Northeast Health Systems and the Lahey Clinic have closed the deal on their merger and will start building their new organization, Lahey Health Systems, over the next few months.
Cape Ann residents and officials said Thursday they are optimistic, some cautiously so, about what the affiliation means for the future of Addison Gilbert Hospital.
Some said the merger could mean improved services at the Gloucester hospital. Others said they want the health care company to start work on a mandated community needs assessment as soon as possible.
But the nonprofit is only merged on paper. And it will a while before patients see any change in the way the system operates, said Lori Howley, spokeswoman for the Northeast Health Systems side of Lahey Health Systems. Before Lahey Health Systems undertakes any major initiatives, she said, it needs to get its administrative house in order.
LHS will, in the first few months, integrate a centralized administrative model that supports local management, create a physician leadership council, complete a branding effort, and identify opportunities to further grow the system, Howley said.
The official affiliation or merger, firmed up Wednesday, closed a few months short of a year after both nonprofits announced it last July. The merge creates $1.5 billion regional health system along an axis from Gloucester to Burlington, governed by a new nonprofit corporation with equal representation from both nonprofits.
We will work to ensure a healthier future for the communities we serve by providing patients access to a full continuum of high-quality, cost-efficient services close to home," said Howard Grant president and chief executive officer of the new Lahey Health System.
Peggy O'Malley, head of Partners for Addison Gilbert Hospital, said LHS should make starting a community health needs assessment one of those initial priorities. The state's Public Health Council made that assessment a condition of the merger when it signed off on it in March.
"That is very critical," she said.
The assessment, O'Malley added should include the entire Cape Ann community, especially those that have a special need for Addison Gilbert services. Like the growing population of residents 60 and older, and residents who can't make a trip to Beverly Hospital. The assessment, she said, should guide how LHS deals with the Cape Ann community. The island has specific geographical constraints along with the needs of the population.
"As we move forward," O'Malley said, "we need to be prepared, not for today, but what is going to happen in the community and what needs will need to be met in the next 10 years and 20 years."
The Public Health Councils approval brought several protections for Cape Ann's community hospital. One of which requires the merged non-profit hospital corporation to keep Addison Gilbert running with current services for at least three years. The Public Health Council also requires Lahey Health Systems to provide a year's notice to the community before closing any services at Addison Gilbert, and requires a two-year update on the status of the hospital's services.
Howley said planning for a community needs assessment to understand the Cape Ann area and the role of Addison Gilbert and LHS in meeting those needs is underway.
"The planning for that is underway," she said.
Local officials said they're optimistic about what the merger could mean for Addison Gilbert.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk said the outreach and community input sought during the merger process is something she'd like to see continued. What residents said, she added, the non-profits listened to, and responded to. It's a dialogue that has to keep going, Kirk said.
"That's the kind of tone and type of relationship that I'd like to see carried forward now merger's complete," Kirk said.
"It will probably make the hospital better, as far as I'm concerned," said Lucy Sheehan, Rose Baker Senior Center coordinator.
She said she would like the nonprofit to allow more patients' primary care physicians to see them while they're in the hospital.
The merger, she said, brings the possibility of additional services at Addison Gilbert for a growing population over 60, about 7,400 of them in all. Lately, she said, she's seen great improvements in staff and care at the hospital.
While much of what happens at the hospital doesn't effect the city's Emergency Medical Services, said Sander Shultz, Fire Department EMS coordinator, the three-year guarantee is reassuring. As long as the emergency department remains open and functional, and as long as the trauma ward at Beverly keeps running, the impact on the Fire Department's EMS won't be noticeable.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.