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TOUGH LOVE: PLANET SHOWS IT FOR CITY, MAYOR, AND ‘THE BB’ … plus … ONCE AGAIN, PLANET, NOT ‘THE BB’ DOES THE HEAVY LIFTING IN NARH FOLLOW-UP; FINANCIALS DEEPEN THE FISHY MYSTERY?

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By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, APRIL 1, 2014) — Here on THE PLANET, it’s another day but not and never  April Fool’s Day, a day whose insistence on pranks we’ve find cretinous. In Pittsfield, of course, it’s a day any aware and brain-alive person finds redundant.

One of the most common criticisms our rhetorical opponents have long repeated, in various alignments, takes the form of “You’re overly harsh on (HERE INSERT NAME OF PERSON OR ORGANIZATION).” The critic then makes a version of the followup: “You hammer but don’t offer solutions.” Let us take this up, because it will throw light both on our methods and the typical fallaciousness of what passes as the other side’s ineffectual strictures.

Recently, THE PLANET has debated and won three such arguments in which our overmatched opponents inserted the names of “the city of Pittsfield,” “Dan Bianchi,” and “The Berkshire Eagle.” Granted, THE PLANET has commented frequently on all three. Can anyone see the connection, though?

No? Then let’s help you out? For each of the trio, we have provided and shall continue to provide doses of what we call “tough love.” Yes — love is what binds our animadversion in each of these example.

THE PLANET loves Pittsfield for being the city of our birth and youthful years until high school graduation. So many good times. So many great memories. We love Dan Bianchi because we’ve known him for so long and for most of those years enjoyed a cordial is not close relationship. The Boring Broadsheet, too, receives our attention because we love the profession of daily journalism, in which we have been employed for 40 years. Each of the three has fallen into the depths of what we can call a grasping, provincial tribalism that has brought down not just a city, a man, and a newspaper but also an entire culture, society, and way of life.  Each, perhaps without knowing it, lies on a death bed. There are two meanings to “lie.”

The city faces certain financial collapse if the shrinking tax base, increasing city budget, and growing unfunded liabilities are not addressed, immediately. Bianchi faces — how do we say — moral illness to say nothing of political extinction if he continues to stand by idly while the city which he nominally leads begs for a strong leader to take the action that will be opposed by the The Suits and the Special Interests on behalf of Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, a.k.a., The Little Guy. The newspaper, with a perilously diminished and dwindling circulation, cannot continue for much longer as long as it presents such an inferior product both in newsprint and online, ignoring, as it does, meaningful coverage for mountains of fluff.

Because THE PLANET knows each of the three could be dramatically better, healthier, and improved, we offer our criticisms. This leads to the simple-to-refute charge that we only demolish and never construct. That’s silly, of course. Our hammer has two uses. It can extract as well as drive nails. Over the years, we have contributed countless thousands of published columns, thousands of radio and TV shows, made untold numbers of speeches and public appearances, and taught incalculable numbers of college classes each with the intention of informing, educating, entertaining, and improving communication (reading, writing, speaking, and critical thinking). Along the way, we have offered multitudinous prescriptions for everything from comma splices to deficits, classrooms to commercial districts. Those who claim otherwise either haven’t been paying attention, don’t know how to read, or are too lazy to think.

Bottom line, we love the city, the mayor, and the newspaper the way a guardian does a child or protege. Let no one think otherwise.

——- 000 ——-

How Could They Not Know?

With that, how about another dose of tough love for The Boring Broadsheet? Following their decent first-day coverage of the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, The BB has taken a powder. THE PLANET alone has been reporting at least some of the “backstory” to a sordid tale that has yet to be fully told. We do not have the time, the resources, or the inclination to do the digging that would, if ferreted out, lead to acclaim and journalistic prizes. Proportionately, however, THE PLANET’s coverage of this story — really, the “backstory” that certain interested parties do not want told — has shamed that of our larger kin.

Yesterday, for example, what does The BB have on NARH above the fold, page 1? A mealy feature on a prayer service. The candy-rumped story has the predictable controlling idea of “A community comes together.” Instead of assigning a team of bulldog reporters to get the story, iBerkshires followed The BB‘s suit. iBerkshires had this as part of a story written by Stephen Dravis:

—– 00 —–

“We’re going to have a time of sharing, and we’re intentionally framing this in terms of gratitude,” the Rev. Mark Longhurst of Williamstown’s First Congregational Church said. “The question is: As we focus on the hospital, what are we thankful for?
 
