10 hospitals in its health network. The former Mayo Regional Hospital merged in March of 2020.

What Did the Lawsuit Say?

In December 2019, The town of Cambridge and roughly three dozen residents from the other communities filed the lawsuit. The plaintiffs collectively owned Mayo Regional Hospital. The tried to block the merger with Northern Light Health.

The plaintiffs file their 26-page complaint in Somerset County Superior Court. The plaintiffs argued that special legislation authorizing the merger was unconstitutional and that leaders of the quasi-municipal entity that ran Mayo Regional Hospital — Hospital Administrative District 4 — violated that entity’s charter by pursuing the deal without first holding votes in each of its 13 member communities. The complaint also contended that Hospital Administrative District 4 used taxpayer funds to promote a partisan cause. This allegation rested on the district’s hire of an Indiana attorney and a Bangor public relations firm to help generate support for the hospital merger.

The lawsuit named Hospital Administrative District 4 and Northern Light Health as defendants. Additional defendants included the State of Maine and Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew of Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

The hospital suffered operating losses every year since 2010. Supporters of the merger believe it will ensure the 25-bed hospital’s survival. Nonetheless, the merger agreement only obligates Northern Light Health to maintain its current services for five years.

Second Action Facing Dismissal

Justice Michaela Murphy, a superior court justice in Maine’s Kennebec County Superior Court dismissed in July 2020 on all but one count. The judge subsequently dismissed the final count in November 2020. Murphy held that the lawsuit moot because the the hospitals completed the merger in early 2020.

The Dexter attorney who filed the lawsuit, Gerald Nessmann, remarked that the plaintiffs opted not to appeal Justice Murphy’s rulings to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

This was the second judge to dismiss a challenge to the hospital merger. Superior Court Justice William Anderson in Penobscot County Superior Court dismissed an earlier lawsuit in March 2019. The dismissal took place prior to the completion of the merger. Justice Anderson held that Nessmann, who was also a plaintiff in that lawsuit, did not have legal standing to file it. The judge also held that because the merger had not been finalized, Nessmann couldn’t claim any harm from the transaction.