By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — After almost a decade of hosting Alcoholic Anonymous meetings inside its Higgins Conference Room, Anna Jaques Hospital’s president confirmed yesterday a hospital official informed AA members they are no longer welcome.
In response, an AA member called the news discouraging but said there were enough meeting taking place in other locations across the city to make up for the loss of the hospital.
Anna Jaques Hospital President Delia O’Connor said AA officials have until Oct. 1 to find a new home for the two programs it hosts Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings.
Leaders of both sessions were informed last weekend via a note taped to the front door before the start of both weekend meetings.
O’Connor said the conference room is the only semi-formal space in the building and that it is in heavy use by doctors, administrators and other hospital groups. Too often, she said, those using the space Monday morning would find it in disarray, specifically pointing to coffee stains found throughout the conference room.
“It’s a really terrible match with our only semi-formal space,” O’Connor said.
Clean-up crews, she said, aren’t scheduled to tidy up the boardroom over the weekend and that to hire a work crew to make sure the room is ready for hospital officials on Monday would be cost-prohibitive.
“It’s just not feasible for us in terms of staffing or money,” O’Connor said, adding that AA has been using the room free of charge for years.
Founded in 1935, AA currently has more than 2 million members in the United States, Canada and other countries.
The informal groups have only one mission: to help people who want to stop drinking and support those recovering from alcoholism.
As far back as March, O’Connor said AA members were made aware of the hospital’s concern regarding the state of its meeting room, but conditions had not improved.
Asked if there were any other spaces inside the hospital that could accommodate AA meetings without disrupting hospital meetings during the week, O’Connor said there were none.
An AA member, who only would identify herself as Janice M. due to confidentiality issues, said Anna Jaques’ stance is typical of past experiences with hospitals.
“People/establishments get tired of us making messes/noise, etc., and they don’t understand how much the meetings are needed — but fortunately, in this area, there are plenty going on to make up for the closed-down ones. Unfortunately, this is the kind of stuff that has happened for years in AA,” the AA member wrote in an email.
The list of other venues hosting AA meetings in the area is extensive with meetings throughout the week scheduled at Newburyport’s Unitarian Church, St. Paul’s Church and Immaculate Conception, among others. Since the announcement, O’Connor has yet to field a complaint from AA members, she said.
The move has generated some controversy with a Salisbury psychiatric nurse practitioner calling O’Connor’s decision shameful.
Terry Lee Harrington, in a letter to the editor he confirmed writing, said the decision reinforces belief in the community that alcoholism isn’t a disease, further stigmatizing those afflicted with it.
“Is this the message Anna Jaques wants to give to the community?” Harrington wrote.
O’Connor quickly dispelled Harrington’s notion, saying the hospital fully recognized the damaging impacts of alcoholism.
“This is not a cosmic question about alcoholism, this is one question about the use of the only meeting space we have,” O’Connor said.