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WARE — Baystate Mary Lane Hospital served the residents of Ware and the surrounding communities for 100 years before beginning a slow reduction of departments and services until its full closure in 2023.

Reminder Publishing reached out to residents to understand their experiences and feelings about the hospital’s closure and potential redevelopment. The overwhelming consensus from those who responded was that they wanted a hospital, whether run by Baystate Health or another company.

Doreen Piechota said, “That hospital just didn’t serve the town of Ware. It served Belchertown, Hardwick, Gilbertville New Braintree, Oakham, North Brookfield, West Brookfield, Warren, Brookfield and East Brookfield. That’s a lot of people that Baystate slammed the door shut on.”

The closest hospitals to Ware are now Athol Memorial Hospital in Athol, Harrington Memorial Hospital in Southbridge and Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer, which is the closest at 20 minutes from the Mary Lane site. Hospital Review Committee Chair Howard Trietsch described the area as a “hospital desert,” during a joint meeting of the Hospital Review Committee and the Historical Commission on Feb. 21.

People said they were “frightened” that Wing is farther from their homes than was Mary Lane, especially for those living in Hardwick and Belchertown.

“People could die having to wait an extra 20- to 30-[minute] drive to Wing,” Mel Wynot said.

Cheryl Lynn Desorcy pointed out, “The elderly need a hospital that’s not far away. Some people don’t have cars or money to take an Uber. They used to walk to Mary Lane.”

People also commented at length about the wait times at Wing. “E.R. wait times are atrocious. We need our services back. Ware at least needs an urgent care, and medical and lab services,” said Sadie Blake.

Elaine Masse said, “People at Wing are nice but overwhelmed with all the extra [patients] and that is sad and dangerous. I was five hours in the waiting area and a man was waiting for two hours. He got up, and out loud, declared he was going home to die.”

Carol Zins was one of a few people who spoke about the economic impact of losing the hospital. She said, “All the tax dollars from staff that shopped, ate, bought gas and gum in Ware is now gone.” Other people had concerns about demolition and construction being disruptive to the neighborhood.

Of all the residents who spoke to Reminder Publishing about the closure and possible redevelopment, only one person did not call for it to be reopened.

“Mary Lane, aka Scary Lane. The running town joke was that was where you go to die,” said Bill Gunn. “Everyone that is so concerned and insists upon there being a medical center that obviously will lose money, should make an offer on the property and open it back up.”

Next steps

A total of 306 people signed a petition to delay the demolition of the site by utilizing the town’s Demotion Delay Bylaw. The Historical Commission then voted unanimously in January to implement the bylaw to the Mary Lane campus buildings and a residence. The demolition of other buildings on the site owned by Baystate was not impacted. The moratorium on the campus’s demolition will be in effect for nine months, expiring in October.

During that time, Historical Commission Chair Lynn Lak said, “Our role is to follow the dictates of the Demolition Delay By-Law: to work hard to find a buyer who might be willing to rehabilitate these buildings.” This work has already begun through contact with Massachusetts Director of Rural Affairs Ann Gobi and state legislators. The commission has also reached out to Way Finders, a nonprofit whose mission includes building and managing affordable housing.

From the historical side of the issue, Lak said the commission is building an “historic inventory” of the site and discussing memorial options with Baystate Health, in case the buildings cannot be saved. Lak said she does not want residents to become alarmed if they see work being done at the site, so the commission will be coordinating with Building Commissioner Anna S. Marques.

Some residents are taking steps on their own to try to address the situation. Katharine Zwemke, wife of former Mary Lane Hospital President William Zwemke, wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, the agency that monitors healthcare spending and makes recommendations on healthcare delivery in the state. The letter highlighted many of the same concerns that other residents have expressed. Zwemke ended the letter by stating that the consolidation of services at “a facility outside of our community has made the health care needs of our citizens an overall emergency waiting to happen.”

While at the meeting on Feb. 21, resident Cindy Bourcier asked people to sign two petitions — one to send to the Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin and another to state Attorney General Andrea Campbell — pertaining to the status of the board of trustees that was set up to support the hospital and the whereabouts and uses of the money in the trust, which she said totaled about $6 million.

If a medical provider cannot be found to reuse the campus or redevelop the site, residents have some ideas about what they would like to see on that land. HKT Architects, which contracted with the town in 2023 to assess the hospital buildings and their possible reuse, sought input from residents, who suggested a YMCA-style facility, open space or housing.

Some residents who spoke to Reminder Publishing also said housing might be an option if healthcare is off the table. However, other residents agreed with the sentiments of Barbara Granlund, who said, “We have enough low-income housing.” Don Dunbar suggested an expansion of the Cedarbrook Village assisted living facility adjacent to the hospital might be possible.

Hospital Review Committee member Cathy Cascio addressed those who had gathered for the Feb. 21 meeting, saying, “People who are passionate about [the hospital] need to stay involved. We’re here. We care.”

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