Northeast Health System and Lahey Clinic have confirmed they will maintain "essential" services at Gloucester's Addison Gilbert Hospital and at Beverly Hospital for three years, and keep all employees for at least one year after their proposed merger, according to documents filed with the Department of Public Health.
The documents, formally filed last week, say those provisions are part of a "mutual understanding" on the part of Lahey and Northeast, but are not legally binding until they reach a definitive agreement.
"We're still actively engaged in the due diligence and planning phase of the process, so there are still some unanswered questions," Northeast Health System spokeswoman Lori Howley said.
The agreements between Lahey Clinic and Northeast Health are laid out in an application filed by the two organizations with the Department of Public Health, which must approve the merger.
As part of the agreements, a newly formed Lahey Health System would keep "essential clinical services" — such as obstetrics, pediatrics, cancer, cardiac, behavioral health and senior health — at both Beverly Hospital and Addison Gilbert for three years after finalization of the partnership.
The new organization would also maintain the emergency departments at both hospitals for the same time period.
Howley said officials will use those three years to evaluate all of the organization's services and "develop a network that aligns with the needs of the community."
Officials also said in the filing that they would offer employment to all current Northeast Health and Lahey employees "for at least 12 months" after the merger.
"It's a long process, and any changes that occur with staff or otherwise will take time," Howley said.
The three-year commitments place in writing the promises made by Northeast and Lahey chief executives Kenneth Hanover and Howard Grant, respectively, during a September visit to the Gloucester City Council and during a pair of community forums held at Cruiseport Gloucester.
Yet they stop short of the longer-term "guarantee" demanded by Peggy O'Malley, who heads a citizen activist group called partners for Addison Gilbert, and by City Councilor Joseph Ciolino, who suggested that — without a written guarantee for keeping Addison Gilbert open permanently — Gloucester's Council and the selectmen in Essex, Rockport and Manchester should write to the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley and state plainly that they don't bless the merger. In addition to the state Department of Health, the merger must be approved by Coakley's office and by the Federal Trade Commission.
He added that Rockport and Gloucester, especially. shouldn't bless the merger since they are not getting much out of it.
"By being silent, we are blessing it," he said.
The application filed with the state Department of Health indicates that the consolidation of health care services on the North Shore won't end with the Lahey-Northeast partnership.
Once the merger is complete, the newly formed organization intends to "acquire and develop other health care systems to create a clinically integrated, multi-provider delivery system in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."
Howley said it's "too soon to say" what other hospitals the new Lahey Health System would look to acquire.
"It's a long process, but looking down the road, the goal is to expand the system, to create increased efficiencies by creating a system of services that offer high-quality care for people in a community setting," she said.
Lahey Clinic and Northeast Health System announced in July that they plan to align under a new organization, Lahey Health System, led by Grant as the current Lahey president and CEO. The organizations say no money will change hands.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health said public hearings will be held on the proposed merger, although no dates have been set.
In addition to Addison Gilbert and Beverly hospitals, Northeast Health System operates several other health care facilities, as well as several human services agencies.
Lahey Clinic, a research and teaching hospital, is headquartered in Burlington and has a hospital in Peabody.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by email at email@example.com.