LYNN — Despite a promise to keep the emergency room open at Union Hospital until next spring, North Shore Medical Center announced this week that the ER would be closing in November.
North Shore Medical Center (NSMC) announced on Tuesday that it was planning to convert Union Hospital’s emergency department to an Urgent Care Center in November, which would temporarily serve the city until construction on the new medical village is completed next spring.
NSMC spokeswoman Laura Fleming told The Item last month the emergency room would remain open until next spring when the medical village opens, which will offer urgent care and replace Union Hospital on the site.
Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi said he was disappointed that North Shore Medical Center changed its timeline for closing emergency services in Lynn, which came as a surprise to him. Losing the city’s only hospital is “devastating,” he said.
“I’m very disappointed and saddened, and I wish they would reconsider and stay open as they communicated earlier, that they would wait until the spring,” Lozzi said. “(Closure) was inevitable, but the longer we could have had it, the better.
“Lynn wants the coverage and the protection as long as it can get it and I still think it’s a big mistake. I think it’s unfortunate that they’ve chosen to consolidate it rather than expand some of the services here in Lynn, which is what I think they should have done.”
The conversion would occur a month after the new emergency department at Salem Hospital is scheduled to open, which is part of a $207 million expansion of North Shore Medical Center, which will close Union and move all services over to Salem. The process has already closed Union’s operating room and maternity ward. The two hospitals are part of Partners Healthcare.
Fleming said the decision was made in an effort to reduce the delay in patients being transferred to Salem Hospital for emergency services. Often, she said, people who seek services at Union’s emergency room have more complex needs than can be handled in Lynn and have to be transferred to Salem, where there are more services.
The kinds of cases that are stabilized and transferred out of Union include heart attacks, strokes, major trauma, complex medical conditions, or conditions that require surgery, according to Fleming.
“We want to take away that element and that delay, and make it clear that come October, they should only be going (to Union) for the less acute conditions,” Fleming said. “That’s going to be the safest care for them and the better quality care for them.”
Fleming said the transfers are usually for people who check themselves into Union, as ambulances are already opting to divert many patients from Lynn to Salem knowing there are more services.
Lynn Fire Capt. Joseph Zukas, the city’s emergency management (EMS) director, said last month that the majority of the city’s ambulance transports are diverted to Salem Hospital and doesn’t believe the new emergency room at Salem will be able to handle the capacity of patients that both facilities handle right now.
Zukas said the impending closure of Union is already putting a strain on the availability of ambulance service in the city; with more calls getting diverted to Salem, it’s taking longer for those ambulances to get back into service in the city.
He said on Tuesday that he was surprised to hear Union’s ER was closing ahead of schedule and that he’ll have to evaluate and work with NSMC on how that would affect EMS service in the city.
“If we can’t bring ambulances there, we will have to bring 100 percent of our transports to Salem,” Zukas said. “I guess we’ll see. We’re going to soon find out and we’ll make changes as needed.”
Fleming said the decision to close ER services in November restores NSMC’s original schedule to close emergency room services in the fall. That plan was pushed back to the spring when delays in construction meant the medical village would open next spring.
But last week, she said NSMC learned that the Department of Public Health would support their idea for converting Union’s ER to an urgent care center temporarily, which is expected to serve 30 to 35 patients a day. All of the other services that are planned for the medical village will remain open elsewhere on the Union campus, Fleming said.
“Consolidating complex emergency and inpatient care in one sophisticated facility where the full range of services and specialists are available is the best plan for patient care and safety,” said NSMC president David J. Roberts in a statement.
“At the same time, we wanted to be sure that urgent care and other key services would remain in Lynn so that residents have a convenient option for the services that are used most frequently, but are less acute in nature.”
The 37,000 square-foot, $23 million medical village will offer urgent care, basic lab and radiology services, outpatient psychiatry services, and an expanded home for the North Shore Physicians Group Lynn primary and specialty care practice currently located in the West Medical Building on the Union campus.