GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 6, 2013

Lahey Health cuts ties to behavioral programs

By Paul Leighton
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — Lahey Health, the parent company of Northeast Health Systems and Gloucester’s Addison Gilbert Hospital, has relinquished operation of four programs on the North Shore that help people deal with rape, HIV, AIDs, drug abuse and mental illness, though none of the dropped programs are on Cape Ann.

The programs, based in Beverly, Peabody and Lynn, have been taken over by other agencies as of July 1 and will continue to provide services, said Kevin Norton, CEO of Lahey Health Behavioral Services.

The programs include Prism, which provided free HIV counseling and testing in Beverly; Pioneer House of Peabody for people with mental illness; the North Shore Rape Crisis Center in Lynn; and Healthy Streets, a Lynn-based outreach program for injection drug users.

Lahey is also looking for a new provider to take over Serenity Supportive Housing in Topsfield, according to Norton. Serenity provides housing for people who are HIV positive.

Norton said Lahey Health wanted to continue operating Pioneer House, but was outbid for the contract by another agency. Lahey decided to stop operating the other programs in order to focus on “core services” under health care reform, he said.

Norton said the programs have “incredible value” to the community but might be “better operated by a different provider.”

”Prevention and outreach is typically done by somebody other than members of the health care community,” he said. “The question is, do you want to try and be all things to all people, or specialize and be better than everybody else?”

Prism, which had been located on Rantoul Street in Beverly for 16 years, closed its doors on June 27. In addition to HIV counseling and testing, the program offered youth social and support groups, free condoms and safe-sex information, and outreach at clubs, bars and parties to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The Prism program has been taken over by the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers, an agency based in Cambridge.

Kirsten Freni, a counselor at Prism, said the program’s move out of Beverly will leave a gap in services for the gay and lesbian community, particularly for younger people.

”We’ve got clients calling and crying,” Freni said. “We have all of these youths now who are not going to have the deep level of services as well as the relationships we have built over the years. The fact that there’s not going to be any legacy left here is heart-wrenching.”

Freni is also board president of the North Shore Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth and a member of the Massachusetts Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth. She said she and two other staffers at Prism lost their jobs due to the change.

Norton said he did not know how many people lost jobs in the transition. In some cases, he said, the new operator hired all of the staff to continue to run the program.

Norton said Lahey Behavioral Health continues to provide a range of mental health and addiction treatment services, with 1,800 employees at 34 locations and annual revenue over $110 million.

Lahey assumed control of the behavioral health programs when it essentially merged with Northeast Health and Beverly Hospital last year. The programs were formerly run by CAB Health and Recovery Services and Health and Education Services. Those two agencies also merged in 2010.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.