Opinion Piece from the Lynn Daily Item: 'Meeting Lynn's Health Needs'

May 31, 2017

This opinion piece originally appeared in the Lynn Daily Item at www.itemlive.com. To read the article there, follow this link.

Meeting Lynn's Health Needs

By Filaine Deronnette
May 26, 2017

For more than 125 years, Union Hospital has been a vital asset for the people of Lynn, and its imminent closing requires all of us to roll up our sleeves and get to work to protect vital healthcare services and save crucial jobs.

The good news is that we are making progress. In partnership with our community allies, we’re advocating to make sure that residents will be able to access the care they need after Union Hospital closes.

We engaged in a robust community conversation to determine exactly how to address concerns about the city’s health care options. This process began with a Community Health Needs Assessment we commissioned last year and continued through a series of meetings and discussions with employees, residents and other stakeholders in Lynn.

Throughout this process we’ve asked a simple, but essential question: what services and priorities are most important to meet the health needs of Lynn? The Community Health Needs Assessment identified more than a dozen recommendations in these areas. Over the past several months, residents, employees and advocates voiced their opinions, goals and concerns.

So what have we learned?

A series of priorities have emerged and residents, employees and community leaders want three key things. First, we want to preserve access to urgent and emergency care at the current Union Hospital site. Second, we want to ensure accessible and convenient transportation is available to North Shore Medical Center (NSMC) Salem. Finally, we believe it’s crucial to provide culturally appropriate care in Lynn that meets the needs of the community.

These are important goals. And we’ve begun to take the necessary steps to ensure they become a reality. Working with all of our community partners and our elected leaders, we’ve formed specific proposals and identified stakeholder groups to carry out the recommendations.

Preserving emergency services at the current Union Hospital site is a top priority. The Emergency and Urgent Care Service Planning Group must hold a public hearing to report to the Lynn community on its progress. Just as important, NSMC should design and implement a public service campaign to better inform residents of the location, services and hours of all its emergency and urgent care sites.

Generations of Lynn families have known where to go for their healthcare – Union – and now they need to learn where else to find those services.

Lynn residents must be able to access care in a way that is convenient and affordable. For those without a car, transportation to NSMC sites must be provided. We recommend that NSMC work with community organizations, such as the Mass Senior Action Council, and our elected leaders to explore options for shuttle services and transit programs for seniors.

Lynn is one of the most diverse cities in Massachusetts. To ensure it can provide culturally appropriate care and preserve jobs, NSMC needs to make real efforts to understand the unique health needs of the community – including veterans, those battling addiction and other underserved populations. It should also expand efforts to recruit relevant foreign language speakers into all existing health job-training programs.

Finally, NSMC must follow through on the plan it presented to the Department of Public Health. Last month, Dr. David J. Roberts, President of NSMC, was quoted in this paper saying, “We are seeing fewer people using the hospital since we announced plans for the closure,” and suggested that Union Hospital could close earlier if demand continues to decrease. We expect full transparency and thorough communication from NSMC around this process to ensure we are best prepared to continue providing the quality care our patients deserve.

We have made good progress to understand and address the impact of Union Hospital’s closure. But we recognize that confronting our community’s health challenges is a significant task that one institution can’t solve alone. It will take our continued collaboration across sectors – healthcare workers and providers, community advocates and government leaders – to ensure that Lynn maintains an effective healthcare delivery system that protects access to quality care and good healthcare jobs.

The members of 1199SEIU remain committed to this effort. Working together, we can fill the void left by the closure of Union Hospital and create a stronger and healthier future for our community.

Filaine Deronnette is the vice president Service Employees International Union Local 1199, United Healthcare Workers East.