BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — SALEM — After closely examining for the past three years how patients are managed, a more than $200 million investment in Salem and Lynn’s Union hospitals and in local community health centers should provide better access to medical and psychiatric services in the region, North Shore Medical Center President and CEO Robert G. Norton said.
Over the next three years, Salem Hospital, with the help of a massive $170 million addition, will become North Shore Medical Center’s primary acute-care hospital for the two cities and surrounding communities, Norton said.
Lynn’s Union Hospital will become a center for psychiatric, primary, specialty and urgent care, while keeping its emergency room. North Shore Physicians Group offices and North Shore and Lynn Community health centers will be expanded.
“So all of our acute, inpatient medical, surgical business will be located here,” Norton said in an interview yesterday.
The addition to Salem Hospital would be built on the campus’s Highland Avenue side. It will house a new and expanded emergency room and add 72 private rooms for patients, bringing the total bed count to approximately 300. Under the transition plan, 26 psychiatric beds in Salem are moving to Union Hospital.
Salem Hospital’s emergency department was upgraded 12 years ago, Norton said, but its services are in such high demand, it has been out of space for the past five years.
“I am excited and encouraged that North Shore Medical Center is undertaking a project that will add jobs, expand health care services for our community, and improve and streamline the layout of the NSMC campus,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll in a statement. “This $170 million investment in our city is one more way that Salem is growing and moving forward in a positive and progressive fashion.”
Lynn’s Union Hospital will close all of its 83 inpatient medical care beds, with most of those headed to Salem. This facility will focus on primary specialty and urgent care, as well as psychiatric and behavioral health, Norton said. Union Hospital’s campus will have approximately 100 psychiatric patient beds, after some from Salem and others from Hallmark Health System’s Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford are relocated there. Partners HealthCare announced a new affiliation agreement yesterday with Hallmark Health.
North Shore Medical Center employs 4,500 people across its two campuses, its outpatient sites and physician offices, said spokeswoman Laura Fleming.
Under the plan, Union Hospital will retain its emergency department. Salem’s emergency department already receives the most ill patients in the Lynn and Salem service areas, Norton said.
“I think better access for everyone is probably what I would highlight as the most important aspect,” Norton said of the changes at both hospitals, which come amid changes nationwide to the health care delivery system and the need to do as much as possible with health care dollars, he said.
The hospitals are just 5.8 miles apart and offer duplicate services, such as intensive care units, operating rooms and psychiatric services, that Norton said belong at one hospital or the other — not at both.
“It’s increasingly difficult to maintain that duplication on two campuses so close together,” Norton said. “A piece of this decision is driven by our desire to make sure everybody we treat has access to the widest range of specialists with the right level of specialty expertise and training, and it is increasingly difficult to maintain all of those areas of specialization on two campuses this way.”
Massachusetts General Hospital will run Union Hospital’s psychiatry and behavioral health services, while North Shore Medical Center and North Shore Physicians Group will operate Union Hospital’s emergency department, primary care, urgent care, labs, radiology and other services most patients use, Fleming said.
Union Hospital could see an investment of about $40 million to create the psychiatric and behavioral health center of excellence and an office expansion, and Lynn Community and North Shore Community health centers will also get money for expansion projects.
Rather than putting an emphasis on bricks and mortar, however, Norton focused on how both hospitals will provide care in the coming years based on a more modern model of treatment that shies away from overnight stays to one in which primary care doctors or specialists care for patients in an outpatient setting.
The idea is that primary care physicians manage care “in a patient-centered medical home environment,” Norton said. This includes coordinating follow-up visits, the reconciliation of patient records “and really taking responsibility for their health instead of treating their illness when it occurs,” Norton said.
While the coming of the Affordable Care Act and state health care reforms influenced some of the thinking, “our transition is driven more on a change of focus and a change of value internally,” Norton said.
In Salem, the addition may at last provide a unified front entrance to a hospital that has sprawled across its campus over the years. The hospital’s hodgepodge of parking lots will also be reconfigured.
“We have never had a main entrance. We have never had a front lobby, so this will give a new circular drive for patients and families to access the central core and the new front lobby and new main entrance,” Norton said.
The new building will be located at the present site of the building’s power plant, which is at the front of the hospital across the driveway from the surgical center and the main visitor entrance to the Davenport building. There is an ongoing project to relocate the power plant to the back of hospital, Norton said.
Driscoll, in her statement, said the city will work with North Shore Medical Center, neighbors and Highland Avenue businesses to make sure the project moves forward in a cooperative way.
“Key to that effort will be communication, transparency and public input — all of which are necessary for such a major project,” Driscoll said. She said the city has already reached out to state transportation officials to make traffic improvements to busy Highland Avenue, which is state-owned Route 107.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.