A host of residents and a few City Councilors didn't get a written promise ensuring the future of Addison Gilbert Hospital from heads of Lahey Clinic and Northeast Health Systems yesterday.
But Ken Hanover, Northeast's corporate executive officer and Dr. Howard Grant, Lahey's president and CEO, said he had no plans or desire to close Gloucester's community hospital.
Hanover and Grant spoke before residents yesterday, fielding questions about the future of Addison Gilbert Hospital, the relationship and services at Addison and Beverly Hospital, and what residents could expect from the marriage of the two companies next year. They spoke to the City Council Tuesday night, and city residents in two public forums on Wednesday.
Both men said they had no plans to close the hospital, but said it would be disingenuous if either Lahey or Northeast promised to maintain services at Addison Gilbert Hospital for the unforeseeable future. Hanover said that no one could guarantee that any service will be at Addison Gilbert perpetually.
"Addison Gilbert Hospital's not going to close," said Hanover at one of the community forums, "there's no discussion and there's not intended to be discussion to close Addison Gilbert Hospital, period."
Grant said to the City Council that his company had no intentions of closing down, or reducing services at Addison Gilbert either.
Northeast Health Systems announced that it would affiliate with the Lahey Clinic in July. The two companies will create a $1.5 billion health care conglomerate. The companies will craft a parent organization, Lahey Health Systems, that will govern both the Lahey Clinic, and Northeast. That affiliation, when finalized, will include a number of hospitals from Gloucester to Burlington.
Grant and Hanover said that the affiliation's not finished yet, and won't be until the first quarter of 2012. The companies still need to pursue approval from the State Department of Public Health and the Federal Trade Commission. The State Attorney General, Martha Coakley, will also review the decision.
But, for some listeners, and some City Councilors, the future Lahey Health System's promise wasn't good enough. Councilor Joe Ciolino said, without a written guarantee, the Council and Selectmen in Essex, Rockport and Manchester should write to Coakley's office and state plainly that they don't bless the merger.
"We need a chip to barter better terms," he said.
That appeal, said Ciolino, would be the bargaining chip. He added that Rockport and Gloucester shouldn't bless the merger when they were not getting much out of it.
"By being silent, we are blessing it," he said.
City Councilor Bruce Tobey said, at the Tuesday night meeting, that the eight essential services required to keep a hospital operating an emergency room need to be maintained.
"We need that ER," he said.
But, Hanover and Grant said their company has guaranteed all it can, pending what they called massive changes at the government level.
Lahey, said Grant, will maintain services at Addison Gilbert for at least three years. He added that the company's model wants to keep patients in the community, rather than sending them up and down the line to Burlington, a tertiary care facility.
He said the company is committed to providing services at a local level.
Though residents said those services have been disappearing for 15 years, requiring a trip to Beverly or Danvers for seemingly minor needs.
"We've been shunted down the line for the last 15 years," said Ann-Patrice Hickey, of Rockport.
She said she was sent to Beverly Hospital for a simple blood test, and was concerned that Addison Gilbert did not provide even basic hospital services.
Gloucester resident Marcia Hart said the services at Addison Gilbert have been dismantled over the years, and the hospital needs basic surgical and procedural staffing, more than what the facility has already.
Addison Gilbert has just over 40 beds, and has performed two surgeries in the last year after 5 p.m., said Hanover.
Other residents asked if Lahey would make it easier for patients to transfer physicians out of the system.
Grant said that going out of the Lahey Health System was a patient's choice, but if residents wanted a community hospital with sound services, they needed to use it enough to provide for those services.
"Every time you get diagnosed someplace else, those are resources that are taken away from Addison Gilbert Hospital," said Grant.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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