GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 16, 2013

Editorial: AGH merits top priority for state panel's hospital aid


Gloucester Daily Times

---- — With 30 Massachusetts hospitals recognized as eligible beneficiaries, there should either be a lot of competition for some $40 million in aid to be disseminated by a new state health-care panel, or a dispersal so divided that no single hospital would likely get the level of aid for which the funds were intended.

But, either way, officials with the now year-old Lahey Health system and those who work more directly with AGH should indeed be able to make a good case for Cape Ann’s hospital being at the very top of the priority list when it comes to doling out money to ensure that any “distressed” community hospitals get any help they may need.

As we noted in the spring, the fact that Lahey, at the urging of state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, signed up AGH for the aid eligibility did not mean solely that the Gloucester hospital was in dire financial “distress.” That was merely the term given to those facilities who could line up to receive money from a pool collected by the state’s new health Policy Commission from the state’s highest revenue hospitals — notably Brigham & Women’s, Newton Wellesley and Faulkner, all from the Partners HealthCare group, and Partners’ real flagship, Massachusetts General Hospital. Children’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess, Mount Auburn, New England Baptist and Martha’s Vineyard Hospital also qualified for the surcharge and were granted a 50 percent discount, reducing their total surcharge by $9.2 million.

By collecting a surcharge on those corporations, the state commission is looking to level the financial playing field for smaller community hospitals and corporations.

But the intent should also be to ensure that residents of every part of the state have equal access to quality care. And when it comes to setting priorities, few communities have the need for the continued health of their local hospital than residents of Gloucester and Rockport, who would undoubtedly be left in a dire safety bind were AGH ever to close, or be forced for financial reasons to cut back on any core services, notably its emergency room.

To their credit, Lahey officials have vowed those actions are not in any of their plans. But at the same time, it’s important that the state panel also recognize Addison Gilbert’s role as an essential community resource when it comes to carving any part of the Health Policy Commission’s available $40 million.

Policy commission chief David Seltz, as noted in Monday’s Page 1 Times story, emphasizes that the grant program is only scheduled for a four-year run, and that the revenue will likely fall after the first year.

But the aid should indeed help level the state’s health-care and hospital playing field for residents served by all of the state’s local community hospitals. And when it comes to priorities, AGH and the critical role it plays for Cape Ann should indeed be at the top of any essential service list.