BEVERLY — Cape Ann residents and local officials — up to and including Congressman John Tierney and Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk — pressed the state's Department of Public Health on Thursday night to make the survival of Addison Gilbert Hospital's core services a required condition of Northeast Health System and the Lahey Clinic's planned affiliation agreement to form a new merged nonprofit hospital corporation.
Tierney, Kirk and Rockport Selectwoman Frances Fleming were all among the early speakers addressing the need to include an agreement to secure Addison Gilbert's future as part of any partnership between Lahey and Northeast, which has been Addison Gilbert's parent company since an earlier merger in 1994.
The Department of Public Health held the hearing, at Beverly's Memorial Hall, to hear from residents and the companies about the partnership proposal before deciding whether to grant its approval. The affiliation between the two health care nonprofits needs the approval of the DPH, the office of state Attorney General Martha Coakley, and the Federal Trade Commission.
The department will hold another hearing for Lahey's coverage area in Burlington at a date to be announced.
At Thursday night's hearing, Cape Ann residents made it clear that the future of Addison Gilbert should rest on the local public's health need, rather than a fiscal bottom line.
"The fiscal concerns are certainly secondary," Margaret "Peggy" O'Malley, a registered nurse and head of Partners for Addison Gilbert Hospital, said in an interview prior to the hearing Thursday night. "It's a $1.5 billion affiliation, there is plenty of money to protect services at AGH."
At the hearing, several local residents and for Addison Gilbert Hospital asked the Department of Public Health to put a condition on Northeast and Lahey's affiliation — a condition that would require the preservation of essential services at Addison Gilbert to be part of any deal, so long as there is a demonstrated local public health need for them.
At the hearing, residents made the case that Cape Ann's unique geography, and circumstances make keeping essential services and an emergency room at Addison Gilbert necessary.
Gloucester and Rockport, said O'Malley, are, for all intents and purposes, on an island connected by two bridges, both of which can be impassible in the worst of circumstances.
The Addison Gilbert emergency room, she said, sees about 13,000 visits each year. And deals, not only with the more than 28,000 residents on the island, but many more who come during the summer months.
The companies have agreed verbally to preserve services at the hospital for three years, but local health care activists and both the Gloucester City Council and Rockport selectmen have pushed for an extended guarantee.
Northeast's CEO Ken Hanover, and Dr. Howard Grant, president and chief executive officer of Lahey Clinic, have both said the companies won't close Addison Gilbert, but said that putting any such guarantees in writing would be disingenuous. Hanover and Grant were also among those making presentations to the DPH panel Thursday night.
If the affiliation is approved, Lahey and Northeast would form a $1.5 billion new nonprofit corporation under the banner of Lahey Health Systems.
None of the agencies with sway over the partnership proposal have given a time frame for considering its approval.
The hearing continued beyond the Times' deadline; for more coverage, look later today to gloucestertimes.com, and to tomorrow's print and online editions of the Gloucester Daily Times.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.