“When the Apostle Paul wrote, from behind prison walls, the letter to the Philippians, he wrote, ‘Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again, I say, rejoice.’ I know it may feel counter-intuitive to focus on gratitude and joy when we’re mourning, when we’re hurting, when we’ve lost our jobs and the hospital is closing and we don’t know the way forward yet.
 
“But if Paul is right, then God is faithful to us even now, even in the midst of this uncertainty, this pain. That’s why we want to give thanks to God, even now.” You’re damn straight, reverend, “it seems counterintuitive because it is.”
—– 00 —–
No amount of wishful thinking, even the extreme case known as prayer, can touch the reality of how The Suits in North Adams and their henchpeople stabbed a community in the back. The inadequate bromide of organized religion in the long run does more to increase people’s pain than to prevent it. Claiming “God is faithful to us even now” cannot be helpful, preacher, because it is not demonstrably true. Granted, things will always level out to a resolution — just or unjust — but please don’t implicate God. Implicate, rather, the culprits of this crime. Tie a ribbon on a fishnet. Good. Tie criminal charges on whomever, if anyone, is complicit. Better.
They probably even sang “Kumbaya.” A lot of bloody good that will do those who have been rudely tossed out of work and to the sick, who each day live with the ticking time bombs that imperil human health in the absence of a hospital. It’s only a matter of time before the hospital closing leads as a direct cause to someone’s death. It’s likely only a matter of time before lawsuits follow.

Prayer isn’t going to answer “Who knew what and when?” Hosannas won’t put the heat on Mayor Dick Alcombright. What, does he actually expect people to believe he was blindsided by the closing as well? If that is the case, Alcombright failed miserably to keep abreast of the condition of the city’s largest employer. If that’s not the case and he knew well in advance, that’s even a more damning situation. How much did State Rep. Gail Carridi and state Sen. Ben Downing know? Under state regs, the hospital has to file reams of data on its operations, including the smallest details of its financials. State reps are copied in on most of it and certainly have the obligation on behalf of their constituents to dig out the reports, go over them, and keep on top of the assessments. Who among these people asked the hospital: “Everything OK? Is there anything you need? If there anything we can do? How healthy or ill is the financial situation?”

How could they not know?

What of the governor? He controls entire sectors of state government — Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Public Health, Board of Registration in Medicine, MassHealth — with numerous divisions (Division of Healthcare Quality, Center of Healthcare Information and Analysis [CHIA], etc.) employing oodles of people. With all of the onerous reporting requirements that now straightjacket hospitals and healthcare, no one picked up a red flag? Seriously?

The situation was so bad that when the AG got involved with an order to keep the NARH emergency room open, that office was stunned to find virtually no money — no money — and not enough supplies for even this modest and temporary attempt at remedy. Unbelievable.

At the state’s website mass.gov, you can go to CHIA, click on the “Researcher” tab, and then the hot link for “Information on the Massachusetts Healthcare System.” There you will find a lot of data, including “Massachusetts Financial Performance Information.” When you put “North Adams Regional Hospital financial reports” in the search engine, you get 193 results, including the first three quarters of the hospital’s most recently completed fiscal year, FY2013, which ended on Sept. 30, 2013.

Interestingly, we can find no more recent information and the 3Q, FY13, (end of June 2013) Why? Did the hospital not file after that? Are we looking in the wrong place? Or is it not there? If it’s not there, why is it not there? Doesn’t the law require it?

What does the date from FY12 and the first three quarters show? You ready for this? It shows both an operating and a total surplus.

For FY13, first quarter, NARH reported an operating surplus of $174,606 and a total surplus of $182,262. Its cash flow to total debt was 91.5%.

For FY13, second quarter, NARH showed an operating surplus of $903,971 and a total surplus of $1,139,434.

For FY13, third quarter, NARH showed an operating surplus of $1,453,039 and a total surplus of $1,696,095.

For all of FY2012, NARH showed an operating surplus of $4,972,039 and a total surplus of $5,086,823.

