Published in the December 23, 2015 edition


LYNNFIELD — A critical phase in the pending closure of Lynn Union Hospital begins in January.

The start of a new year will bring with it a series of public hearings by the state Department of Public Health (DPH) on the matter. Therefore, advocates say, now is the time for the public to make their concerns known regarding the impact of the hospital’s closure on their access to medical services, be these routine, surgical or emergency.

“It’s very important that we start focusing on this and getting concerned as a community on how our medical needs are going to be met in the future,” Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford said during an update on the matter at Monday night’s meeting. “And Partners HealthCare still has not given us any kind of definitive answers (about) how we are going to have any kind of medical care in the same fashion that we’re getting today.”

Public hearing Jan. 7

While discussions surrounding the intent of Partners HealthCare to close the hospital have been ongoing for several years and a grassroots advocacy group, “Save Union Hospital,” has been vocal in its opposition to the plan, the state DPH only recently received its official notification of those plans.

In response, the DPH will hold a public hearing on the changes proposed by North Shore Medical Center on Thursday, Jan. 7 at 4 p.m. at the Lynn Memorial Auditorium, 3 City Hall Square, Room 311, Lynn. If, due to inclement weather, the Lynn Public Schools are closed that day, the public hearing would be postponed until Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 4 p.m. at the same location.

The subject of the Jan. 7 hearing is the intent of North Shore Medical Center (NSMC) to “discontinue providing medical and surgical services at its Union Hospital campus. …The Department has been notified that closure of these services at the Union Hospital campus will occur in approximately three years in conjunction with the relocation of these services to the North Shore Medical Center Salem Campus at 81 Highland Avenue, Salem.”

The DPH notice specifies that this public hearing “will not be adjudicatory in nature, but rather a public forum for the presentation of any comments that may be relevant to the Department’s consideration of the proposed change.”

Lynnfield resident Mary Stewart is a member of Save Union Hospital and has led the charge to get the word out locally about the effort to keep the hospital open.

“The timing of the announcements by Partners was a time when most people are so busy shopping for the holiday season that they miss all these things,” Stewart said, as she thanked the selectmen for continuing to support their efforts to keep the facility open.

Stewart encouraged all those who cannot attend the Jan. 7 public hearing to submit their comments in writing to the DPH, which is an option included as part of the review process. Written comments will be accepted by the DPH through the Jan. 7 hearing date and must be submitted to: Department of Public Health, Division of Health Care Facility Licensure and Certification, Attn: Closure Coordinator, 11th Floor, 99 Chauncy St., Boston MA 02111.

It was also noted that all written and oral comments submitted to the DPH may be posted on its website and also released to those making requests for public records.

Determination of Need Jan. 12

Concurrent with the notification of the intended closure of Union Hospital, the DPH is also conducting a public hearing to permit public comment on North Shore Medical Center’s application for a Determination of Need (DoN), which seeks approval of new construction and renovation to the Salem Hospital campus at 81 Highland Ave., Salem.

This public hearing will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 4 p.m. at the Hawthorne Hotel ballroom, 18 Washington Square W, Salem, with complimentary parking made available at the hotel.

If inclement weather closes the Salem Public Schools that day, it would be postponed to Thursday, Jan. 21 at 4 p.m., at the same location. Residents may call 617-753-7340 if they have any questions on the status of this hearing in the event of questionable weather. Those with disabilities who need special accommodations at the hearing may contact North Shore Medical Center at 617-598-6700 in advance of the meeting date to make arrangements.

The DPH notice states that this hearing is also not adjudicatory, but rather a forum for comments relevant to the department’s consideration of the need for this project.

Written comments will be accepted until Friday, Jan. 22 at 5 p.m. (or by Monday, Feb. 1 at 5 p.m. if the meeting is postponed). Mail comments to: Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Determination of Need Program, 99 Chauncy St., Boston MA 02111. Those submitting written comments regarding both public hearings should make note that comments are being mailed to different departments within the DPH.

Crawford noted that the most of the construction changes sought at Salem Hospital relate directly to the need to expand that facility due to the closure of Union Hospital at a cost of about “$350 million.”

“This is all tied in with the medical care that the people from the town of Lynnfield get,” Crawford said.

“People don’t heal instantly”

Stewart also encouraged residents to check out the Healthcare Policy Commission on the web to educate themselves about “what is actually happening to health care in this state.”

She said that more people are having outpatient surgical procedures than inpatient procedures. “Consequently, they feel there is no more need for large hospitals or any hospital. I don’t know where people are suppose to go. People don’t heal instantly. It’s a little bit frightening,” she said, pointing out the potential need for access to hospital services at any moment, especially as the community continues to grow.

“Everyday life happens and people don’t realize how much they need a community hospital until they or someone in their family gets sick. It happened to my family twice during the Christmas season, so maybe that’s why I’m here,” Stewart said.

Officials meet with hospital CEO

Both Crawford and Town Administrator Jim Boudreau recently met with the CEO of North Shore Medical Center, Bob Norton, to discuss the discontinuance of providing inpatient medical surgical services at Union Hospital and the future of emergency medical care at the facility.

“They did admit that several of the major services that they provide have already been moved over to Salem Hospital. But they’re still in compliance with their license with what they still have at Lynn Union,” Crawford said.

But he noted, “Experienced doctors and nurses are starting to look for other jobs. I still have strong concerns about their ability to stay open for those 3 1/2 years. The quality staff that they have now may start leaving. We know many nurses have left, several doctors have left, the entire third floor has left. So it might be on a faster track than what they would like,” he added.

Crawford noted that NSMC also has plans to use the former Spaulding site as a mental health facility, but this conversion would also take a few years, therefore they be using some space at Union to accommodate some of those services. He asked Norton if they had plans to use Union for a mental health facility or any other use. “He indicated they do not. They do not know what the plans are for that facility,” Crawford told the board.

Emergency services a priority

“One of their models for moving forward was to leave that emergency service open. Even as it is today it doesn’t provide all the services that we need. People with serious heart issues still go to Spaulding or Salem or to Mass General. But most of our emergency services still go to Lynn Union,” Crawford said. “I encourage them to settle this and come up with a resolution long before the closure of Lynn Union. They agreed,” he said.

The plan is to continue the dialogue at future meetings, with their own board and the DPH. “The Department of (Public) Health is the only one that has any real leverage to keep something open,” he said.

“I just want to encourage as many people to get involved as they can because this is starting to happen now,” Crawford said. “Even if it goes for three years those three years will go by fast and you’ll be getting a medical ride over to Salem or some other hospital that’s another half hour away when you have an emergency need that could have been met in a five minute ride.”