by AT News Team
At a time when the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is promoting expanded health outreach in New York City, the two remaining Adventist hospitals in the northeast sector of the United States are both taking steps to end their affiliation with the denomination. An application has been filed with state authorities in Maine to transfer control of Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick to Central Maine Healthcare, and Hackettstown Regional Medical Center (HRMC) in New Jersey has three bids from health care organizations, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.
The situation in New Jersey is less clear than the one in Maine. It is also closer to New York City, situated in an outer suburb where a significant number of residents commute into the city by train, bus or Interstate 80. Adventist HealthCare, a nonprofit affiliated with the Columbia Union Conference which controls HRMC, has announced that it is considering “strategic affiliations” but has not filed any legal applications for change of status as yet.
Parkview is waiting for approval from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and there has seen local opposition to the proposed change. This has come primarily from Mid-Coast Hospital, a competitor of Parkview’s in the Portland metro area. Adventist Today was also told that a “third option” had been put forward by an Adventist group, although no confirmation of this could be found.
“For more than a decade, we have had a strong working relationship with Central Maine Healthcare that has supported our mission to help people get well and stay well,” Mike Ortel, chairman of the hospital board and president of the Northern New England Conference, said in a statement published in the Bangor Daily News. “We want to continue that relationship because we care about our patients and our communities.” A number of local residents have told Adventist Today that if Mid-Coast Hospital took over Parkview it would likely close down the Brunswick facility at some point. Local news media have also hinted at this outcome.
If the control of Parkview is transferred to Central Main Healthcare, little will change other than the name of the institution. The consortium has made this clear in the legal undertakings in its application to the state. The current administrator—Randy Reynolds, an Adventist—will retain his job as will the other current employees. Peter Chalke, the president of Central Maine Healthcare, is on record as stating that “we believe in the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s core values and mission [and] we intend to continue those faith-based values” at Parkview hospital, although the General Conference attorneys have advised that the word “Adventist” must be removed from its name if the local conference turns over organizational control.
Although no public conflict has erupted as it did in Maine newspapers, three New Jersey health care organizations have submitted bids for the Hackettstown hospital. It currently has an alliance with Hackensack University Medical Center which that institution is proposing to maintain and strengthen. Atlantic Health System in Morristown and Ascension Healthcare based in St. Louis, Missouri, have also sent proposals to Adventist HealthCare, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.
Adventist HealthCare’s management and board will make the decision about the future status of Hackettstown hospital. It also operates four hospitals and a number of nursing centers in suburbs of Washington DC. It is one of the largest employers in the state of Maryland. The nonprofit agency got its start in 1907 with the Washington Sanitarium, today’s Washington Adventist Hospital. Ellen G. White donated the royalties from her book The Ministry of Healing to start the institution. It shares a campus with Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park about two miles from where the General Conference office complex was located until 1989, when it moved six miles further out into the suburbs.
If both the Parkview and Hackettstown hospitals end their affiliation with the Adventist Church, there will be no Adventist hospital north of the historic Mason-Dixon Line and east of Dayton, Ohio, in the Midwest. At one time there were several more, including New England Memorial Hospital in the suburbs of Boston and Reading Rehabilitation Hospital in eastern Pennsylvania.
There are three Adventist churches in Hackettstown and nearby Tranquility, where the New Jersey Conference maintains a retreat center on a campus that once housed a boarding academy. The largest has fewer than 150 members and the other two are smaller congregations. The Brunswick church, long known as the “hospital church,” has more than 400 members and three miles away is a congregation of about 125 in historic Topsham, Maine, the hometown of Ellen White.
“The changes taking place in the way health care is organized in America means that it is becoming impossible for smaller, independent hospitals to survive,” a health care executive told Adventist Today. “There is little that can be done to avoid this kind of development.” The other Adventist hospitals across the country all belong to systems that are affiliated with the denomination, but these two hospitals are “just too far away,” another health care executive told Adventist Today.
“Starting in the first decade of the 20th century, Ellen White urged the denomination to develop a strong urban mission program in ‘the cities of the east,’ but it has never been seriously pursued or invested in,” says Monte Sahlin, an urban ministry specialist who has written about this history in his book Mission in Metropolis: The Adventist Movement in an Urban World. “We simply have not displayed the organizational will to build sustainable institutions to serve the general public in these cities. In many ways, the Northeast has never been an easy place for Adventists to feel at home, so it remains one of the major unreached sections of the globe. We are losing ground more than we are gaining it, both here and in many places in Europe.”