!!UPDATED!! NARH CLOSING ANNOUNCEMENT ODD IN THE EXTREME … TOO MANY QUESTIONS LEFT UNANSWERED FOR A REELING COMMUNITY … WHO WILL PROVIDE ANSWERS TO ‘WE THE PEOPLE?’
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
ED. NOTE: THE PLANET presents this update to our coverage of the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, which we added yesterday, pre-empting our existing story about our friend, the former nun. We’ve place today’s update as a preface to yesterday’s piece, which you may have missed if you went on THE PLANET in the morning and didn’t return. We shall also say that the sources we cite in this coverage insisted, to a person, that we not identify them either by name or by position. THE PLANET shall respect that condition, since we realize that there is some measure of concern behind their requests.
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, MARCH 27, 2014) — THE PLANET, the first media site to announce the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, apparently shall remain the only one to look underneath and behind the official statements put out by the protagonists in the case. NARH official statements and press releases say one thing, and they are helpful — to a point.
That tipping point has to do with the nature of the official announcement: Made on Tuesday by The Suits to throw 530 employees and laborers out into the street a mere three days later at 10 a.m. Another 200 to 300 people will lose jobs as a result of $100 million each year taken out of the local economy.
There’s a lot more to this story. It remains to be seen if other media, especially The Boring Broadsheet, dares to get that “more.” THE PLANET, meanwhile, has made discreet inquiries with several people involved with this story at its epicenter.
Sources are telling THE PLANET that this odd, truncated, inhuman, and inhumane manner of closing has been in the works for some time, at least months and maybe much longer, having its origins in NARH’s negotiations with Berkshire Health Systems‘ regarding the acquisition of the former by the latter.
Sources speak of a plan, perhaps in place and perhaps not, that THE PLANET shall dub OPERATION WHITE KNIGHT. It goes roughly like this.
(1) NARH, with a history of deficits in recent years, does not have to make a case that it is in financial straights. That is a foregone conclusion.
(2) The decision is made by the hospital’s trustees to close the hospital.
(3) The manner in which the closing is announced, which sources say was the topic of fierce and heated debate internally, resembles in Siamese-twin fashion what actually happened: the declaration of the hospital’s closing in hammer-like, dramatic fashion, with a mere “coupla-three” days from announcement to the shutting of the doors. Why? That’s a big question in the community. Why do it in such a hasty way, giving employees and their families precious little time to assimilate the news? Sources say the question contains the answer: This way would preclude anything or anyone having enough time to “get in the way” of the decision. Basically, if our sources are accurate, the manner of closing was a way to steamroll the decision over any conceivable “proletarian protest.”
(4) The reason for the callous manner of the announcement is, as one source put it, “to shake the money tree.” Money, after all, is the core of the problem.
(5) Sources say that “shaking the tree” apparently will (if it happens) take the form of one (perhaps several) “knights in shining armor” riding white steeds to come to the 11th-hour rescue. Pressed to identify the knights, the chief one named was BHS.
(6) BHS had been in negotiations to takeover NARH. That’s fact. Those negotiations fell thorough. That’s fact. Why? It depends on who you ask. One source says one of the stumbling blocks would have been the monopolistic position of BHS for local healthcare had the deal gone through. Our source said there would have been “certain” antitrust legislation filed. BHS backed off, also fact.
(7) Sources agree that a medical emergency, however, would lead to a different set of conditions that could change everything. What kind of emergency? The closing of NARH. Under the aegis of a health-emergency intervention, BHS could step in, take over NARH’s the assets and liabilities, and announce a “re-opening” or a “reprieve” of or for NARH.
(8) Under this scenario, BHS would acquire NARH and rehire some of the staff that lost their jobs, at steep pay reductions. If, and it’s a big one, BHS intervenes in this way and at the last minute “saves” NARH, it would presumably do so (a) free of antitrust threats by virtue of emergency protection and (b) possess a money loser that, literally overnight, becomes a money winner by virtue of the fact that all of the current union contracts at NARH would be dissolved. BHS could then rehire people desperate to keep jobs on the company’s terms, not those of the employees.
THE PLANET cannot pronounce one way of the other about the likelihood of OPERATION WHITE KNIGHT becoming reality. We have seen enough, however, to at least report that such a plan appears to have been formulated, and, even as we write, is likely being discussed at high corporate and political levels.
We can say add that such a plan as OPERATION WHITE KNIGHT or something like it would enable BHS to achieve its desire to acquire NARH, legally, without concern for antitrust, and be seen as the rescuing agent, just to add a sweetener for good measure.
The champagne corks would be popped. The dancing girls would be summoned. Rousing chorus of Handel’s “Hallelujah” would be sung over what could very well be a successful attempt at union busting. That being said, THE PLANET will add that other sources claim the unions drove NARH into the ground. They say the unions (nurses, custodians, housekeepers, and the rest) did nothing to help NARH administration to reduced costs.
Other factors that have been mentioned:
* An administration that had become top-heavy and too heavily compensated.
* A board of trustees that received too much for too little.
* Too many uninsured patients
* Reductions in reimbursements for Medicaid and Medicare.
It’s likely a combination of some or all these factors.
It would also be helpful to take a close look at all of the NARH financial and tax records. Those would, no doubt, contain many helpful clues to this mystery. This would include the salaries and compensation packages for their administration. Will The BB or anyone else take up that challenge?
Bottom line is the pain and suffering this “shock and awe” announcement has had. Plan or no plan, THE PLANET cannot see a scenario where that is simply forgotten and forgiven by the hundreds and hundreds of people affected here. This includes the 530 who will lose jobs, another 200-300 ancillary jobs that will vanish as $100 million is taken out of the local economy each year, and all of their family, friends, and loved ones.
