Published in the July 8, 2015
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD —Partners HealthCare’s proposal to close Union Hospital was criticized by several local officials last week.
According to Partners, the plan entails consolidating North Shore Medical Center’s medical, surgical and behavioral health services on one campus at Salem Hospital. Partners said in a statement, “All inpatient services currently based at NSMC’s Union Hospital Campus (on Lynnfield Street) will be consolidated at Salem Hospital over the course of the next three years.”
Additionally, NSMC “will continue to operate the current emergency department on the Union Campus over the transition of the next several years.”
Partners HealthCare has given no timetable for when it plans to close Union Hospital, which requires state approval.
NSMC President Robert G. Norton said in a statement the plan to close Union Hospital will improve care for local patients.
“We are confident that this plan succeeds in delivering the highest quality care to our patients in a comprehensive and thoughtful way,” said Norton. “In the new heath care environment, this plan will help us better coordinate care, improve quality and more effectively contribute to the overall health of our communities.”
NSMC Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Holbrook agreed.
“We have a special commitment to ensuring that NSMC delivers care of the highest quality and value,” said Holbrook, who is also chairman and CEO of Eastern Bank. “We are investing more than $200 million in our communities because we believe this is the best plan for the patients and families of the North Shore.”
Partners HealthCare’s proposal to close Union was blasted by several local officials last week.
Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford raised several concerns about Partners’ plan to close Union Hospital. He noted the selectmen signed a petition last year urging Partners not to close Union Hospital. He said the selectmen will be discussing the matter on July 13.
“I have recently been asked by residents to issue a letter to Partners HealthCare from the Board of Selectmen asking to keep Union Hospital open for inpatient services,” Crawford told the Villager in an e-mail.
Selectman Tom Terranova said Union Hospital has been an “asset” to the community and has been relied upon by townspeople “for many years.”
“Its closing will impact many families as it is the closest hospital and emergency care facility to Lynnfield,” Terranova said in an e-mail. “For Lynnfield residents, traveling to Salem, Beverly, Melrose or Boston in an emergency situation will be challenging to say the least. As Lynnfield’s development continues, more residents, businesses and people working/shopping in Lynnfield will increase. There will be an increased demand for medical care, especially in emergencies. Our once quiet residential community is attracting more people and our medical assistance requirements will continue to increase along with it.”
According to Fire Captain Michael Feinberg, 48.9 percent of the fire department’s emergency transports head to Union Hospital. Fire Chief Mark Tetreault said Partners’ plan to close Union Hospital would have a negative affect on local patients.
“We are definitely concerned,” said Tetreaut. “It would definitely change how we operate because the vast majority of our patients go to Union Hospital. It’s much quicker to get our patients to Union Hospital than Salem Hospital.”
“The residents of Lynnfield have been fortunate to have Lynn Union Hospital over the years,” said Crawford. “It is much closer than Salem Hospital and emergency medical services can be provided in a more timely manner to those in need. The travel to Lynn Union is convenient to Lynnfield residents, where travel to Salem Hospital is not as easy and can be very challenging at high traffic periods. I can only imagine that the consolidation of services will cause overcrowding and a drop in the care our residents are accustom to.”
Selectman Chris Barrett was also alarmed about Partners’ plan.
“This is a big blow to the region,” Barrett told the Villager in an interview. “I live off of Salem Street and I hear ambulances traveling to Lynn Union every day. I know this is a Lynn issue but it’s also a Lynnfield issue because every minute counts during an emergency situation.”
Terranova concurred with Barrett’s sentiment.
“I can appreciate the financial reality of hospital consolidations, however an emergency room should be maintained at Union Hospital,” said Terranova. “This could be the difference between life and death for someone. I am happy to have read Partners has decided to keep the emergency room open for an additional three years. As our community health Provider, I am hoping this action extends beyond three years. It is my opinion the people of Lynnfield and surrounding communities should receive the best care in an emergency situation. A nearby emergency room is critical when urgent medical attention is required.”
Tetreault also expressed concerns about ambulances being stuck in traffic while returning to town after transporting patients to Salem Hospital.
“The ability to get to Union Hospital is advantageous,” said Tetreault.
Terranova also noted the proposal will generate more traffic in South Lynnfield.
“This change could result in much more traffic on Salem Street, as residents in surrounding towns access Route 1 South while driving to Boston or Melrose for medical care, as well as Lynnfield residents traveling to Salem Hospital,” said Terranova.
Tetreault also noted Partners’ plan will lead to higher costs.
“There is an increased cost to insurance companies because we charge per loaded miles,” said Tetreault. “It may not affect you if you have insurance but if someone has to pay the bill themselves, it will be a much higher bill.”
Police Chief David Breen noted the police department often interviews people involved in motor vehicle accidents at hospitals. He said having Union Hospital close by is beneficial because if a situation arises in town, police officers can get back to Lynnfield in a more timely manner than if they had to head home from Salem Hospital or Lahey Burlington.
“I am not to happy about it,” said Breen of Partners’ plan.
According to The Boston Globe, Partners’ plan to close Union Hospital needs to be approved by the state Department of Public Health. A spokesman told the Globe the department will seek feedback from the Lynn community before it makes a decision.
“We are going to have a wait and see attitude,” said Tetreault. “We are going to monitor the situation and we are going to make our needs known.”
As part of the plan, NSMC is planning on expanding its North Shore Physicians Group (NSPG) practices in Lynn. The expanded services will include primary, specialty and urgent care and associated outpatient services, which NSMC states, “will serve a wide range of health care needs” for local residents.
According to NSMC, Union Hospital “will be left with a significant amount of excess property.” NSMC said it will engage in discussions with Lynn city officials and the community about the “best options” Union Hospital can be redeveloped.
Barrett said he has some serious concerns about what may be located at Union Hospital in the future. He said local officials will be keeping an eye on the situation.