News & Events

Letter to the editor: Lingering questions remain for AGH

To the editor:

Recent coverage of the new CEO of Northeast Health Systems commitment to keep Addison Gilbert Hospital open seems like welcome news.

Can we rest assured that AGH is now safe? Not yet, not really.

Mr. Hanover acknowledges the obligation of Northeast Health Systems for "transparency and honesty" about its plans for AGH. As a tax-exempt, public charity, Northeast also has a duty of inclusion of the Cape Ann community in deciding how resources will be used at AGH to meet our needs.

Mr. Hanover’s vow to keep AGH open and "maintain" the eight minimum services which must be present at AGH for our ER to be fully licensed to accept 911 emergency ambulance patients is heartening but somewhat misleading.

One of the eight services the Massachusetts Department of Public Health requires to be present, in the AGH building, is: "surgical services, including adequate operating room facilities, which are immediately available for life threatening situations." The ability of AGH to provide life-saving surgery in a crisis has been weakened by Northeast policies over the past several years.

If surgeons, anesthesiologists and/or staff don’t routinely work together at AGH, their ability to do so in life-threatening situations will be limited.

Sadly, it is common knowledge among AGH staff and others that the majority of surgery previously done at AGH has been moved to Beverly Hospital. It is also Beverly’s policy that any patient at AGH who needs the attention of a physician specialist based in Beverly is taken by ambulance to Beverly to see that specialist, rather than the specialist coming to AGH.

Furthermore, Northeast specialists who welcome Cape Ann patients to visit them in offices at AGH, reportedly insist that those patients go to Beverly, not AGH, when they need to be admitted.

If several new primary care physicians recruited by Northeast follow this pattern and simply refer Cape Ann residents to Beverly Hospital, that will not help save the inpatient acute care services we need at AGH.

The most urgent need right now is the recruitment by Northeast not of primary care doctors, but of a minimum of two surgeons and an anesthesiologist whose practices will be based at AGH.

Once, a full variety of surgeries and other services appropriate to a community hospital serving 35,000 residents are routinely provided at AGH, primary care physicians will follow, not the other way around.

Like all physicians, primary care doctors locate their practices close to the hospital where their patients are treated, and the people of Cape Ann have never wavered in our support for AGH.

State and federal officials are aware of the unique geographical challenges we face on Cape Ann as they relate to our health and safety.

These officials can mobilize resources and regulatory support for AGH. They will be reluctant to do so until our local leaders go on the record, objecting to the systematic erosion of acute care hospital services needed at AGH and calling for an inclusive partnership between Northeast and the people of Cape Ann to define and rebuild all services needed at AGH to protect our lives and safety.

On Monday, May 17, Rockport Selectmen will host an open forum on AGH at the Rockport Library at which residents will be encouraged to speak directly to Mr. Hanover. Cape Ann residents are welcome; please try to attend.

Chair, Partners for Addison Gilbert Hospital