Published in the January 13, 2016 edition
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNN — Board of Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford urged the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to keep Union Hospital open during a public hearing held at Lynn City Hall Jan. 7.
Partners HealthCare announced last summer it plans on closing Union Hospital and would be relocating North Shore Medical Center’s medical, surgical and behavioral health services to Salem Hospital.
In an e-mail sent to the Villager, Crawford said the public hearing on the proposed closure of Union Hospital was well attended by local officials and residents.
“Hundreds of residents from Lynnfield, Lynn and Saugus attended the hearing as well as many of our local elected officials to voice their strong opposition to the closing of Union Hospital,” said Crawford. “This an extremely important issue for the town of Lynnfield and I hope as a minimum the Department of Public Health requires Partners to continue to provide emergency services at Union Hospital or an alternative location accessible to our town.”
During the public hearing, Crawford urged the Department of Public Health to keep Union Hospital open. He noted Lynnfield is comprised of 12,000 residents while Saugus has 26,000 residents and Lynn has 92,000 residents. He said residents from all three communities depend on the services Union Hospital provides.
“These are the patients currently using Union Hospital along with many others in surrounding communities,” said Crawford. “Over 30 percent of these residents, nearly 40,000, are seniors and the majority of them use Union Hospital for their primary and emergency medical care.”
Crawford noted in his testimony that the Ross Drive elderly housing complex is “only a couple of miles from Union Hospital.” He presented the Massachusetts Department of Public Health with a petition “signed by every resident asking to keep Union Hospital open.”
According to Crawford, the fire department has about “1,000 emergency trips every year and about 600 of those go to Union Hospital.”
“Currently, an ambulance can get to the Union Hospital emergency room in five minutes,” said Crawford. “It will take 25-30 minutes to get to Salem Hospital and even longer during rush hour or severe weather. This is simply unacceptable.”
Crawford noted during his testimony he met with NSMC President Robert G. Norton to discuss the closure of Union Hospital, which he said did not go well.
“Quite frankly, I am very confused by what he gave me for information,” said Crawford. “The propaganda he gave me describes, “(Partners’) plan for the future. The most disturbing piece after that was the map of area hospitals, community health centers and physician groups did not include Union Hospital at all!”
Crawford also disputed Partners’ assertion that closing Union Hospital will improve the quality of care for patients.
“Closing Union Hospital does not give us better access, more care and it definitely does not meet the needs of all the patients and communities,” said Crawford.
During Crawford’s meeting with Norton, USMC’s president said Partners plans on closing Union Hospital in three-and-a-half years, during which Union Hospital will stay open.
“I then asked him that with doctors and nurses leaving, being relocated and with departments closing at Union and being moved to Salem, could he guarantee that Union would be closed in under two years,” said Crawford. “(Norton) said no and that they have the same concerns.”
Fire Chief Mark Tetreault also spoke during the public hearing and relayed the fire department’s concerns about the closure of Union Hospital.
“I am concerned about Partners not really having a plan for emergency services,” Tetreault told the Villager. “It seems like they put the cart before the horse.”
In closing, Crawford urged the Department of Public Health to reject Partners’ consolidation plan and keep Union Hospital open.
“We need the Department of Public Health to make sure the residents of Lynnfield, Saugus and Lynn are provided the same level of health care and emergency services we received today and insist that Partners provide these services at Union Hospital,” said Crawford.