Cooley Dickinson celebrates new ER groundbreaking, 10-year alliance with Mass General

ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 07-21-2023 9:16 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Cooley Dickinson Hospital broke ground on its new emergency department building in a ceremony Thursday, an event that also celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its partnership with the Mass General Brigham hospital system.

The project, which is expected to be completed in 2025, will be 40% bigger than the hospital’s existing emergency department, with hospital officials noting that Hampshire County has a higher rate of mental health hospitalizations than the state average. 

Raymond Conway, the hospital’s medical director of urgent care and who served as the master of ceremonies at the groundbreaking, noted that in 1974, the emergency department treated 19,429 patients. This year, the same department is expected to treat up to 40,000 patients. 

“Those patients need a new ED, this community needs a new ED, and if things go according to plan,this will be the new waiting room,” said Conway, referring to the podium from which he spoke during the event.

Attendees at the event included former Cooley Dickinson presidents Joanne Marqusee and Craig Melin, who oversaw the hospital’s transition to its alliance with the Mass General Brigham system. Lynette Watkins, the current president of Cooley Dickinson, credited her predecessors for putting the hospital in the financial shape it is today, able to expand its services. 

“I truly stand on the shoulders of giants,” Watkins said. “It is my privilege to serve and to build upon this strong, strong foundation that they have set forth.”

Though the hospital continues to navigate the disruption caused by COVID-19 and deal with workforce shortages, Watkins expressed pride at how the hospital staff has worked to overcome such obstacles. 

“They have been and continue to be on the front lines of care, navigating the pandemic and the ever-changing health care landscape,” she said. “It takes commitment, grit, and perseverance.”

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Also speaking at the event was Anne Klibanski, the president of Mass General Brigham, who emphasized the importance of community hospitals in serving the health care needs of local populaces. 

“We have to be delivering more care in a community setting, closer to home and even in the home,” Klibanski said. “That really is the mission and the importance of all community hospitals.”

The new emergency room represents a $19 million investment for the hospital, with $8 million of that raised through the community, as well as a symbol of expansion made possible through its partnership with a much larger hospital system. Other Northampton institutions gave money to support the project, including a $250,000 gift from Smith College. 

The partnership with Mass General Brigham has provided benefits for Cooley Dickinson’s bottom line. For the period of 2017-2021, the hospital had an operating surplus of $44 million, with its total net assets increasing more than sixfold, according to the state’s Center for Health Information Analysis. 

In addition, the number of available staffed beds increased from 91 to 151, according to the CHIA. During the pandemic, Cooley Dickinson was able to obtain personal protective equipment in suddenly short supply, including N95 masks, face shields and medical gowns from Mass General.

Officials representing the offices of state Reps. Lindsay Sabadosa and Mindy Domb were present, as was a representative from U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern’s office. Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra also spoke at the event, calling the hospital a valuable community partner with the city, including helping launch Northampton’s new Division of Community Care. 

“During our most recent public health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, Cooley Dickinson proved to be a steadfast and reliable partner to the city,” Sciarra said. “As you look to the future, I know the new emergency department will continue supporting our city’s prevention of harm reduction and community health promotion efforts.” 

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