It's certainly understandable for the nurses union covering the staff at Addison Gilbert Hospital, Beverly Hospital and other components of Northeast Health System to want some assurance that "successor language" will be included in any merger or sale agreement that's expected from the nonprofit corporation in the coming weeks.
To that end, it was good to hear Northeast Hospital Corp. Executive Vice President Pauline Pike tell the Times late last week that the nurses' union "will remain intact and be recognized in the event of any merger or acquisition" — even if her statement doesn't go quite as far as the nurses, now bargaining for a new contract, would like.
But amid all of this, it's important for the nurses and especially for the Northeast Board of Trustees to remember what must indeed have the highest priority when they move toward nailing down an agreement with either nonprofits Lahey Clinic and Beth Israel-Deaconness or for-profit bidders Vanguard Health and Steward, which runs the Caritas hospitals.
It's not the status of a nurses' or other staff contract, and it's not the status of current Northeast administrators or board members. It is a commitment to the community — and that's especially true for the survival of Addison Gilbert and its core services that are so desperately needed by the people of Gloucester and Rockport, who would be relatively isolated from accessible hospital care if AGH were ever cast adrift.
As we've noted previously, we recognize the difficulty the Northeast board faces in putting any condition in writing guaranteeing a commitment to AGH — and the eight essential services needed for Gloucester's and Cape Ann's hospital to continue providing emergency care — be a mandate for any deal. And, despite resolutions from the Gloucester City Council and Rockport selectmen, that remains true; it's simply not realistic to expect Northeast to give a written commitment to that type of language, any more than to sign off on contract language for the nurses.
But, while everyone appreciates the work that our nurses and other AGH caregivers provide, the trustees cannot give priority to the for-profit companies simply because they've been shown to have better working relationships with the state nurses' association or any other employee groups.
Addison Gilbert and Beverly Hospital remain community hospitals. And the health and patient care for the people in our communities must be seen as the Board of Trustees' top priority — barring none.