“I have not heard anybody other than the representatives of Partners HealthCare that’s in favor of this closing. “There’s no one that wants this to close and I can’t imagine why they would.”
~Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford
Published in the August 26, 2015 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — The selectmen are urging the town’s residents to get active in the fight to save Union Hospital in Lynn from closure.
Partners HealthCare announced its intention to close the full-service hospital in Lynn within three years earlier this summer but officials believe that its closure could come sooner. If Partners ultimately closes Union Hospital, patient care would be transferred to Salem Hospital for all primary care, acute care and emergency services.
Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford said it had been an “eventful month” for him as he met with various state and local officials to discuss the negative impact the hospital’s closure would have on public health and emergency response times for the entire region, not just the city of Lynn.
Crawford has discussed the matter with the Lynn City Council and Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, state senators and representatives, the state attorney general’s office, the state Department of Public Health (DPH) and the lieutenant governor’s office as well as the Lynn-based advocacy group, Save Union Hospital.
“I have not heard anybody other than the representatives of Partners HealthCare that’s in favor of this closing,” Crawford said. “There’s no one that wants this to close and I can’t imagine why they would.”
Crawford was among about 20 people to address the Lynn City Council during a packed public hearing on Aug. 11 attended by about 200 supporters urging them to support a petition “to have the AG start an investigation against Partners HealthCare,” Crawford said.
“There have been some allegations that (Partners) had not handled this properly and that they’d like the AG’s office to check into that,” he said.
In an unusual show of unanimity, “every city councilor was strongly in opposition of it closing,” Crawford said, adding, “They don’t necessarily agree on everything. They all agreed on this.”
Crawford said his goal during these discussions has been to learn “under what conditions can we ask (for) the hospital to be kept there and who at the state level has any authority to make it happen?”
In a meeting with the state Attorney General’s office, Crawford said he was told that “‘they don’t have a lot of teeth’ to make that happen if Partners HealthCare has demonstrated that not only are they losing millions of dollars but that they can provide needed healthcare at the Salem Hospital, which I can’t believe that can be done.”
In another meeting Crawford attended with general counsel for the state Department of Public Health (DPH), he learned that the DPH “had not been officially notified at the state level of the impending closure. Partners is required to provide a 90-day notice to the DPH.”
He was joined at that meeting with Sen. Tom Magee, Rep. Donald Wong, Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy of Lynn and several Lynn city counselors to discuss their options. Crawford said he found it unusual that the closure of Union Hospital “wasn’t really on their radar” at the DPH. He used this opportunity to reiterate that in addition to servicing Lynn residents, Union Hospital “is the primary hospital for the town of Lynnfield, town of Saugus, west Lynn, south Peabody, Nahant, Wakefield. It serves at least 200,000 to 300,000 residents.”
“I’ve asked them to look into whether or not the services that they’re providing today meets their license requirements because I’ve been told by people who work at Union that they’ve pulled a lot of the services out of there already,” Crawford said.
“They (Partners) talked about a three-year timeframe. I can’t believe that based on what they’ve already pulled out (of the hospital) that that three-year time frame is going to be realistic. It might be more like one year.”
Last week he met with the lieutenant governor’s office to discuss the hospital closure and learned that they also were not familiar with the issue. “They are now. They’re going to start investigating it,” Crawford said.
DPH public hearing required
Once the DPH receives the 90-day letter of the hospital’s closure, the DPH must schedule a public hearing with Partners. Crawford stressed that it would be imperative for everyone from Lynnfield and surrounding communities to “get over there and express their reasons for keeping that open.”
“I would urge people if they’ve had any experiences at Lynn Union over the last two months where they’ve been re-directed to Salem if something wasn’t open there or if they had anything that was different than it has been in the past to let the DPH know. The more information they have, the better, because they’re starting with zero and just getting informed now,” Crawford said.
He said other cities and towns have had their emergency calls re-directed to Salem. “And that’s not what their license says it is supposed to be doing. They are supposed to be delivering emergency services,” Crawford said, adding that he does not believe this has happened on any Lynnfield ambulance runs yet.
If a full-service hospital does not remain at the Union campus, Crawford would like to see some type of “acute care and emergency services” operation remain available.
“It’s at least a 25-minute time difference going over to Salem than going to Lynn Union, and in bad weather, like this past winter, it will be a lot longer than that,” he said. Crawford does not believe Salem Hospital could handle the increased demand for services.
