, Gloucester, MA

October 4, 2012

Letter: Pressing questions for AGH, Lahey Health

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

It’s been six months since Partners for Addison Gilbert Hospital succeeded in persuading the Massachusetts Public Health Council to impose binding conditions on the merger of Northeast and Lahey that require the new corporate entity, Lahey Health Systems, to maintain services at Addison Gilbert Hospital at current levels for a minimum of three years and to conduct a comprehensive community health needs assessment, in cooperation with Department of Public Health (DPH) with input from the Cape Ann community.

The Public Health Council also directed Dr. Grant, the CEO of Lahey, to return to the Public Health Council in May 2014 to define Lahey’s plans for AGH after May 2015 in light of the findings of the community health assessment.

At the end of that meeting in March, I shook hands with Dr. Grant and expressed my commitment to work collaboratively for the people of Cape Ann. Like so many others, I was hopeful that a new era was about to begin and that AGH would benefit under Lahey. Events since then have dampened those hopes.

As soon as the merger became official in May, Lahey sent a health survey to a very small sample of Cape Ann residents which included not a single mention of AGH in 130 questions. It was also sent to residents of Manchester, Essex, Ipswich, Hamilton and Wenham. There’s no indication that a survey specific to Cape Ann is planned.

That’s understandable from a corporate perspective. The data from previous surveys of Gloucester residents made a compelling case for the need for all acute services at AGH.

Since May, it has been impossible for Partners for AGH to get a meeting with Cindy Donaldson, the administrator of AGH, to discuss how to cooperate to maximize the use of AGH services and participate in the community health assessment process. Neither Dr. Grant nor Mr. Hanover has responded to similar requests in writing.

It now seems clear to us that the community health assessment is an inside job, tightly-controlled by Lahey executives who selected their very own “Cape Ann community panel of executives to address the findings of the needs assessment and related AGH planning.”

For the rest of us non-executives, the only chance we’ll have to discuss the assessment of our needs will be at two community forums — scheduled for next Tuesday at 5:30 at the Gloucester House, and on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 5:30 at the Rockport Community House.

You must attend and speak up for the greatest health need of Cape Ann, our acute care hospital, AGH.

No matter how the presenters spin the data, the financial reports Northeast and Lahey filed with the Attorney General in 2011 prove that the new mega-corporation Lahey Health Systems can easily afford to maintain all essential acute care services at AGH.

In 2011, Northeast had an operating surplus of $6.3 million. Lahey’s was $2.5 million. Northeast had net assets of $140 million. With those of Lahey, total net assets were $463 million — and that’s free and clear, after all liabilities have been subtracted, now held by Lahey Health Systems. That’s extraordinary wealth for a nonprofit public charity.

Back in 1995, another select panel of Cape Ann executives, the AGH trustees, was persuaded by Beverly Hospital to give away Addison Gilbert, Seacoast Nursing Home, $6 million in the AGH Foundation, 5 houses, a priceless art collection, a 25 percent interest in North Shore MRI (which gave Beverly 50 percent control of it), all of it amounting to $56 million in assets.

In 2000, Northeast reported that $35 million in cash and investments could be attributed to AGH versus $29 million to Beverly. In 2003, an independent financial analyst estimated that the AGH investments alone had enriched Northeast by $9 million every year since the merger. Continued growth in the value of the AGH investment portfolio helped Northeast finance the $91 million expansion of Beverly over the past decade.

And while we are forced to literally beg for our lives, the CEOs of both Lahey and Northeast receive outrageous salaries. In 2011, Dr. Grant was paid $768,000 for just nine months of work at Lahey. Mr. Hanover received $938,000, including a $3,000/month “housing allowance.” Northeast also found $560,000 to pay Mr. Laverty, the former CEO who had left in disgrace four years earlier.

No, it’s really not about the money. It’s really about a fundamental lack of respect for the people of Cape Ann whose lives and safety depend upon AGH. If that makes you mad, it’s time to speak up and not stop.

Make no mistake. Once Lahey Health Systems was established, the corporate plan was to continue “downsizing” AGH into oblivion. Because of Partners for AGH, our hospital got a three-year reprieve from DPH. The clock is ticking.

Please attend the Lahey community forums on Oct. 9 and 11 and speak out. Then, on Oct. 30, join us at the Partners for AGH meeting at 6:30 at Sawyer Free Library.



Chairperson, Partners for Addison Gilbert Hospital