LYNN — The scheduled Nov. 3 closure of the emergency room at Union Hospital is a major concern for the city’s emergency responders.
How emergency service is delivered in the city has already been negatively affected by the plan, a problem that is expected to be exacerbated, fire officials said.
The loss of Union’s ER will occur on the same day as the new, expanded emergency room is scheduled to open at Salem Hospital. Both Lynn and Salem hospitals are part of Partners Healthcare — closing Union is part of a $207 million expansion of North Shore Medical Center, which will move its beds to the Salem campus.
On Nov. 4, Lynn’s emergency department will be converted to an urgent care center, which will stay open until May when a medical village opens on the site and Union officially closes.
The majority of the city’s ambulance transports, or 80 percent, are diverted to Salem Hospital because paramedics and EMTs believe there are better services for patients. Union’s operating rooms and maternity ward have already closed.
Therefore, ambulances take longer to get back into the city for medical call response. This is further impacted by heavy traffic on Highland Avenue, according to Lynn Fire Capt. Joseph Zukas, the city’s emergency medical services director.
“For us, it’s a concern,” said Lynn Fire Chief Stephen Archer. “The farther away our medic truck is, the longer it takes to get back into service. It’s not a good thing for us. It’s not a good thing for the city. It’s going to have a detrimental effect.”
The planned closure will make Lynn the largest city in the state without an emergency room. The initial plan, as part of the North Shore Medical Center expansion, was for Union’s ER to remain open until the spring, but the company announced in June that the date had been moved up.
“This is horrible,” said Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi, who represents the area where Union is located. “I’m hearing from people waiting five to six hours at Salem (Hospital). For them to pull the rug from under us like this, it leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth in the community.”
Ward 1 residents are expected to be heavily affected by the loss of Union’s ER because they won’t have nearby access to a hospital. In addition, there’s concern among emergency responders that it will take longer for ambulances to reach them because their nearest fire station is on Broadway. The nearby Lynnfield Street Fire Station is closed.
“(The Broadway station is) too far,” said Archer. “It’s not a comfortable feeling for us to provide emergency services for anyone there. As far as reopening that station, (we’re) always looking at how we can better allocate services.”
There hasn’t been enough time to plan for how those residents will be serviced, said Councilor-at-Large Brian Field, adding that taking them to the closer Lahey Clinic in Peabody may be a better option than Salem.
Laura Fleming, NSMC spokeswoman, said there’s a number of efforts in place to communicate about the changes to local patients and residents, to ensure that they receive the care they need in a timely manner.
Those efforts include working with local ambulances and EMS for months to orient them to the new facilities and ensure that they know to bring emergency room patients to Salem after Nov. 3. Security personnel will also remain on site at Union 24/7 in case an emergency patient is brought there, Fleming said.
The City Council voted Tuesday night to have the city’s legal department send a letter to the city of Salem reading that the closure was happening earlier than anticipated, which was causing concern and asking them to come up with some ideas for traffic mitigation on Highland Avenue, the Route 107 corridor. A letter will also be sent to MassDOT.