METH PETITION — WHAT’S THE REAL STORY? HAS THE PLANET FOUND THE SMOKING GUN? DOCUMENTS ESTABLISH MOTIVE FOR BHS TO FIGHT FOR ITS $$TRANGLEHOLD ON LOCAL HEALTHCARE … plus … PT. 2 OF THE PLANET’s EXCLUSIVE EXAM OF ANNUAL SCHOOL REPORT
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, DEC. 1, 2011) — Welcome to December, final month of the year and the last month in office for the city of Pittsfield’s current lame-duck government. The new government will have to decide on the issue of regulating future meth and suboxone clinics in Pittsfield based on a petition introduced by returning Ward 6 councilor, my right honorable good friend John Krol.
Some Interesting Developments and What We Know, Factually …
There are been some interesting developments in this story, to say the least.
We now know that there already IS a full-time, 24/7 meth treatment center operating in Pittsfield. Thanks to great work by several of THE PLANET’s commentators, members of our Secret Squadron, and Al Gore’s Internet, we also know that said clinic is run Berkshire Health Systems’ subsidiary, Berkshire Medical Center/McGee. There’s a lot of gold in them than hills, and given the fact that BHS has been heavy-handed in the past with competitive medical operations threatening its stranglehold over the health care dollar, it’s not a stretch to see the same thing at work now and here, in the meth case.
We also know that the attorney for the city of Pittsfield, the same city fighting in court to keep Spectrum Health Services from opening a competing clinic in Pittsfield, is a trustee and officer of, you guessed it, Berkshire Health Systems. We also know that the city councilor who introduced the petition to keep future meth competition out of the downtown altogether is a former employee of a — you guessed it again — Berkshire Health Systems subsidiary Berkshire Healthcare Systems.
A Petition of Merit Against Less Than Full Disclosure
In the abstract, Krol’s petition has the merit of refinement. He proposes that the city define for zoning purposes what these clinics are, what services they provide, and where they can be located. In the abstract, THE PLANET agrees that local zoning laws should have precedence over any outside determinant here.
This is not a problem in the abstract, of course, and all other factors cannot be considered equal. The establishment of highly profitable meth clinics is a problem as real as a junkie shooting up. It’s as real as life and death. Literally.
Thus, considering the other factors in play, we can’t see a logical reason why the application of Spectrum should be denied. If fact, the city of Pittsfield may be skating on thin legal ice in fighting the application. Thanks to great work by readers of this website, it’s clear that methadone maintenance treatment is done in Pittsfield. It’s also clear that it’s being done downtown. So what, then, is the legal basis for trying to regulate Spectrum through the courts of stopping any other company via petition to zoning legislation?
Follow the money.
Is all of this being done to protect Berkshire Health Systems’ stranglehold over the existing methadone treatment business in Pittsfield? Given the extensive and shocking amount of drug use and abuse, one can only assume the business to be lucrative in the extreme.
Putting Pieces of the Puzzle Together Begins to Form a Picture
Berkshire Health Systems Inc. filed Form 990 on Aug. 15, 2011 for the tax year beginning on Oct.1, 2009 and ending on Sept. 30, 2010. This is a public document available for viewing. We thank correspondent Ray Ovac for diggin this out. Here’s the link: http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2010/042/442/2010-042442944-076d7c95-9.pdf
There are many interesting facts revealed in this document. For today, let us establish, once and for all, the link between Berkshire Health Systems (BHS) and one of its multitude of affiliates, Berkshire Healthcare Systems (BHCS). Page 24 of the document (Schedule J) lists BHCS as one of 26 BHS affiliates that pay compensation to CEO David Phelps. As we saw yesterday, Phelps is listed at the head of BCHS and its parent, BHS. Thus vanishes any protestations that the two are not closely related.
From Dee, also a commentator to THE PLANET, we received the following two links:
The first link shows that there are 10 physicians providing methadone maintenance treatment. Clearly, then, it’s not as though this isn’t being done. In other words, if the presence of this service means that Pittsfield has already been despoiled, councilor Krol’s petition cannot restore the virginity of the city’s long-lost flower.
The second link show methadone clinics operating in Massachusetts. Fifty-two such clinics operate in the state. A closer look reveals that Spectrum Health Systems Inc. operates five of them (Southbridge, Milford, Worcester , and Framingham). There is one methadone treatment clinic currently operating in Pittsfield. Care to guess what company owns it and runs it? Berkshire Medical Center at its McGee Recovery Unit. BMC is wholly owned by Berkshire Health Systems.