We ask the trustees at NARH: How much did that bother you for your decision and the manner in which you announced it?
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Here is our previous “break-in” coverage that you may have missed:
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NOTE: The closing of North Adams Regional Hospital presents a story with a moving target, perhaps not as fixed as Wednesday’s “second coming” media coverage would suggest. Even as we type, THE PLANET is uncovering more information — “not for publication,” behind-closed-doors stuff — that, without which, the complete story of this dramatic announcement will remain untold. We put the challenge squarely to The Boring Broadsheet: Dig. Go beyond the company’s press releases. There may be — we only say may be — a story here that’s even bigger than the one you have so dutifully reported.
THE PLANET’s readers can be assured that we shall, with our limited resources and time, continue nudge, bolt, and stab the embers of the story. The fire may die out, but there are tantalizing indications of another flameout.
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(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY into THURSDAY, MARCH 27-8, 2014) — THE PLANET, first to break the news of North Adams Regional Hospital‘s closing, must deal with the reportage of this story before anything else. We do so for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a lifetime of direct involvement with large stories both national (Son of Sam, Three-Mile Island, presidential elections) and local (too few to count). A reasonable fair barometer can be placed upon individual media for its coverage and response to such stories.
We can, we will, and we do give grudging credit to The Boring Broadsheet for its excellent first-day coverage of the NARH story in yesterday’s edition. The qualifier that withholds our credit from becoming outright praise can be found in THE PLANET’s demand for consistency as well as reservation to see how the paper handles the all-important follow-ups. If The BB can cover a story with such thoroughness, however infrequently, it demonstrates that it can cover the community in such a manner — and with regularity. That it doesn’t do so — that yesterday’s team coverage of NARH stands as a Hawthawanian “aberration” — engenders only disappointment of how much a community loses when its dominant quotidian media outlet almost always takes the powder.
No, it’s not good enough that the blind squirrel occasionally stumbles upon a chestnut or that a broken clock is right on two occasions each day. Neither is it good enough when a promising student in The Professor’s advanced composition course writes the sporadic honors-quality essay. She has the talent but for some reason refuses to apply it on an undeviating basis. In the same way, we cannot let our applause linger when a local daily newspaper once in a great while actually does the job its supposed to do: Tell the truth with an emphasis on what its readers need to know. With that, we acknowledge the fine work turned in by Scott Stafford, Jim Therrien, John Sakata, Edward Damon, Tony Dobrowolski, and the editors who directed them —with one large exception, which we shall note below.
The other asterisk THE PLANET places on our acclaim is attached to the follow-up to this important story. The get at the underlying causes of the hospital’s demise — that’s the story that begs to be written. In its first-day coverage, The BB relied on The Suits’ version, straight out of the mouth of the NARH spin team. That fine, but now it will be up to the newspaper to get after the true story of why this happened. It must burrow and not be dissuaded when the complicit officials put up roadblocks. That’s where a reporter’s sources and contacts come into full use. THE PLANET, for example, has such contacts. Does The BB? We shall see.
NARH Admins Not Telling the Whole Story … and a Look at the Causative Factors
First, based on our initial investigations and experience with stories of this kind, THE PLANET can tell you with all reasonable assurance that the NARH trustees and bosses have not given the full story. Prima facia evidence can be seen in the bizarre manner in which they announced the closing, not with a whimper but with a bang.
On Tuesday came the sudden announcement of the closing to be at 10 a.m. Friday. Why the out-of-the-blue sledge-hammer approach? One theory is that NARH will not close at all but that its electors decided to play this desperate card as a way to rally public support and wake up the politicians for the simple end of getting more money.
Under this theory, NARH directors will make an equally dramatic, last-minute announcement that NARH will not close. This settlement will include among other players, with Berkshire Health Systems of Pittsfield playing a large part of the cavalry riding to the rescue of Custer. The politicians will be lining up to slap themselves on the back. THE PLANET does not discard this theory outright because of our source, who we can at least say is intimately connected to the local health-care scene. Nonetheless, if forced to accept or not, we would decline. Some things are even too eccentric for northern and central Berkshire County.
One notable lack, a glaring one, actually, in The BB‘s coverage is how the editors did not direct any team member into a deep-digging of NARH’s financial details. The closet it came was a feeble, wholly inadequate sidebar on the hospital’s “annual financial outcomes” from 1999 to 2012 compiled by Jennifer Huberdeau. The side bar tok the form of:
“Fiscal 1999: NBH reports a profit of $1.4 million. Fiscal 2000: Reports a profit of $311,000. Fiscal 2001: Reports a loss of $1.9 million on $$56.5 million in revenue. Fiscal 2002: Reports a $1 milllion loss” and so on. Rumors and rumblings had preceded the NARH earthquake with such sufficient regularity that The BB should have had such a detailed and exposing financial analysis at the ready. It obviously didn’t.
The information in the sidebar tells us nothing about the why behind the profits and, mostly, losses. For example, The BB failed to examine the hospital’s tax returns. It did not provide data on the make-up of the administration, reportedly top-heavy and over-compensated. THE PLANET would suggest to our editorial colleagues at The BB that they put a tireless bulldog on that aspect of the story. Give him or her the instruction simply to go where the numbers take you. It could reveal much. Or shall we once again have to do the job for them?
Along those lines, THE PLANET received the following letter:
It kinda seems like Jones was hired to make sure NARH closed it’s doors. I wonder what kind of severance package Jones gets…… The other 499 employees, they get “help filing for unemployment.” — AW
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THE PLANET will continue to poke around at the edges and perhaps the center of this story, given a set of severe, deadline induced time restraints. Stay tuned.
“The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews.” — W.H. Auden, “Death’s Echo.”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.