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Supporters, critics weigh in on Partners takeover of Hallmark

Barbara Collins spoke at a hearing in Medford on Partners HeathCare’s planned takeover of Hallmark Health System.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Barbara Collins spoke at a hearing in Medford on Partners HeathCare’s planned takeover of Hallmark Health System.

MEDFORD — Leaders of Partners HealthCare and Hallmark Health System said their planned alliance will lead to more integrated medical care, but not all of the community leaders and residents at a hearing Wednesday were convinced the deal will be good for patients.

The proposed takeover of Hallmark, which owns Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford and Melrose-Wakefield Hospital, will allow Boston-based Partners “to invest both substantial financial and clinical resources in Hallmark Health,” said Dr. David Torchiana, head of the Partners-owned Massachusetts General Physicians Organization. He spoke during a hearing hosted by the state Department of Public Health at Tufts University.

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But City Councilor Robert Penta of Medford called on the parties to specify which programs and services would be retained and which would be cut after the deal is closed.

“We need to know as a community what’s staying and what’s going,” Penta told representatives of the Public Health Department, which must grant Partners new licenses to operate the two community hospitals. “If Partners is coming in and saying, ‘We have to get rid of this because it’s a non-money maker,’ then what are you going to replace it with?”

The hearing, which drew about 70 people, was held nine days after the Massachusetts attorney general’s office signaled it would allow Partners to acquire Hallmark Health System. Despite that indication, the state Public Health Council still must approve the license transfers. Also, the state Health Policy Commission continues to review the impact the deal might have on health costs and competition in the area.

Partners, which owns Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals in Boston, last fall unveiled a regional strategy for expanding medical services on the North Shore that was contingent on the takeover of Hallmark.

Under the plan, it would convert Lawrence Memorial from an acute-care hospital with 134 beds to a short-stay hospital with 20 to 40 beds, while renovating the 234-bed Melrose-Wakefield Hospital.

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At Salem’s North Shore Medical Center, which Partners already owns, the Union Hospital campus in Lynn would become a primary care and behavioral health facility, eliminating 83 medical surgical beds. Seventy-two beds would be added to the center’s 273-bed Salem Hospital.

In arguing against the Hallmark acquisition Wednesday, Lynn resident Mary Ellen Palermo criticized the planned changes at Union Hospital.

“It’s not good for the community,” Palermo said. “It’s not good for the poorest residents. We’re losing services that are being taken out of the city. I can’t even get a bone density test anymore in Lynn.”

But the vast majority of the speakers at the two-hour hearing spoke in favor of the Partners-Hallmark merger, including executives and managers at Hallmark and many community leaders. Others criticized the Public Health Department for holding the hearing at Tufts in the afternoon rather than at a community setting at night, when more residents could attend.

Michael Sack, president of Hallmark Health, said the deal would “significantly benefit our patients and the communities we serve, now and for future generations” by providing the right care at the appropriate settings.

But another Medford city councilor, Richard Caraviello, called on Partners to continue 24-hour emergency care in Medford.

“Through this merger, Lawrence Memorial is going to be the lesser sister,” he said. “I see most of the services being transferred to Melrose-Wakefield. It’s hard to see these services diminished and moved to another community.”

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com.

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