——- 000 ——-

Do you see where THE PLANET is going? We are approaching a question: Huh?

If these numbers are correct, it means that between the period of FY12 and the third quarter of FY13, the hospital generated an operating surplus of $7,503,655 and a total surplus of $8,104,614. As we have said, the financials since the fourth quarter of FY13 forward seem to be missing. Why? Going on the numbers just reported, it certainly appears the financials were trending up. What part of a surplus is the financial death case the hospital cited as its reason (excuse?) for closing? Since when is a surplus a loss? How do you average monthly gains of $357,317 (operating) and $385,934 (total) for 21 months (up to end of June 2013) and nine months later shut your doors with three days notice?

U.S. News and World Report “Best Hospitals Guidebook” ( http://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals/area/ma/north-adams-regional-hospital-6141560) for 2014 has this:

“North Adams Regional Hospital is a general medical and surgical hospital in North Adams, MA, with 36 beds. Survey data for the latest year available shows that 20,030 patients visited the hospital’s emergency room. The hospital had a total of 2,602 admissions. Its physicians performed 547 inpatient and 2,152 outpatient surgeries.”

——- 000 ——-

NARH? Some people knew well in advance. That has to be the case. Who?

Tim Jones, NARH CEO? Julia Bolton, chair, NARH Board of Trustees? [THE PLANET tried going to the NARH board of trustees website to get the names of the other board members. The page was down]. The other trustees Jane Allen, Ellen Bernstein, Dr. Chi Cheung, Dr. Jonathan Cluett, Stephen Fix, Bruce Grinnell, Richard Jette, Bryon Sherman, Dr. Susan Yates, Martha Storey, William F. Frado Jr., Dr. Jeffrey Bath, Bill Bowden and Jones? Attorney Gen. Martha Coakley has begun an investigation into the recent actions of the board prior to the closing.

Who knew? Carridi? Downing? Alcombright? Duval Patrick? Who?

  We The People want — demand — names.

—————————————————————————————

“Thy mornings showed, thy nights concealed, / The bowers where Lucy played; / And thine too is the last green field / That Lucy’s eyes surveyed.”William Wordsworth, “The Lucy Poems,” (1800-1807).

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

 

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Nota
Nota
7 years ago

Sleeping with one eye open is not an option for the Mayor.

MrG1188
MrG1188
7 years ago

To an outside observer, even a state rep or senator, amassing operating surpluses, or “profits”, every quarter would seem to indicate profoundly good health for the organization. To be in a financial situation so bad that it’s required to shut down in 3 days then, after financial results as reported above in the near past, would have required one of two things: either there was gross, egregious, profoundly, historically bad mismanagement to have pissed away $8 million in about 6 months, or the prior numbers were, plain and simple, bold-faced lies & complete fabrications.

The mismanagement required to account for that type of loss that fast would have seemingly required obvious things such as the hospital burning down, every trustee receiving a large boat or new home as recompense for their loyalty, a monumental stick up? It would be hard to impossible to lose $8 million in 6 months with no one noticing. So that leads to the other conclusion…someone was lying and seriously cooking the numbers. Someone’s gotta keep peeling the onion.

Thomas More
Thomas More
7 years ago

John Barrett would have been all over it. He doesn’t have Dick Alcombright’s smile but if ever there was an advocate for that small city it was Barrett. The city workers, including the police hated him and eventually he garnered enough enemies to get tossed out. Never-the-less, in this time of crisis I’ll bet there are many who wish they had him now. He knew his way around North Adams and he knew his way around Boston and that’s where the real decisions are going to be made, not at the Legion hall. Ill apologize to him now for I’m sure this will bring out all the haters to call him their favorite names like “fat as a tick”.

dusty
dusty
Reply to  Thomas More
7 years ago

I am sure Barrett still has all his connections in Boston. So even as a citizen he may make every effort to pull a rabbit out of his hat and save the day for his beloved home town. And if he could he would be writing his own ticket back to being mayor.

I am am not one who called him “fat as a tick” but it does conjure up a funny as hell vision.

GMHeller
GMHeller
7 years ago

Mr. Valenti,

If the financial data you report is accurate, then the implication is that either NARH’s more recent and unreported quarterly numbers ‘went south’ mighty fast, OR the alleged ‘bankruptcy’ is a total sham for a highly specific purpose.