“If you are shutting down a hospital with 200 beds and you’re adding 100 beds to your hospital, you’re already creating an overflow,” Crawford said.
Health Policy Commission
Lynnfield resident Wayne Perry, who said his background is in state administration, suggested the selectmen would have better luck getting their message heard at the state level by contacting the state’s Health Policy Commission.
“They work in the tandem arrangement with the Attorney General’s office. They have to approve the closings and the buyouts and the mergers. They’re the ones who shot down Lahey (Clinic) buying Winchester (Hospital),” Perry said. He added these meetings are open to the public and that both individuals and groups are allowed to “make your case of your opposition” at the end of their meetings, which are held once a month. “The committee meetings are more frequent,” he said.
Crawford said both the governor’s office and the AG’s office were trying to meet with representatives of that commission.
Lynnfield resident Pat Campbell said she was very concerned that the “feasibility study” required to be done by Partners when a previous merger with Salem Hospital was under consideration is “terribly outdated, particularly as far as Lynnfield is concerned.” Campbell said with the addition of many new units of multifamily dwellings, such as Lynnfield Commons, Arborpoint and Colonial Village, many more residents rely on Union Hospital. She hoped the selectmen would bring this fact to the attention of others in their discussions.
Selectman Chris Barrett added that in addition to the new housing units Campbell mentioned, the town is also affected by the emergency response needs at MarketStreet and the Route 1 area is “expanding.”
“This isn’t just a Lynn issue,” Barrett said. “I was talking to some people in Everett about public safety and emergency response if they were to lose the Whidden Hospital and they could not believe that it was possible Lynn was going to lose Lynn Union Hospital and what that would mean.”
“We have, in Lynnfield alone, grown in the use of emergency response,” Barrett said and agreed that 25 minutes travel time to Salem “on a good day” was too long. “I think we have to get the word out and let people understand the significant effect this will have on all of us if, God forbid, we need emergency response,” Barrett said.
Campbell said more is needed than just getting the message out. “You have to focus people on what they should do.”
Selectman Tom Terranova said, “I think a lot of people are focused on this now. It has come to light. I have clients all in this general area and it’s really a regional issue and everybody is aware of it and they’re watching … to see what steps they need to take. The people are out there and ready to take action.”
Campbell said, “People tend to feel that you can’t do anything about it. … You have to have the ‘I can’ attitude.” She was also concerned about getting the word out to the public in time to attend the DPH public hearing once it’s announced and suggested that the town could look into arranging bus transportation for those who may want to attend the hearing if it is held in Boston.
Thomas Road resident Mary Stewart has been very active in the effort to keep the hospital open and told the selectmen that she’d like to serve as a point person for those in town interested in getting more involved in this effort.
“I’ve been very involved in this and I thank the Board of Selectmen tremendously to be behind this,” Stewart said. “Anybody that wants to be involved holding signs, writing letters, shoot me an e-mail. I’ll get you on a chain and a list. The more people, the better. I do think we can make a difference,” she said. Stewart’s e-mail address is: [email protected].
Barrett said the schools have a large database of potential contacts and they should check to see if it could be utilized to get the message out.
“This certainly affects young and old alike in Lynnfield,” Barrett said, adding that the closure of Union Hospital and the loss of its emergency room “would affect emergency response from the schools.” Because of the potential negative effect on the schools, he offered to check with the superintendent about whether the usage of the district’s e-mail database would be appropriate.
Crawford agreed. “There’s no ‘other side’ on this; there’s one side.”
Terranova asked whether information on this topic could be posted onto the town’s website.
Bob Curtin, assistant to T.A. Jim Boudreau, said he would “work with virtual Town Hall to put something out.”
Light blue lawn signs, bumper stickers and banners that read “Save Union Hospital” are available from the Lynn-based group, Save Union Hospital at their website, www.saveunionhospital.com, for a nominal fee and will be delivered to supporters.
This group has been active in the fight to keep the hospital open for several years. It is open to members of all communities. Crawford added community activist Katerina Panagiotakis has been “the front runner on this, but there are probably 30 or 40 people working on it that are not politicians or elected officials.
Save Union Hospital advocates can also be contacted by sending an e-mail to Panagiotakis at [email protected] or by phone at 617-418-3009. To follow the group’s activities, visit Facebook at facebook.com/SaveUnionHospital To sign the group’s “Save Union Hospital” online petition go to: tinyurl.com/SaveUnionHospital.