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January 6, 2012

Locals press state for AGH guarantee

BEVERLY — The planned partnership between Northeast Health System and the Lahey Clinic is a model that aims to keep primary care in communities, state Sen. Bruce Tarr acknowledged during a state Department of Public Health hearing Thursday night,

But it's a model that can't exist without Addison Gilbert Hospital.

And without an assurance that Gloucester's local hospital will be part of that system, Tarr said, the DPH should take another look at the two nonprofits' plans to affiliate.

"If we can't find those assurances," said Tarr, "I urge you to rethink the affiliation proposal,"

In Northeast's transfer in ownership application, the company lays out a written, albeit, non-binding guarantee to maintain essential clinical services at no less than current levels at Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals for three years after the affiliation goes through.

But, according to the document, that maintenance is subject to exceptions determined by the affiliates' governing board. Exceptions for "exigent financial circumstances and regulatory requirements." It's also listed in a "non-binding" terms section.

That hasn't been enough for a number of Cape Ann residents and officials, who drove home that point to the DPH during Thursday night's hearing at Beverly's Memorial Hall.

Local officials, including Congressman John Tierney, Tarr and Mayor Carolyn Kirk all urged the department to make the preservation of Addison Gilbert's essential services a condition of both companies' affiliation plans.

Tierney said the affiliation can improve health care services for much of the North Shore area. But, he asked the department to find a way to ensure Addison Gilbert's future, especially regarding emergency services.

"The continuation of emergency services out there is a vital part of your decision," said Tierney.

The proposed new Lahey Health System, Northeast CEO Ken Hanover reiterated, has no plans to close Addison Gilbert, or drain essential services. Instead, he said, it will let the company invest in its community hospitals.

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