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Healthcare Consulting Firm Holding Public Meeting In North Adams

Lucas Willard

The firm hired by Massachusetts to determine the healthcare needs of northern Berkshire County is holding a public comment meeting Tuesday in North Adams. The area is being served by an emergency satellite facility at the former North Adams Regional Hospital, which closed in March.

Stroudwater Associates is in the midst of assessing the community’s healthcare needs and how best to meet them. The state Department of Public Health brought on the Maine-based firm in the beginning of June. Brian Haapala is leading the effort for Stroudwater.

“Understand from the community’s perspective what services have been valuable in the past and what may be different in the future relative to their interests going forward,” said Haapala.

Berkshire Medical Center opened a satellite emergency center at the hospital facility in North Adams on May 19th. Parent company Berkshire Health Systems has filed a $4 million bid in U.S. Bankruptcy court to buy the site. So far it’s the only offer with bidding set to close July 31. BHS is on a list of community stakeholders compiled by DPH that are working with Stroudwater. Michael Leary is BMC’s spokesman.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the results of that analysis which we feel could act as a guidepost for sustainable healthcare services in Northern Berkshire,” Leary said. “But the specific uses for the rest of the facility have not been determined.”

Cindy Bird worked as a unit secretary at NARH for 26 years. She is also part of Service Employees International Union 1199, which represents roughly 200 of the 530 former Northern Berkshire Healthcare employees. The former hospital’s parent company filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy April 3rd. Members of 1199 and the Massachusetts Nurses Associations, representing about 100 former workers, and others have met every Tuesday at the North Adams American Legion since the hospital closed, with about 50 people attending the meetings weekly. Bird expects a packed room Tuesday.

“I don’t believe that the consulting firm is going to find too many services that we don’t need,” said Bird.

In May, the MNA released a report claiming a full-service hospital is viable in the region and poor management decisions led to its closure. David Schildmeier is the union’s spokesman.

“What this report says ‘It’s a good investment [and] you can feel confident in doing so,” Schildmeier. “This is to support Berkshire Medical Center in their efforts to expand their network of care. We believe they are the best entity to do that.”

As part of its data gathering, Haapala says Stroudwater has received the MNA report and a similar one from SEIU 1199. He says the firm is reviewing socioeconomic demographics and market trends to determine the viability of healthcare services, but is not looking at the former hospital’s performance or financial decisions. Stroudwater has worked with Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, which gained critical access status in 2003 and is operated by BHS. The former NARH applied for the status in 2011, according to Haapla.

“We have received the prior application that the hospital did that was denied by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,” Haapala said. “We have reviewed that at a high level and would expect that there may be some additional or new efforts to go ahead and pursue that potential designation again.”

In April, state Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz said it’s a difficult time to secure critical access status which provides increased federal reimbursement rates.

“But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try,” said Polanowicz.

Meanwhile, the state is supporting BMC as it operates the satellite facility, according to Governor Deval Patrick.

“I say this before the findings are in so take it with a grain of salt,” Patrick said. “It’s unlikely that North Adams is going to be reconstituted in the form it was before. But, rather than think just about the future of healthcare in North Adams itself, we have to think about it in the context of the whole region.”

Haapala says Stroudwater plans to present its recommendations publically in mid-August. He says the DPH has indicated it wishes to continue seeking public input at that time. Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled to run from 6 to 8 o’clock at the North Adams American Legion.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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