To the editor:
Finally, some good news for Addison Gilbert Hospital, all resulting from two very successful actions by the people of Cape Ann over the past few months.
The first came on Jan. 5, when we filled an auditorium in Beverly for the state Department of Public Health hearing on Northeast's plan to merge with Lahey.
Our testimony, augmented by written comments from many others, was delivered by patients, physicians, nurses, parents with young kids, adult children of older parents, innkeepers, businesspeople, the fishing community, senior citizens, retired policemen, emergency medical technicians, folks with disabilities, the Rockport Ambulance director, Mayor Kirk, Congressman Tierney, Sen. Tarr, health policy experts and many others.
We gave DPH a petition signed by more than 8,500 residents and the 13-minute video "AGH — Our Lifeline." People also wrote letters to the Commissioner of Public Health and to the governor seeking their help.
We all delivered the same message: We will support the merger only if it includes a commitment by Northeast and Lahey to protect the essential services at AGH upon which the people of Cape Ann depend.
As a result, the DPH persuaded Lahey and Northeast to replace their flimsy "promise" with a firm, legally binding commitment to maintain all current AGH services, including the eight services needed for a full-service ER, for at least three years.
The second success took place March 21, when the Public Health Council met to vote on approving the Lahey-Northeast deal. Six of us were allowed to speak directly to the council before they voted.
We gave them a map illustrating the geographical isolation of Cape Ann and described the vulnerability that two unreliable bridges pose.
ER nurse Jeanine Burns of Gloucester spoke about patients she has personally cared for who simply would not have survived the trip to Beverly.
Babette Brackett of Rockport spoke about the life-saving care her husband has received at AGH on several occasions this year. Another Gloucester nurse, Marcia Hart, reported on the two Gloucester health assessments done in the past 15 years and then provided up-to-date demographic data that clearly document the compelling need for a full community hospital on Cape Ann, not just an ER, now and in the immediate future.
Beverly Quint of Rockport spoke from her perspective of a local psychotherapist and one of many retirees who rely upon AGH every day.
The council's response exceeded our highest hopes. They understood the unique dangers of an island community and acknowledged the erosion of Cape Ann's trust in Northeast over the past 17 years. Then the council added two more conditions to their approval of the merger:
At the end of the second year following the effective date of the affiliation agreement, Lahey Health System Inc. shall report to the Public Health Council on the status of the community health needs assessment and the plans with respect to Addison Gilbert Hospital.
Lahey Health System Inc. shall submit a report to the Public Health Council on the findings of the community health needs assessment and any proposed actions prior to implementation of any changes to essential services at Addison Gilbert Hospital.
These conditions affirm the intention of the Public Health Council and the staff of DPH to take an active role in the protection of essential services at AGH.
With DPH as our ally going forward, the community now has more leverage with Lahey. This is enormous progress. It's what I was talking about when I was quoted in the paper last week, "This is what we've worked for all these years."
We thank everyone who has helped win this battle and urge many more to join us as we go forward. We need you.
We all must keep a close eye on, and use, the services at AGH.
Always insist that the services you need be delivered at AGH. This includes outpatient services such as radiology, lab work, and physical therapy as well as inpatient care.
If anyone tries to send you elsewhere, tell them Mr. Hanover and Dr. Grant insist that we use AGH. You must let us know if you are sent to Beverly, or further, for services that are, or should be, available at AGH.
Partners for AGH will meet on Tuesday, April 24, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Friend Room of Sawyer Free Library in Gloucester. Please come to celebrate this victory and plan our next steps.
Meanwhile, congratulations to us. And, once again, to everyone, thanks.
PEGGY O'MALLEY, RN
Partners for Addison Gilbert Hospital