Published in the July 20, 2016 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — Under a plan approved last week by the state’s Public Health Council, North Shore Medical Center’s Salem Hospital campus will be allowed to expand, paving the way for the eventual closure of Union Hospital in Lynn, which is also owned by NSMC.
At the “determination of need” public hearing July 13, the council affirmed that the $180 million expansion is necessary and allows NSMC to move its general surgical practices from Union to Salem. However, it also requires NSMC to maintain its emergency services department at Union for a minimum of three years.
The closure of Union Hospital has been vociferously opposed for several years by many community members and public officials, both within Lynn and the surrounding communities it serves, including Lynnfield’s selectmen, police chief, fire chief, citizen advocates and several business owners.
At Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting, Chairman Phil Crawford noted that even though the stated purpose of the public hearing was to discuss the expansion at Salem, everyone who spoke, himself included, “talked about Union Hospital and the effect that expansion is going to have on the hospital itself, and the residents of Lynnfield, Saugus, South Peabody and Lynn.”
In response to those concerns, particularly the need for access to emergency services to continue for area residents, Crawford said a condition imposed by the PHC requires the hospital’s planning committee, which is currently reviewing the health needs of area residents, to consider maintaining “a satellite or additional emergency services location. I suggested that they use the current Lynn Union Hospital as their satellite emergency services location. They will take that into consideration.”
The planning committee must report its findings back to the PHC in one year, Crawford said, adding, “I’m glad they moved it to a one-year time period and not three-year time period so we all know what we are facing in the near future.”
In support of the need for a permanent satellite emergency department at Union, Crawford told the PHC in his prepared remarks that “The town of Lynnfield currently has 1,000 emergency medical transports every year of which 700 go to Union Hospital. Over 30 percent of the residents in Lynnfield are senior citizens and most of them rely on Union Hospital for their medical care.”
Crawford requested that the PHC require NSMC to “provide annual financial compensation to the towns and cities in the service area to offset the increase in costs incurred because of the additional drive times and expense of emergency personnel being out of service.”
Noting his disappointment that community leaders and residents outside of Lynn and Salem were not appointed to the hospital’s planning committee, Crawford also requested that the PHC require NSMC to “comply with the conditions set forth by the Department of Public Health, including but not limited to establishing a planning committee that includes community leaders and elected officials from the state and municipalities in the service area.”
Crawford invited Lynnfield resident Mary Stewart, a staunch advocate involved of the regional “Save Union Hospital” campaign, to address the board on the outcome of the PHC decision.
Stewart praised both the current and past Boards of Selectmen for their support of keeping the hospital open, including signing petitions, writing letters to the state DPH and speaking out at the numerous DPH public hearings. She said their support was supplemented by the support of the police chief, Town Administrator Jim Boudreau and retired T.A. Bill Gustus, as well as an outpouring of support from the community through letters, emails and phone calls “expressing the good care” received at Union Hospital.
She noted that while it’s not possible to get everyone in town to agree on every issue, when it came to Union Hospital “everybody agreed because everybody gets sick at some point in life.”
“Two major businesses on Route 1, Kelly Jeep and Chrysler and Gaeta Towing, put up large signs to save the hospital,” she said, adding, “You might remember them when looking for a new vehicle or needing towing services.
“Some residents, like Bob Baker, here on Summer Street, put up a large sign on his front lawn every time we were going to have a hearing. People like Ralph Sevinor, a resident of Lynnfield, a business owner in Lynn of Wayne Alarms, held meetings in his place of business,” she said.
“I do not feel, however, we got the support we needed from Beacon Hill through our representatives or from the Public Health Council. This issue was viewed by them as a ‘Lynn issue,’ not a regional issue,” Stewart explained, noting that she became involved “as a result of an invitation by a taxpayer group from Lynn. They felt strongly that this was a regional issue. The director, Katerina, spoke twice to our Board of Selectmen, this board and the previous one. She also was on a radio show with the Herald, with (state Rep.) Bradley Jones and myself,” Stewart said.
“Totally ignored were the communities that surrounded the hospital in the Public Health Council’s decision.”
Stewart was also disappointed to not receive formal support from National Development, given its proximity to the hospital. “I also on more than one occasion asked for support from National Development. It was not forthcoming.
“National Development, the developer of MarketStreet, is a beautifully well done addition to this town. I am happy that we have it and it supports us as taxpayers. This was a minor thing to write a letter for this town and for this hospital,” Stewart believes because, “the more people we bring into town, the more medical issues we are going to have. We need access – immediate access – for our residents and all the people visiting up there, and there’s many.”
If Partners HealthCare does not want to maintain a campus at Union Hospital, Stewart said she looks forward to the possibility of another hospital buying it and developing it. If that were to happen, she promised that the new owners would discover they “will have a strong community group behind you.”
“Thank you for all the work you’ve done on it and all the compassion you have. It is certainly infectious and it got me on board right away,” Crawford told Stewart.
ER calls diverted Friday
Boudreau said that last Friday, upon learning that Union was “diverting” emergency calls to Salem because Union had lost power, he requested Fire Chief Mark Tetreault track any emergency responses diverted to Salem along with run time. “We’ll have some real life data that will tell us how much this is going to increase our response times and our run times going to Salem as opposed to Union,” Boudreau said.
Crawford said it was Stewart who alerted him about the ER diversions and requested getting the word out about it. “I contacted Jim Boudreau and we had a robo call go out within the hour to everybody in town. Thank you for letting us know because it would have been hours later before we ever found out ourselves.”
Stewart explained, “We need to know if that is a reliable emergency room. If it’s not, the citizens of this town need to know immediately, not a year from now, so that if they have an emergency and are driving themselves, they know they can’t go that way. Many people that I’ve spoken to do not want to go to Salem Hospital.”