This information clearly shows that Spectrum and BHS are already in competition in the methadone treatment business.
Is it a stretch to conclude that Spectrum’s pre-emptive strike in Pittsfield, thus threatening the BHS monopoly, prompted BHS into action? THE PLANET doesn’t think so.
True, the city of Pittsfield, not BHS, is currently engaging Spectrum in federal court. True, the petition to bar the door to any more such clinics was filed by a city councilor, not BHS.
Any List that Has Angelo Stracuzzi on It …
Keep in mind, though, that BHS, an empire headed by David Phelps, lists such people as Angelo Stracuzzi, Tucker Welch, Ann Trabulsi, Marilyn Sperling (Greylock Federal Credit Union), Paul Raverta (outgoing BCC president), Brian Fairbank, Rich Dohoney (city attorney), Kit Dobelle (wife of Evan), and Alf Barbalunga (school committee member) as trustees, directors, and/or officers.
Hardly a disinterested group, wouldn’t you say? A bit connected, in other words, and, we could reasonably conclude, eager to activate agents to act on behalf of BHS to Preserve the BHS Union (and keep its monopoly on the healthcare dollars in Berkshire County).
One can also conclude that taking action that would prevent a competitor from doing business in Pittsfield would win the favor of these Veddy Important People. We could imagine, for instance, these VIPs (translate GOBs) being Veddy Happy if the city of Pittsfield were to try to tie Spectrum up in court and if a city councilor were to file a petition to keep other competitors Ta Heck out of Pittsfield. These city officers would earn some tidy extra credit from the Veddy Important BHS.
We can say, FACTUALLY, that the attorney for the city of Pittsfield — Mr. Dohoney — is a BHS trustee and officer. We can also say that the city councilor who introduced the petition to block methadone clinics formerly worked for a BHS company. This is either evidence of a causal relationship or else we have unearthed a mind-boggling coincidence that would astound even the Mayans.
Speaking of Which …
When we initially reported Krol’s professional connection with Berkshire Health Systems (BHS), the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to local power and politics, we mistakenly reported that Krol was currently employed by BHS.
We ate that one, took our lumps, and licked the egg on our face, because we know better. Krol directs Sweetwood of Lenox, the long-term care facility. Sweetwood is a competitor of BHS and its subsidiary. There’s no question, however, that Krol formerly worked at BHCS, which lists BHS David Phelps as its president.
True, BHCS and BHS are not the same. The latter owns the former. Krol is correct to point that out. We also believe his claim that he had virtually no contact with Phelps at his BHCS job.
It stands to reason, though, that Krol knew of Phelps’ importance in the grand scheme of the healthcare picture in Pittsfield and Berkshire County. At the minimum, his action in filing the petition creates a perception of possible conflict of interest. In politics, perception often trumps reality.
We also wonder about the ethics of the city attorney, Mr. Dohoney, representing the city while also being a trustee and an officer of BHS.
Two days ago, in response to our original posting getting his current employment wrong, a mistake we instantly corrected, Krol sent the following e-mail. We had briefly posted it on THE PLANET then took it down after we made the factual corrections to our story. We are re-publishing the e-mail here at the request of several of our readers:
Krol’s e-mail to THE PLANET, from Two Days Ago
Here is the e-mail Krol sent to THE PLANET two days ago. Parts of THE PLANET’s original post is in black. Krol’s annotations are in blue. Judge for yourself the degree to which he was or was not being fully transparent:
· Krol’s petition has the following explanatory statement, after he makes his case why it would not be good for the city’s “Downtown business District” and its “Arts Overlay District”: “This area does not (Krol’s boldface and italics) include Berkshire Medical Center, which I believe is a more suitable location for the controlled and patient-centered facility for a methadone … clinic.” This, critics point out, is a troubling statement. Nowhere in the petition or the explanatory letter does Krol disclose that he is an employee of Berkshire Health Systems (No, you’re right, I don’t think I need to disclose things that are not true. I am not, and never was an employee of Berkshire Health Systems). This taints the petition (wrong again), and it gives credence to the thought of some that BHS plans to break into the methadone treatment itself and is employing one of its workers, who happens to be a city councilor (untrue, I am not one of their ‘workers’), to front the battle (further, I also have had no contact with anyone at BHS on this issue. I have spoken to the director of the Brien Center who wanted to learn more about my petition after I had filed it publicly).
