Published in the December 22, 2015 edition.


MELROSE — Last week’s decision by the Hallmark Health Board of Trustees to end its exclusivity agreement with Partners and broaden its search for a tertiary partner will not change Hallmark’s plans to expand Melrose-Wakefield Hospital and construct a new medical building at 888 Main St. in Wakefield, according to Hallmark spokesman Robert Brogna.

Brogna said that the decision to expand the search will not exclude Partners as a future partner but news reports last week suggested that merger talks between the two health systems had ended. Since the two systems announced plans to affiliate two years ago, questions have arisen regarding how big Partners can become in Massachusetts before running afoul of anti-trust laws.

Last January, a judge nixed a deal that would have allowed Partners HealthCare to acquire Hallmark Health and South Shore Hospital. Hallmark Health includes the Melrose-Wakefield Hospital and Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford.

Hallmark announced last week that it will now be open to talking with other health care providers about affiliating, “because we choose to no longer wait on the uncertainty on an unknown regulatory response to delay the overall affiliation process.”

Hallmark Health and Partners announced plans to join forces in late 2013. As a result, major investments by Partners Healthcare and Hallmark Health were expected to fund major renovations at Melrose-Wakefield Hospital.

“Our goal in achieving an affiliation with a larger health provider organization is to help us meet the future and changing health care needs of our communities,” Hallmark President and Chief Executive Officer Alan G. Macdonald said in a memo sent last week to employees, physicians and corporators of Hallmark Health. “Specifically, we seek greater financial and clinical depth to successfully engage in population health management and to expand our resources to continue providing the highest quality health care services for generations to come.

At a Melrose Planning Board hearing in September, Hallmark executives provided an overview of Hallmark’s five-year plan to build a new clinical wing, a new parking garage and renovate the current Melrose-Wakefield Hospital building. The Planning Board also heard details of Hallmark’s plans to demolish five hospital-owned buildings on the lower end of Porter Street in order to construct additional parking for hospital employees.

In September Hallmark also announced plans to construct a new medical building at 888 Main St. in Greenwood, the former location of Subaru of Wakefield. At that time, Hugh Kelleher, Hallmark’s Assistant Vice President for Support and Ancillary Services told the Wakefield Board of Selectmen that the planned new Wakefield facility would house primary care physicians as well as a walk-in clinic. X-ray and lab collection facilities are also likely, Kelleher said at the time.

Bogna insisted that all of those expansion plans were still alive, although the timing could change.

“There is no change to those plans at this point,” Brogna said. “Depending on how things go, there could be a little delay, (but) the plans for the work remain.”

Brogna said that the decision of Hallmark’s Board of Trustees to end its exclusive talks with Partners was based on the uncertainty involved with the Partners deal.

“It got to a point where we felt it was time for us to move forward,” Brogna said, “and for us to move forward we needed to open it up.”

But Brogna would not rule out a possible future relationship between Hallmark and Partners.

“Partners is certainly still in the mix,” Brogna said.

Macdonald said that there was no shortage of potential partners for Hallmark.

“We are fortunate to work in proximity of the most reputable providers of health care in the country,” Macdonald said. “There are many opportunities for us to explore.”