By Steven Fletcher
As the proposed partnership between Northeast Health Systems and Lahey Clinic advances through a gauntlet of required state and federal approvals, residents will get to sit down with the heads of both organizations Wednesday.
And a group of those residents will be looking for commitments and even a guarantee regarding the future of Gloucester's Addison Gilbert Hospital.
Northeast Health Associates, a community group chaired by Gloucester Public School's assistant superintendent Brian Tarr, will host the two community forums at Cruiseport Gloucester Wednesday, the first at 7:30 a.m. and the second at 6:00 p.m.
Northeast Corporate Executive Officer Ken Hanover and Lahey's President and CEO Howard Grant will be on hand for both Cruiseport sessions. And that will come after the two CEOs will also discuss the planned merger with the City Council tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
"We hope to hear from the community what their issues and concerns are," said Hanover, "and get some feedback from them about the transaction (affiliation) and what they want to see at Addison Gilbert."
Hanover said he'll talk about the affiliation and why the Northeast Board of Trustees has chosen to wed the Burlington-based Lahey Clinic. The affiliation, when finalized, will fuse the companies into a $1.5 billion integrated regional health-care system that will maintain a number of hospitals across the North Shore — including AGH and Northeast's flagship, Beverly Hospital.
The partnership still requires a definitive agreement — and that agreement needs approval from the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Public Health, and the office of state Attorney General Martha Coakley, among others. Those approvals, Hanover said, won't be finished till the start of 2012.
He said that affiliation won't affect things locally for a few years. He added that Lahey is committing to preserving Addison Gilbert's acute care status for three years.
"That was not a finite commitment that says we're closing it after three years," said Hanover.
He added that he expects services will continue beyond that — provided the soon-to-be Lahey Health Systems can do it in a safe, cost effective way.
For Margaret "Peggy" O'Malley, a registered nurse and leading activist for the community hospital, that promise isn't good enough for Gloucester and Rockport.
She said the communities need and deserve a written guarantee affirming that at least the eight essential services required to operate Addison Gilbert's emergency room will continue for more than three years.
According to an e-mail from O'Malley, she and Partners for Addison Gilbert, a community organization set on preserving the community hospital, have encouraged the community to turn out in droves to the meetings, including tonight's meeting of the City Council.
"This is our only and last chance to get what we need, in writing, with no conditions on it," she said.
Hanover said, with the affiliation impending, Lahey and Northeast will conduct a community needs assessment, aimed at gauging what the city needs at Addison Gilbert.
Any changes to those services, he said, will also be vetted with the community.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.