· Why did Mayor Jimmy Ruberto refuse to even meet with executives from Spectrum Health Systems? Federal law prohibits the banning of methadone clinics. Did Ruberto’s behavior and Krol lack of full disclosure amount to a ban (again, nothing to disclose since I am not an employee of BHS, further I had no involvement in discussions with the Mayor and Spectrum, or lack thereof)? If so, are there legal implications (No)?
A Couple of Key Questions for Councilor Krol
Those are the PROS and CONS. THE PLANET finds an argument on both sides, and we lean toward “We’re not yet convinced” — though we will keep an open mind.
We find troubling, though, Krol’s lack of disclosure in his petition (lack of disclosing what? That you have, once again, printed something that is wildly inaccurate without even giving an opportunity for me to comment prior to your posting of a completely untrue statement). The question is, given Krol’s professional relationship with Berkshire Health Systems (My relationship with Berkshire Health Systems is no more than an average citizen of Pittsfield who may need the services of our local hospital), can he even be involved in this debate as Ward 6 councilor (yes, I can), or must he recuse himself (no, that is not needed)? Has he sought an opinion from the state (again, not needed)? He works for Berkshire Health Systems (no, I do not work for BHS), a competitor of Spectrum Health Systems (I don’t know if this is the case). He must answer to the appearance that he’s introduced his measure on behalf of his employers (No, I don’t have to answer to poorly researched posts).
I stopped counting. Too many. Get real, Dan.
Judge for yourself, readers. Who needs to get real?
So Quintessentially Pittsfield, Isn’t It?
The saga of the meth clinic is, in its melodrama and incestuous tributaries, a quintessential Pittsfield story. The seemingly straightforward move by a company looking to do business where it sees a market opportunity turns out to be a maze whose aisles are made of political quicksand stocked with powerful blue gills and pickeral … swimmers, because something awfully fishy seems to be under way.
And no, the Boring Broadsheet will tell you none of this. They ran a fluff piece at the top of Page 1 on Krol’s anti-meth-competition petition. They didn’t give you THE REAL STORY. That’s why they are losing readers faster than a Bob Feller fastball and why THE PLANET continues to gain readers at the same Rapid Robert pace.
THE PLANET’s Look at the Annual School Report, Part II
THE PLANET continues, now, with our examination of the 76-page annual school report for the 2009-2010 school year. It’s the most recent we could find. The report is dated Jan. 1, 2011.
WHAT WERE THE RESULTS? — On p. 15, the report notes that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) “conducted a comprehensive review” of the district. As of the report’s composition date, the results of the visit, the report says, were not yet received by the district. This part of the report, lacking actual results, goes on to describe the process by which the DESE conducts its reviews.
Comment — THE PLANET tried to find the results of the DESE review but failed. We either overlooked it online or it is not posted. If it is online, it doesn’t seem to be in a handy, that is, accessible, place. We ask: What were the results of the review?
IT’S A GOAL! — The report then lists district goals for five areas: literacy; curriculum, instruction, and assessment; school climate; safety and emergency planning; and family, school, and community connections. The first promises students who know how to read, write, speak, and think “across all content areas” including “mathematical literacy.”
Comment — This goal has not been achieved, and nowhere close. THE PLANET goes by two sets of evidence: colleges and businesses. Colleges say that, increasingly, students coming out of the district require remedial work in reading, writing, and math so that they can compete in entry-level college courses. Businesses uniformly report of the lax work practices, skills, worth ethics, and social abilities of recent grads. Too often, they want the money, but they don’t want to work on anyone’s terms but their own. America cannot successfully compete in the global marketplace with this new wave of “worker bees.”
WHERE’s THE MONEY? — On p. 18, the report gets into finances. It says “developing the FY ’11 budget was challenging in light of ongoing financial constraints.” The report mentions the specter of “continuous reductions” in state aid. The “Operating Budget Analysis” informs readers that the district needed $53,138,477 but was allocated $52,588,477.
Comment — First, it’s interesting how a department that consumes either $82 million of $89 million of a $120 million city budget (2/3 or 3/4) depending on how you count it has to keep repeating its money woes. Second, we don’t read of the additional $30 million that goes to the schools for health care costs, maintenance, and bussing. This money gets buried on the city side of the budget — what THE PLANET calls “the $30 million hoax.” In the name of transparency, THE PLANET suggests that in all future references to the school department budget, this additional $30 million be included. The hoax must stop.
Speaking of stopping, let’s do that now. We shall present part three of our school report analysis tomorrow on THE PLANET.
WE HEAD OUT NOW TO GREENER PASTURES, EXPLORING THE UNCHARTERED WASTES OF COST-SAVING MEASURES, GRINNING ALL THE WAY.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.