There are no doubt a lot of i's to be dotted and t's to be crossed in the weeks and months ahead before Addison Gilbert Hospital, Beverly Hospital and, for that matter, The Lahey Clinic all join forces under the non-profit tent of the newly created Lahey Health System.
But judging by the surface information emanating from the joint announcement by the two already-related hospital and health-care companies, the deal between Lahey Clinic and Northeast Health System looms as a very good deal for Gloucester and Cape Ann residents who depend greatly on a commitment to maintaining AGH's core and emergency services for years to come.
The agreement between Northeast and Lahey, as reported jointly by Northeast CEO Ken Hanover and Lahey President and CEO Howard Grant, who will head the new, combined nonprofit giant, caps an antsy few months for local residents, Northeast employees, and Addison Gilbert activists who saw four suitors competing to win the chance to add Northeast and its assets to their portfolios.
But from the start — with all due respect to Beth Israel Deaconess, Vanguard Health Systems, and Steward Health Care, which operates the Caritas hospitals — Lahey seemed the most logical choice. And the Northeast trustees — whose own hospital system already shares some service partnerships and geographic territory with Lahey — agreed,
Hanover, who has unfairly faced lingering cynicism and distrust in some circles — no doubt left over from the reign of his predecessor, Stephen Laverty — quickly noted Tuesday that the combined corporations will bring "sufficient cost synergies and revenue opportunities."
Above all, that means "we can improve our business performance, improve our margins," as he put it. And that should indeed provide the kind of investment capital Northeast and its affiliates need. But it should also provide the fiscal stability Cape Ann's communities need in their community hospital.
State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester — who has long been involved in oversight of Northeast and AGH, and had clashed with Laverty and others over the corporation's management in the past — noted that he sees the Lahey/Northeast affiliation as "an arrangement with potential upside (for Cape Ann) because of the depth and focus that Lahey brings."
"Hopefully," he said, "this will reduce AGH's role as a pawn in the competition between big teaching hospitals." And those are hopes and sentiments shared by many in Gloucester and across Cape Ann and beyond.
To his credit, Tarr cautioned that "Addison Gilbert's role in this system of care needs to be well-defined."
From a corporate sense, AGH — with Hanover still at the helm — will be a subsidiary within the new Lahey Health System. And, for what it's worth, there is still no firm, written commitment to maintaining Addison Gilbert's services in Tuesday's announcements.
But that has been the verbal commitment of Hanover since these potential sale or merger talks began. And, on several counts, this deal holds promise for making Gloucester's and Cape Ann's hospital as strong as it's been in years.
For one thing, with no cash changing hands in the deal and the new company essentially just taking command of all resources from Northeast and the current Lahey alike, this is not an acquisition or even a true merger, but a joining of relatively equal partners. That's a far cry from the 1994 takeover of Addison Gilbert by Northeast, which clearly merged AGH's services — even some of its artwork — under the wing of Beverly Hospital, and sparked Cape Ann resentment that sadly remains tangible today.
The Lahey deal also avoids another scenario — the prospect that Gloucester's community hospital might have been sold to a for-profit provider.
Yes, a Northeast deal with Vanguard of Steward — which ultimately pulled out of contention earlier this month — brought other potential issues to the table, such as the prospect of cities and towns, including Gloucester, being able to add tax revenues that don't come in from nonprofits. Yet, that type of deal would have meant the facilities' ultimate accountability would be not to the community, but to a board with bottomline revenue needs.
Are there questions to be answered? Of course. But, all things considered, the Northeast deal with Lahey seems to hold immense potential for Addison Gilbert's future. For Gloucester and Cape Ann residents, that's as good as it gets.