, Gloucester, MA

July 19, 2013


Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

In March 2012, the Massachusetts Public Health Council approved the merger of Northeast and Lahey with the conditions that no change to AGH services could be made for at least three years and that Lahey conduct a Cape Ann health needs assessment and a process of community input to guide the determination of what services will be provided at AGH after May 2015.

Furthermore, the council ordered Lahey executives to return in just two years and report what they had learned and how it guided their plans for AGH after May 2015.

This would give the council and the people of Cape Ann a full year’s notice before Lahey’s plans could be initiated. It’s now just eight months until Lahey’s plan is due. How is it coming along?

The Cape Ann community health needs assessment was done. It found that transportation and cost were the major barriers to Cape Ann residents getting care.

It documented that in Rockport, nearly 3,000 people — 43 percent of all residents — are 55 or older. In Gloucester, it’s nearly 10,000 people, or 35 percent of residents. That leads to more hospitalizations. Cape Ann is home to 6,550 children and 5,600 women of child-bearing age.

There were nearly 13,000 visits to the Emergency Department by Cape Ann residents. That doesn’t even account for those by visitors.

Gloucester has the highest rates in Essex County of these chronic diseases: diabetes, respiratory disease, and lung cancer, all associated with more frequent hospital admissions. It has more hospitalizations for pneumonia and chronic obstructive lung disease.

Depression and anxiety are high, too. Among Gloucester residents, there are more hospitalizations for mental disorders as well as those for abuse of alcohol, prescriptions and illegal drugs than the county or state.

So the data support what we’ve known all along. Among Cape Ann residents and leaders, there has been for many years a consensus that we need, at a minimum, every acute care service at AGH that the state requires for a full-service ER, one that can accept ambulance calls through the 911 EMS system. These include 24/7 availability in the AGH building of surgery and anesthesia, and ICU and medical/surgical beds. To date, Beverly Hospital, and now Lahey Health, has refused to guarantee even these minimum services.

Lahey has given local people a very limited role in planning for the future of AGH. They hand-picked their own “Cape Ann panel,” which met twice, in December and March. Meetings consisted of “confidential” presentations by the “executive team” with limited time for discussion.

Two “Cape Ann forums” held by two hospital executives were devoted to tightly-scripted presentations on the (designed) decline in utilization of AGH services and revenues with, again, little time allowed for questions and comments. The people were willing to stay; the executives were not.

Hospital executives will tell you that the elimination of AGH services, the “consolidation” of services at facilities farther and farther down the line, are necessary to keep health care costs low. Don’t believe it.

The Attorney General recently reported that the drivers of high health care costs in Massachusetts are the following: unregulated price increases by hospitals and other providers, the dominance of high cost teaching hospital networks (which consume $4 out of every $5 spent on health care), and the intermediary role of insurers. Nowhere on that list does the protection of essential services of small community hospitals appear.

Back in 1996, AGH was just one of three hospitals at which the new owner, Northeast Health, was eliminating services. The other two, Cable in Ipswich and Hunt in Danvers, closed. Addison Gilbert Hospital is still open albeit with far too drastic cuts in beds, services and revenue, and no guarantee it will be there when we need it.

We continue our work because of the participation of so many Cape Ann people. We’re having a meeting on Monday, July 22, at 6 p.m. at the Rockport Library.

Our meetings are always open to everyone. I hope you’ll join us. There’s so much we have to share with each other.



Chair, Partners for Addison Gilbert Hospital