2012

Gloucester Times: Standing up for AGH: Residents mobilize for state hearing in Beverly

01.04.2012

By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer The Gloucester Daily Times Wed Jan 04, 2012, 01:20 AM EST

The proposed partnership between Northeast Health Systems and Lahey Clinic needs the approval of three state and federal agencies before becoming reality.

Come Thursday night, one of those three — the state's Department of Public Health — will listen to both the hospitals and members of the community regarding the planned $1.5 billion affiliation. And a group of Cape Ann residents are mobilizing to make their case for securing a better guarantee for the future of Gloucester's Addison Gilbert Hospital, which, under its parent company of Northeast, would be part of the deal.

The Department of Public Health will hold the first of two public hearings on the proposed affiliation between the two hospital systems Thursday at 6 p.m. at Memorial Hall in Beverly, a former school building located at 502 Cabot St.

The hearing will allow for comment from residents in Northeast's range of coverage. People can speak at the hearing, but must sign in at the start of the hearing to be called upon, organizers said.

"This is an opportunity for the Department of Public Health to hear from us about our plans for the affiliation and for the department to hear from the community about their concerns," said Lori Howley, Northeast's marketing director.

Northeast CEO Ken Hanover, Lahey President and CEO Dr. Howard Grant and Steven Defossez, head of Northeast's medical staff, will speak at the hearing.

They, said Howley, will talk about the affiliation plans, and the hospital system's goals going forward.

A group of Cape Ann residents concerned about the future of Gloucester's Addison Gilbert Hospital, however, see the hearing as more than that.

Margaret "Peggy" O'Malley, a registered nurse and head of the group Partners for Addison Gilbert Hospital, said the hearing gives Cape Ann residents the chance to put their concerns before the state, rather than just posing questions to Northeast and Lahey.

Cape Ann residents, she said, should use the meeting to tell the Department of Public Health why Cape Ann needs a full-service emergency room.

"This is an opportunity we have, not to speak to Northeast and Lahey, but to the Department of Public Health which will have the authority to approve whatever the deal is," said O'Malley.

The department, she said, has to factor in the future of Addison Gilbert Hospital and emergency medical services on Cape Ann.

Lahey and Northeast have promised to keep the ER there for three years. But Hanover and Grant have said it would be disingenuous to promise the hospital's services ad infinitum.

Howley said residents can also send letters to the department if they can't make the meeting.

Northeast Health Systems first announced last July that it would affiliate with Lahey Clinic, with the Northeast board choosing to join forces with Lahey over three other health care systems, including two for-profit companies.

If the affiliation is approved, Lahey and Northeast will form a $1.5 billion new nonprofit corporation under the banner of Lahey Health Systems.

The Department of Public Health hearing stands as part of its approval process, with a second DPH hearing still to be scheduled in Lahey's host community of Burlington.

The DPH's blessing isn't the only one the affiliation needs before it can go forward.

The proposal needs approval from the office of state Attorney General Martha Coakley, and from the Federal Trade Commission.

Those approvals, said Howley, are still pending.

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

FPO