- Created on Thursday, July 17 2014 13:32
Melrose Free Press
July 17, 2014
By Jessica Sacco
A large group gathered in Melrose last week to express support for the imminent merger between Hallmark Health System and Partners HealthCare.
If approved, it would bring together Hallmark — which owns Melrose-Wakefield Hospital Lawrence Memorial Hospital (LMH) and several offsite locations in Malden, Stoneham, Reading and Wakefield — with Partners, proprietor of Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.
The state Department of Public Health (DPH) held a meeting on July 10 in Memorial Hall to gather public commentary about the merger.
It marked the second of two public hearings. At the first, held at Tufts University on May 28, residents in the area, especially Medford, conveyed concern about potentially losing services in some communities.
This time, however, about 50 attendees spoke favorably of the merger, stressing the importance of maintaining community hospitals and improving local services.
Officials at both hospital systems expressed only positives about the joining of forces.
Donna West, past chairwoman of the Board of Trustees for Hallmark Health, said it was under her leadership that management was asked to seek a merger with a broader, tertiary system.
"We are committed to keeping Hallmark Health strong in our communities, but without the successful completion of the transaction proposed today, Hallmark Health stands in real jeopardy of being able to remain in the community and continue offering high quality, low cost care under the rigorous requirements of the health care reform," she said.
Dr. Peter Slavin, president of Mass General, said the merger would allow Partners and Hallmark to combine resources and expand services at both LMH and Melrose-Wakefield Hospital for residents in Melrose, Wakefield, Medford, Malden and Stoneham.
"The planned investments are more significant upgrades than Hallmark would be able to afford on its own," he said. "While the initial investment is significant, we believe substantial savings will ultimately be generated because lower rates are for services at community facilities."
Following the hearing, DPH will summarize the testimony for a determination of need hearing with the Public Health Council on Aug. 13.
The state’s Determination of Need Program evaluates proposals from health care facilities planning substantial capital expenditures or changes in service. From there, the Public Health Council would approve or reject these alterations.
Hallmark employees and residents from around the region requested DPH approve the merger between Partners Healthcare and Hallmark Health System.
Many spoke of their experiences at Hallmark hospitals — of doctors, nurses and services that saved lives and improved quality of life.
They shared the importance of maintaining first-class care in community hospitals, especially Melrose-Wakefield Hospital.
Melrose City Solicitor Rob Van Campen spoke on behalf of Mayor Rob Dolan, who could not attend the hearing.
Van Campen reiterated Dolan’s support of the merger, stating the proposed affiliation would ensure the continuation of high quality medical service and care for patients within the Hallmark Health service area.
"In addition, this important affiliation will ensure the continued success of Melrose-Wakefield Hospital, which is integral to the continued success of the city of Melrose," he said.
Melrosian Diane Smith said the community and Melrose-Wakefield Hospital could only benefit from a merger with Partners Healthcare.
"We all realize that many of the hospitals in the surrounding areas have closed in the past years and we’re very fortunate to have a hospital of this caliber in our neighborhood," she said. "We want to keep it there."
Wakefield resident Pat Mahoney has a long-standing relationship with Melrose-Wakefield Hospital and would like it to continue. Her three children were born there, and her family has made numerous visits over the years.
"Whether you’re a patient or a visitor, they treat you just great," Mahoney said about the staff. "I firmly believe this merger with Partners is going to go a long way to help our physicians. I’ve seen so many improvements. I’d like to see a lot more."
Joanna Stroud-Lebeau, a specialist for women’s programs at the YWCA in Malden, works closely with Hallmark Health System. She believes the merger would allow Hallmark to become part of a more comprehensive system in the rapidly changing healthcare environment.
She praised the services at Hallmark, to which she sends many women at Malden’s YWCA for appointments, treatment, etc.
"The reason I send these women to Hallmark Health is because when I call them to let them know I’m sending someone there for a mammogram…they will be met there and they will get VIP treatment. It’s hands on, personal," Stroud-Lebeau said. "For me, this isn’t about my YWCA hat, it’s a personal hat for me. We need a community hospital that stays right here in the community. Please support the merger with Partners."