Caring about an emergency

This article was published 6 year(s) and 2 month(s) ago.

People are wondering if Lynn will have an emergency room if Union Hospital closes under Partners HealthCare.

Lynnfield Board of Selectmen members asked a question this week that everyone living in Lynn and surrounding communities could easily ask themselves: Can I or someone I love get emergency care at Union Hospital?

The answer — for now — is yes. But what happens when Union Hospital closes in 2019 under plans outlined by owner Partners HealthCare? That question may or may not be answered on Thursday at the Franco-American Hall on Western Avenue when area residents are invited to attend a 6 p.m. meeting to discuss “Emergent/Urgent Care in Lynn.”

Partners’ 2015 announcement that it planned to close Union Hospital thrust to the forefront of community concerns questions about continued emergency care in Lynn. Partners is building a new emergency department on the Salem Hospital campus and it describes that project and the decision to close Union Hospital as part of the plan to have “Salem and Union hospitals consolidate.”

Lynnfield’s selectmen, like elected officials in Lynn and Saugus, have more immediate concerns about Union Hospital’s future. Town Fire Chief Mark Tetreault told board members this week that nearly 40 percent of the department’s emergency responses for medical service end at Union Hospital. Fewer than 10 percent of town emergency calls during the past year ended at Salem Hospital.

Some of the people attending Thursday’s meeting might have these facts in mind when they ask: “Will Lynn or will it not have an emergency room once Union Hospital closes?”

The meeting notice indicates attendees will be invited to “provide input for future options.” That is a vague way of suggesting the Emergent/Urgent Care Planning Group will listen to residents who make the case for keeping emergency care in Lynn.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a city the size of Lynn functioning without an emergency room. It is easy but naive to suggest decisions on where emergency rooms are located are based solely on life-and-death medical care decisions.

Emergency medicine has evolved from the days when ambulances carted sick or injured people to a hospital and ambulance attendants urged the patient to “hold on” until a doctor saved them.

Emergency trauma professionals now provide immediate care to patients while they speed them to a hospital. Modern medicine saves lives but people analyzing the tremendous costs associated with medicine have claimed for years that emergency room patients include people who don’t have primary care doctors or who ignore their health and end up getting emergency care they could have avoided.

There is a frightening message lurking just below the surface of this claim: People who don’t or won’t stay healthy, or who can’t afford health care, don’t deserve emergency medicine. That sounds extreme until older Lynn residents recall how the city once was home to not one but two hospitals.

What will be the quality and quantity of emergency medicine in Lynn two years from now? Finding an answer to that question requires defining the term “emergency medicine.” The easiest definition can be provided by state regulators responsible for ensuring health care companies doing business in Massachusetts provide the services residents need to stay healthy.

Partners is sure to argue that the emergency plan it maps out in conjunction with its $210 million Salem Hospital campus will not stint on emergency care for residents living in Lynn, Lynnfield or nearby communities.

But Lynnfield Selectman Philip Crawford on Monday raised the concern that will be on the minds of many people attending Thursday’s meeting when he said, “There are patients from Salem who go to Lynn because it is so backed up at the (Salem) emergency room.”

More Stories In Opinion