GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 12, 2012

Grant boosting AGH's ER presence

By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The Addison Gilbert Emergency Room will have not one, but two part-time advocates next year as part of a $167,000, three-year grant. The grant used some of the data from the Lahey Health Systems Community Health Needs Assessment, said assessment project manager Gerald MacKillop.

“(The assessment) reaffirmed the seriousness of having some additional services for folks suffering from behavioral health and substance abuse issues,” MacKillop said during a Tuesday night forum spotlighting the initial needs assessment data.

The program started last year as a pilot project run by the Healthy Gloucester Collaborative, said director Joan Whitney. Whitney said a Department of Public Health grant funded an 18-hour per week health promotion advocate trained specifically to help patients with substance abuse and behavioral health issues find further treatment once they’ve left the emergency room. Whitney said finding further treatment helps those patients get the care they need, before problems become emergencies.

“Hopefully it will help people not return to the emergency room over and over again for the same issue,” Whitney said.

Lahey Heath Systems, now the parent corporation of Northeast Health Systems and Gloucester’s Addison Gilbert Hospital, and its consulting firm of John Snow Inc., presented the assessment findings during the forum at The Gloucester House Tuesday. Lahey officials also presented Rockport findings at the Rockport Community House on Thursday.

The systems Gloucester has in place, said Noreen Burke, city Health Director, are addressing some of the concerns raised by the needs assessment. She said it reinforced work that the Health Department has done with prevention-oriented programs like Get Fit Gloucester.

“If we continue to build on (those programs) we can attack public health concerns more vigorously,” said Burke.

Gloucester’s concerns, said Alec McKinney, the senior project director for John Snow Inc., are chronic illness, aging population, obesity, high emergency room utilization and substance abuse and behavioral health issues. There are also significant disparities in the health of low income residents in Gloucester and their ability to access health services.

Transportation and cost, McKinney said, were the biggest barriers to their access.

The data that Lahey Health Systems, and consultant John Snow Inc. presented Tuesday night made one thing clear, said Margaret “Peggy” O’Malley, a registered nurse and head of Partners for Addison Gilbert Hospital – the city needs a full-service hospital.

“There was powerful evidence that we will always need a full service hospital,” O’Malley said.

As services have moved down the line to Beverly Hospital and Beverly Hospital’s Danvers campus, O’Malley said, transportation has become more of a barrier, especially for elderly residents. The assessment found that 31 percent of Gloucester homes have a resident over the age of 65.

Residents of that age, said O’Malley are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, and the generation beneath them, she said, is going to hit that threshold soon.

“The demand on the acute care services is very high and will likely grow as the baby boom generation really starts putting demands on the system” O’Malley said.

She said the community needs to work on supporting and strengthening services at the hospital.

Addison Gilbert, said director Cynthia Cafasso-Donaldson, will spend the next three years pinning down what services the community needs at AGH. The hospital will hold its first hearing on the subject on Oct. 30 at Rockport’s Shalin Liu Performance Center.

That hearing is one of two community forums the hospital will hold each year during a three-year community needs assessment period as a condition of the merger agreement between Lahey Clinic and Northeast Health Systems approved earlier this year. Donaldson said the hospital will be asking residents what services they think the hospital should be providing on Cape Ann.

“If appropriate, we won’t wait until the end of the three years to add services that are needed and appropriate for AGH to offer,” Donaldson said.

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.