, Gloucester, MA

October 4, 2012

Letter: AGH and national health-care dialogue

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

Call it what you want — “mission”, “passion” “obsession” — but for over 16 years, I have been deeply concerned about Addison Gilbert Hospital keeping its full medical/surgical designation in order to keep its status as an emergency room provider for Cape Ann.

I was an early joiner of the community citizens’ group called “Partners for Addison Gilbert Hospital” (PAGH) started by two RNs, Peggy O’Malley and Renee Gross-Nutbrown. And since late August, my interest has been partially eclipsed by intrusions of the hoopla generated by two political conventions, a series of political debates and a blizzard of political ads. Then, just this week, with a couple of brand new reminders from acquaintances of mine who needed an E.R. and needed it badly, my thoughts were yanked back to our situation on this island called Cape Ann.

I think back to late August, when, in The Friends Room at Gloucester’s Sawyer Free Library, Alan Sager, Professor of Medical Economics at Boston University, invited by PAGH’s Peggy O’Malley, spoke to a standing room only crowd on the condition of today’s community hospitals.

I think we were all hopeful that he would supply the magic words that would guarantee us our desperately needed health care. Instead he gave us a comprehensive history of what has been happening to community hospitals all over New England.

There has been a somewhat random pattern with at least two hospitals retaining their full status, including the credentials that enable them to supply emergency room services to their community for reasons strikingly similar to ours on Cape Ann. These are on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket by reason of the fact that, like us, they are separated from the mainland by a body of water.

When Dr. Sager was asked bluntly at the end of the August meeting, “What can be done?”, his reply was, “You fill this room.”

Emerging from the meeting, I found myself walking silently beside Dr. John Wolfe, M.D., both of us lost in thought. So discouraging … Could we dare to continue our campaign to retain our hospital?

Our representative, Peggy, had tried over and over to truly partner with AGH’s executives and institute a community/hospital dialogue. Suddenly Dr. Wolfe paused and looking far off into the darkening sky said, “It all comes down to a moral choice.”

Fast Forward — back to home and the incessant click-clack of TV and newspapers about the forthcoming conventions and elections, something suddenly happened to me: call it an illuminated truth, a light bulb going off, an ah-hah moment, an experiencing worth more than a 1,000 words.

I suddenly saw the wire that connects our anguish over our hospital with the looming elections.

The political party says it wants every American to give a little so that all may have access to health care. Another party says almost half the population (47 percent) are freeloaders who pay no taxes — this is from a millionaire whose millions are non-taxable because they are registered in Luxembourg and in the Cayman Islands. The freeloaders are also described as whiners, “seeing themselves as victims” and troublemakers who should be on their own instead of depending on government for services.

Why hadn’t I seen this before?

Alan Sager was right. John Wolfe was right. The old saying is right: “All politics is local.”

We do have thousands of us concerned about our hospital. We do have a moral choice. And we have at least some power; the power of the public outcry and the power of the vote. As PAGH continues to reach out a hand for a dialogue with our community hospital’s new stewards at Lahey, we can continue, as individuals, to write to our political representatives; both State and Federal and tell them that as they need our vote, we need their medical care.. We can also cast a vote for whichever political party we feel has the best chance of protecting our long term interests.

Is it, “Government will be your ally,” or, “Too bad, but you’re on your own.”?

Partners for Addison Gilbert Hospital will meet on Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. in the Friend’s Room at the Sawyer Free Library in Gloucester to talk about our present situation. All are invited to attend.

There are no guarantees in life, but there are still some meaningful choices.