, Gloucester, MA

March 29, 2013

Editorial: 'Distressed' dollars could bring needed state aid for AGH

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — No one likes to think of a property in which they have a significant stake as being “distressed.”

And given the stake all of us here on Cape Ann have in not only the survival but advancement of Addison Gilbert Hospital, it may have been jarring to some to learn that, indeed, the newly created nonprofit of Lahey Health is looking at seeking perhaps millions of dollars in help from a still-evolving state-run “distressed hospital fund” for AGH.

At the same time, however, Lahey’s response to state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante’s offer to apply for the money recognizes the potential this new fund has for community hospitals such Addison Gilbert, which essentially ceased to be truly self-sufficient when it was absorbed by Northeast Health Systems in the initial merger of 1994. And it should help Lahey and AGH officials get in on the ground floor for the time that this fund — just created by the Legislature last year, and really boasting of little more than a governmental framework at this point — becomes viable.

In reality, if the state extended “distressed” hospital funding for Addison Gilbert to Lahey, that may well help raise AGH’s profile within the Lahey system, since any such state dollars would almost certainly come with eligibility and accountability strings attached. And the state fund could in fact help ensure Addison Gilbert’s stability and viability for decades to come.

The state last year created a Health Policy Commission in conjunction with a major initiative aimed at reeling in health care cost containment. That meant trying to level hospital costs between the health care giants in Boston and more regional and community hospitals like AGH and Beverly. And within the legislation, the commission was assigned to create a “distressed hospital fund” of a reported $135 million, funded in part through a one-time assessment of the insurers and the major health-care systems.

In that evolving health-care landscape, Lahey could certainly qualify for “distressed fund” dollars to maintain a stabilized AGH serving the people of Cape Ann. And that would be good news for Lahey and Cape Ann health-care clients alike.

In this case, “distressed” need not be viewed as “distressing” at all.