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Lynn, Medford Salem

Hospital realignment, merger raise alarms

As health executives from Partners HealthCare System touted its regional hospital alignment plan and its proposed merger with Hallmark Health System, elected officials in Lynn and Medford slammed the proposal and said it would diminish the health care available in those cities.

The sweeping plan calls for Partners’ North Shore Medical Center to eliminate all surgery at Union Hospital in Lynn and transform the facility into a primary care and 100-bed behavioral health facility. All surgery now being done at North Shore Medical Center would take place at the Salem Hospital campus. North Shore Medical Center president Robert Norton said Union’s emergency department would remain open “as long into the future as we can see,” but declined to give a specific time commitment to the department.

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Lynn officials oppose the move.

“It’s about life and death for a lot of people in the city of Lynn,” said mayoral candidate Tim Phelan, who is also president of the Lynn City Council. “People are irate about this. To be treated like this is a slap in the face to every person in the city. We’re going to fight this every step of the way.”

The distance between the Union and Salem hospital campuses is 5.77 miles, but Phelan said that during rush hour, the trip from Union to Salem could take as long as 45 minutes.

Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy did not respond to interview requests.

Meanwhile, Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn expressed concern over plans for Lawrence Memorial Hospital in that city.

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In announcing its intention to merge with Partners, Hallmark president Mike Sack said Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford would transition from an acute-care facility to a short-stay inpatient hospital run by Partners’ Massachusetts General Hospital. Hallmark’s other hospital, Melrose-Wakefield in Melrose, would handle more complicated surgeries in the future, along with Massachusetts General Hospital. Sack said the emergency department would remain open for at least two years.

McGlynn said the city can not afford to lose its emergency room.

“The emergency room is there for a reason and we want to make sure that people still have the comfort of knowing that there’s one there,” said McGlynn, who plans to meet with hospital officials soon to discuss the proposal.

Sack said the proposed merger, which needs state and federal approval and could take up to three years to be implemented if approved, would allow patients in the Medford, Melrose, and Wakefield area to become part of a larger coordinated network of care that would include critically acute or research-based care at Mass. General.

Sack said Partners has proposed spending $300 million to upgrade Lawrence Memorial and Melrose-Wakefield hospitals. Part of the plan calls for adding 25 new primary care physicians, building a new ambulatory building at Lawrence Memorial, and new garages at both hospitals. At Melrose-Wakefield, Sack said the nursing facility and maternity ward would be revamped, and the emergency department would be rebuilt.

Farther north, the plan to create a 100-bed primary care and behavioral health center at Lynn’s Union Hospital and eliminate surgeries there will help save North Shore Medical Center around $15 million a year, said Norton, North Shore Medical’s president.

Norton said the savings would come from “eliminating duplication and the efficiencies of creating a better model of care.”

Under the plan, the 26 adult psychiatry beds used at Salem Hospital would move to the Union campus.

Norton said the proposed mental health and psychiatry center in Lynn would be run by Mass. General.

When asked why Union was chosen for the site, Norton said the size of the campus dictated its future use.

“The two campuses are significantly different in size and all of the acute care services that we provide to the broader community wouldn’t fit on the Union campus,” said Norton.

Norton said Partners plans to spend $180 million to upgrade Salem Hospital, and an additional $40 million at Union . A centerpiece of the spending will be a new building that will house the emergency department and 72 private bedrooms in Salem .

In addition, an underground garage will be built for the structure, which would be located in an existing hospital parking lot along Highland Avenue.

He also said North Shore Medical plans to add 35 new primary health care physicians over the next five years. Norton said the proposal still needs to be approved by the state Department of Public Health.

While some Lynn officials are not happy with the proposals, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll welcomed the plan.

“I am excited and encouraged that North Shore Medical Center is undertaking a project that will add jobs, expand health care services for our community, and improve and streamline the layout of the NSMC campus,” Driscoll said in a statement.

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@WriteRosenberg.
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