, Gloucester, MA

April 8, 2013

Editorial: Lahey Health owes Cape Ann assurances on AGH, merger talks

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The late-March news that Lahey Health, the new nonprofit health care system forged from last year’s merger of the Lahey Clinic and Northeast Health Systems, with Gloucester’s Addison Gilbert Hospital in tow, was seeking to tap into a new “distressed hospital” funding stream that could provide state aid and increased accountability for AGH should indeed be good news for those in the Cape Ann health care community.

And the fact that Lahey officials and Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center are now engaged in “very preliminary” talks regarding an even bigger merger shouldn’t pose any immediate new fears for the Cape Ann community regarding AGH, either. That’s because the Lahey-Northeast merger into the new Lahey Health gained state approval with the condition that AGH operate its core services, including its emergency room, for at least three years, and that any changes down the line be vetted through a thorough assessment of community needs.

Yet it’s also understandable that those like the citizens group Partners for Addison Gilbert, who saw their community hospital comparatively marginalized after its 1994 takeover by Northeast in the first place, might be wary of AGH’s potential role in a potential corporation that could include both Lahey and the much larger Beth Israel Deaconess. And with that in mind, Lahey officials should indeed provide Cape Ann health-care activists and clients all the assurances they can that consideration of Addison Gilbert’s future will have a place in any negotiations.

During the talks that brought about the Northeast-Lahey merger, some local activists and even government officials had called for a “guarantee” of Addison Gilbert’s long-term future. And we noted at the time that any such guarantee would be virtually impossible — perhaps even disingenuous — for Lahey or Northeast to put in writing.

That’s still the case, given the volatile health care landscape across the nation and especially in Massachusetts, where Lahey, Beth Israel and others are all striving to compete with giant Partners Health, the giant umbrella for Mass. General, Brigham and Women’s and other facilities.

But Lahey leaders owe it to Cape Ann residents to keep them in the loop regarding what ramifications a new and even bigger merger could have on Addison Gilbert and Cape Ann health care.

All of us, after all — and our health-care futures — would be part of any such deal.