GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

June 23, 2011

Hospital decision delay a good sign of Northeast priorities

The word that any decision regarding a sale or merger of Northeast Health System — including Gloucester's Addison Gilbert Hospital — to or with one of four larger corporations has now been pushed back to September is good news on several fronts.

On one hand, it gives those in the Cape Ann community more time to assess and gather more input regarding the area's health care needs.

But more importantly, it drives home the point that Northeast CEO Ken Hanover and, we would hope, its Board of Trustees recognize the many, many issues in play — and realize there are a lot of concerns to address before securing any agreement.

In May, of course, Hanover indicated that a decision regarding an agreement would be expected by the end of June, And one could suggest that a delay suggests the process for finding a "partner" for Northeast has hit some sort of snag.

But there is no sign whatsoever that's the case. Indeed, while the reported serious suitors have remained the same throughout the process — with nonprofits Lahey Clinic and Beth Israel Deaconess joined in the bidding by for-profit companies Steward Health Care and Vanguard — issues have continued to surface and draw more response.

One is the consideration of the differences between a for-profit and nonprofit acquisition of nonprofit Northeast — with any sale for a for-profit bidder rightfully requiring a review by the state Attorney General's Office. Another is the status of Northeast contracts, brought to the forefront last week when nurses at Addison Gilbert and their colleagues at Beverly Hospital took to the streets with informational picketing demonstrations urging Northeast to ensure proper "successor language" in any merger or sale deal to cover their contract.

As we've noted previously, the primary consideration for the Northeast trustees should be how any deal can continue to provide the best possible health care for patients across Cape Ann and other parts of the North Shore that Northeast currently serves.

But they should also realize that Northeast — unlike other hospitals and companies put on the block — is not facing strict time deadlines and/or financially desperate for a deal.

In that vein, a move to a potential September decision only shows that Northeast officials are giving all of this the time and consideration it needs. That's good to know.

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