Northeast Health System CEO Ken Hanover said Wednesday the business plan for the larger system to be formed by the affiliation of Northeast with the Lahey Clinic includes maintaining Addison Gilbert Hospital as an acute care facility for at least three years.
An acute care hospital in Massachusetts must offer eight essential services for the maintenance of an emergency department, a requirement to be state licensed as an acute care hospital.
"Lahey has committed to keeping the eight essential services for three years," Hanover said in a telephone interview a day after he and Howard Grant, CEO of Lahey, announced signing an agreement in principle to combine the overlapping systems into a $1.5 billion integrated regional health care system whose main hospital campuses — Lahey's in Burlington and Peabody and Northeast's in Lynn, Beverly, Danvers and Gloucester — arrange like a medical charm bracelet along and aside Route 128.
Adding more "charms" is on the work plan and would not come as a surprise, the CEOs said in a joint telephone interview Tuesday.
The definitive agreement and detailed rationalization of the resources and facilities could take months and requires review by the state Department of Public Health and possibly the state attorney general's office.
Lahey is a $1 billion business with global reach whose pioneering work in creating an outpatient menu of specialists under one roof helped revolutionize medicine in the mid-20th century when the clinic was in Boston. It moved to a Burlington campus in 1980 and has had a working relationship to provide tertiary care to Northeast patients in cardiology and other specialized fields.
The affiliated system will take Lahey's esteemed name but was described as a combination of equals.
"No money is changing hands, the new parent entity will control all the resources of two organizations," Grant and Hanover said in their joint interview.
They went on to say the board would be made up of an equal number of members from each side plus for members of the public.
Hanover also told the Times Wednesday he felt that the anxiety of the Cape Ann community about the creation of the largest system to include AGH was understandable and to some extent arose from a failure of Northeast to inform the community of the dense, complex changes altering the health services landscape continually.
"Part of the problem, the suspicion of the community, perhaps there needs to be more disclosure of what's going on," he said. "There is a huge lack of understanding, and we have a responsibility to address that."
Hanover said he intended to hold a series of community forums starting within 45 days that he will use as interactive portals to get, as well as give information while the complex planning for the new system is underway.
"The question really is not about Addison Gilbert," he said. "The question is what health care services need to be available on Cape Ann to meet the needs of the community. That's where we need to begin the dialog.
"We haven't figured out what the distribution of services should be. We'll use the community forums to begin the dialogs and the education process."
Mayor Carolyn Kirk and Council President Jackie Hardy each spoke independently with Hanover, and expressed optimism about the merger and a need for clarity during the community forums.
Kirk said Hanover "has been building a track record of trust, but he has to continue following through. In opening the door for community inputs, this community will enter and let them know that this hospital is vital," she said in a telephone interview.
"Northeast recognizes that one of the reasons they are on sound fiscal ground is because of the AGH campus and its surrounding communities," said Hardy in an email. "It is important that we, as a community, deliver that message to Lahey now by being honest with them up-front as to what our expectations are, not the least of which is we need to maintain our emergency room and essential acute care facility in Gloucester."
Peggy O'Malley, who for many years has been the leading community hospital activist, said she was not impressed with the promise by Hanover.
"We have nothing that is legally binding," O'Malley said in a telephone interview. "He can say anything. They could have made that statement at any time, so to build it as significant is silliness.
"Three years go by quickly," she added, "and they're going to have a new board of trustees, and Ken Hanover will be an executive in a new organization."
Councilor Bruce Tobey introduced an emergency order to invite Hanover to appear at the Aug. 9 council meeting to brief the community. "If we can't make that date" he said, "we'll respond quickly."
The eight essential services which have defined the minimum requirements of the community over more than a decade of struggle to protect Addison Gilbert include: inpatient medical/surgical beds; critical care beds, constant availability of qualified physicians and staff, laboratory, radiological and surgical services including adequate operating room facilities, post-anesthesia recovery services and readily available blood bank services.