FAILURE OF MAINSTREAM PRESS LEAVES THE UNDERBELLY OF NARH CLOSING UNTOLD … THE PLANET UNCOVERS MORE DOTS TO THE STORY OF HOSPITAL CLOSING … A PICTURE BEGiNS TO EMERGE
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, APRIL 8, 2014) — Yesterday’s exclusive, wherein THE PLANET exposed the nature of troubled times ahead for The Boring Broadsheet, hinted at the newspaper’s only solution to remain viable. Get real and begin practicing journalism.
It’s only hope is to wake up and actually begin doing its job, which is to crusade on behalf of its readership and citizens in general pushing thoroughness and accuracy in the cause of truth. The BB must stop running pages of Nothin’-'n-Fluff and let its reporters loose for some good new fashioned enterprise journalism — investigative reporting. As THE PLANET has proven for three and a half year, there’s no shortage of good bad stories begging to be told.
Scandal, corruption, misconduct, waste, hypocrisy, offense, transgression, opprobrium, obloquy, insult, reproach, affront and the like — official, political, departmental, personal, and otherwise — multiply exponentially in cities like Pittsfield. That must be so given the combination of a shrinking, aging, population; a growing apathy; a moribund economy; public schools that have failed to prepare young people for the future; a shrinking tax base; a growing government; and politicians — especially an overwhelmed mayor — who lack the moral turpitude and the will to do the right thing on behalf of Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski.
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THE PLANET can give you a first-rate example of The BB‘s journalistic negligence. That would be its lame coverage of the closing and aftermath of North Adams Regional Hospital (NARH). It has done little more than accept the party line. It has not uncovered the dots, let alone connected them. With its 35 or so newsroom employees, it has left the heavy lifting once again to THE PLANET. The BB gave a decent first-day coverage then gave up the ghost. Alas, there was no resurrection to follow.
THE PLANET, meanwhile, has continued with this story, working our sources and hearing from those who have or claim inside knowledge of the situation. This includes sources from the two healthcare operations, industry observers and analysts, and those from the political and legal sides both on the state and local level. Each source has supplied a piece of the picture, the dots, if you will. In this piece, we connect them into the best picture of which we are capable.
Its Eye on the Prize
It’s no secret that Berkshire Health Systems (BHS) has had its corporate eye on healthcare in North Adams for some time. The mainstream media has reported on the talks that had, for awhile, gone on between BHS and Northern Berkshire Healthcare (NBH), NARH’s corporate parent. It has painted a picture between two equal parties unable for some reason to come to an agreement. What it hasn’t reported is that the talks were one-sided, starting out one way, in earnest, but ending up little more than a reconnaissance job by BHS to probe not so much the financial viability of the entire NBH holdings but to determine which units were profitable and which were not.
These exploratory talks failed. But did they? Not according to our sources.
BHS is a sophisticated, well-managed operation. At some point during the negotiations, especially as it obtained a better understanding of NARH’s financials, BHS realized it could not acquire all of the NBH holdings, for two reasons: (a) there were too many money-losing components and (b) the acquisition would arousing the unwelcome interest of antitrust legislators.
During the “failed” talks with the NBH Trustees, BHS received the information it wanted. It knew what most everyone else on the inside knew — that NBH was losing money — but it also got the figures to objectively identify the profitable from the unprofitable units or divisions of the hospital.
In her March 28 open letter “To the members of our community,” chairman Julia Bolton on behalf of the NBH Trustees wrote, “[W]e have for more than five years been actively seeking affiliations with larger, more financially stable organizations. These efforts have been particularly intense in the past few months, and until earlier this week, we had reason to hope that such an arrangement would be possible. When those efforts failed, our only option was to close.”
Between the lines, the “we had reason to hope,” Bolton alludes to the cherry picking.
You can read these words as a dance over and around not with or through the truth. The “five year effort” seems genuine enough. The “particularly intense” negotiations of “the past few months” with BHS seem to have been conducted with divergent purposes. Here’s where the narrative becomes less certain.
Sources say the “particularly intense” reference is code for a split in the trustees. According to this line of thought, at some point during those months, BHS realized it could under the right circumstances cherry pick the profitable parts of NARH and leave the rest to wither on the vine. The correct contingency would entail a medical emergency such as that which would be brought on by a hospital closing. One source says that one part of the board of trustees held secret negotiations with BHS, keeping the other trustees in the dark.
The trustees in the dark believed that an acquisition by BHS of NBH’s assets would not happen. They wished to close but follow state law and supply 90 days notice. The trustees “in the know” voted for the nuclear option of closing the doors within three days of the announcement of closing as a raison d’tete for eventually cherry picking NARH’s profitable elements. itself. Meanwhile, the plan was put in place for BHS to win emergency powers to assume the hospitals records, software, and eventually the takeover the profitable units of the operation. With all the leverage, BHS would drive what one source calls “a very hard, one-sided bargain.” These include hospice-care patients, the visiting nurse operation, the physician practices, maternity, personnel, equipment, and others.
One inside source said, “BHS is commonly known in the Berkshire health care industry as The Evil Empire for a very good reason. They are extremely effective and efficient at swallowing up profitable businesses and stamping out competition. That’s fine. They have the right. However, my frustration is that if they seem to have the inside track on all the seemingly profitable parts of NBHS. Shouldn’t they at least be forced to keep the ER open?”
How Can $8 Million Disappear in Nine Months
If you have followed The BB‘s coverage, it basically reads as if BHS dictated it. The coverage has been “BMC this” and “BMC that.” BMC is pictured in its feverish work as healthcare savior.
Of course, the actual unfolding of the master plan can be read as an example of “the best laid plans of mice and men.” The initial court order to keep the ER open at NARH folded once state AG Martha Coakley got a look at the dire financials, which were “even more precipitous than previously expected.”
Some read in those words a possibly ominous future for some of those who were in charge of the money at NBH and NARH. How could a hospital have gotten that financially ill without someone knowing about it in advance? And why hasn’t anyone explained the records on file with the state, wherein NARH reported an operating surplus of $7,503,655 and a total surplus of $8,104,614 for the 21 months up to and including the end of June 2013. How could more than $8 million disappear in the nine months from July 1, 2013 to the hospital closing on March 28, 2014? Where did all that money go?
Why was it necessary for Judge John Agostini to revise a previous temporary court order prohibiting NBH or its trustees from blocking access to its records, including its financials, by BMC or the attorney general? Coakley’s office has launched an investigation into the actions taken by NBH trustees to close the hospital so suddenly, in apparent violation of state law.
This story is far from being told. Perhaps the public will never learn the full extent of both the chivalry and the chicanery that took place to run such a needed and vital institution into the ground, plunging an entire community into uncertainty and vaporizing the livelihoods of hundreds and hundreds of innocent people. If the mainstream media continue to play pretend in their investigations of this story, the chances are good that, should a coverup be in order, one shall be delivered.
As we have stated elsewhere and prior, THE PLANET can’t do it alone. THE PLANET runs as a lone wolf, with limited resources especially time, fortified by nothing more than our belief in the crusading function of the press — that and a Rolodex.
THE PLANET places The Boring Broadsheet front and center in this indictment.
“You have every reason to be proud.” — Julia Bolton, chair, NBH Trustees, in the last sentence of her letter “To the members of our community,” March 28, 2014.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.