GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

January 8, 2012

Editorial: Need-based 'guarantee' should be part of any Lahey deal

In the seven months since Northeast Health System announced an agreement to "partner" with Lahey Clinic, community officials and activists have pushed repeatedly for a long-term written "guarantee" that the new Lahey Health System would maintain core services and emergency care at Gloucester's Addison Gilbert Hospital.

Yet, while promising time and time again that they have no intention of closing AGH — and referencing a three-year commitment to Cape Ann's hospital in a non-binding portion of the working agreement — Northeast CEO Ken Hanover and Lahey Clinic President/CEO Howard Grant have resisted putting any long-term guarantee in writing.

That's been understandable, as we've noted. Simply put, it's just not realistic — and might even be called disingenuous — for anyone to perpetually guarantee any facility or service contingent on revenue and costs, especially amid today's economy and the mine field of community health care.

Yet, in their presentations last week to representatives of the state's Department of Public Health, Partners for Addison Gilbert citizens' group leader Peggy O'Malley and others hit on a key provision that should indeed be viable to include in any final Northeast-Lahey deal.

In making the case for ensuring Addison Gilbert's future, O'Malley called for a guarantee to maintain AGH's core services as long as there is a demonstrated public health need. And while she didn't suggest figures that might define that need, that's a provision that can — and should — be pegged as a clause in any Northeast-Lahey affiliation or merger.

While recognizing that the community's needs and its use of AGH could change — and could conceivably make it untenable — it would put the onus on Lahey Health to clearly keep the "community" first. And that what a community hospital like Addison Gilbert must continue to be all about.

To that end, the DPH and the state Attorney General's office, which share approval of any Lahey deal with the Federal Trade Commission, should indeed include a need-based AGH guarantee as a condition of approval.

If not, as state Sen. Bruce Tarr testified, they should "rethink" the entire deal.

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