Now, given that Berkshire Health Systems and its $560,000 per year CEO, former Democrat Party bigwig David Phelps, have been eagerly waiting in the wings to ‘rescue’ NARH (specifically the millions of dollars of revenue that NARH generates per year, NOT the employees with their generous union-negotiated wage rates and cushy pension plans);
And given BHS’ sleazy history of anti-competitive business practices which have resulted in any and all competitors being prevented from doing business in Berkshire County;
It would therefore come as no surprise if BHS had been working diligently behind the scenes to see to it that the legal entity that operates NARH was placed into bankruptcy so that all current union and pension obligations would be terminated and the way paved for BHS to come in and take over what is actually a lucrative enterprise (once those union and pension obligations are eliminated) and look like the ‘white knight’ in the process).
You’re right, Mr. Valenti, FOLLOW THE MONEY!

Jonathan Melle
Jonathan Melle
7 years ago

I am saddened by the closing of the hospital in North Adams. Pittsfield and North Adams are similar in demographics and societal trends. There are a few people who care about Pittsfield, North Adams and Berkshire County. Dan Valenti wants Pittsfield to change for the better and writes about local and regional issues everyday on his blog. Dan Valenti seems to focus his criticisms of everything that went wrong in Pittsfield on Mayor Dan Bianchi. I disagree with Dan Valenti’s myopic analysis. I feel that Bianchi inherited all of Pittsfield’s problems from the failed administrations of Gerry Doyle and Jimmy Ruberto. Doyle signed the flawed Consent Decree with GE’s Jack Welch. Pittsfield is known as a toxic waste dump with excesses of PCBs that cause cancer in thousands of local residents. Doyle, like Ruberto, was a Good Old Boy who ruled Pittsfield politics with an iron fist with no room for dissent and diversity of opinions. Under the Doyle debacle, Pittsfield lost millions of taxpayer dollars that is still unaccounted for today. Under the Ruberto regime, taxes went sky high in Pittsfield. Tens of millions of dollars were invested in downtown Pittsfield revitalization. Tax breaks were given to millionaires. Taxes went up for everyone else. During the Ruberto regime, Pittsfield became the #1 area in Massachusetts for job loss. While Ruberto raised taxes, thousands of people left Pittsfield and the tax base shrunk. For the past 2-plus years, Dan Bianchi inherited “the system” from the Good Old Boy network that ran Pittsfield politics into the ground. Bianchi has not changed Pittsfield politics, but rather created his own Good Old Boy network. Bianchi is continuing the downward spiral in Pittsfield politics.

dusty
dusty
Reply to  Jonathan Melle
7 years ago

I don’t agree that Doyle ruled with an iron fist. I think he was an basically incapacitated puppet who was putty in the hands of the good old boys. He simply owned the power. Other people moved his hands and legs for him.

Jonathan Melle
Jonathan Melle
Reply to  danvalenti
7 years ago

It was ashame that Dan Bianchi ran unopposed for his 2nd term as Mayor of Pittsfield. Bianchi has not changed Pittsfield over the past 2-plus years. He is keeping things the same. Every year that goes by, Pittsfield’s problems get worse and worse and worse…
Over a decade ago, when I was a young man, I spent over 1 year of my adult life looking for a job in Pittsfield. Guess what? No one would offer me employment in Pittsfield.
I read about population loss in Pittsfield. Thousands of people have left Pittsfield over the past decade. Most of the people who leave Pittsfield are young adults. They leave Pittsfield for a better life with a living wage job.
There are more people in Pittsfield on welfare assistance than have private sector jobs. Over half of Pittsfield’s school children are on free or reduced lunch status.
Pittsfield is a community that relies on taxpayers for almost everything. Taxes get raised every single year in Pittsfield.
Like China, one party controls Pittsfield politics. If you are not a Democrat, then you have no power in Pittsfield politics.
Even Peter J. Larkin, who is really a conservative Republican who is employed by General Electric Company as a lobbyist, is registered as a Democrat! Hmmm.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
Reply to  Jonathan Melle
7 years ago

Not sure why you keep sticking up for Bianchi. He got the job by saying he could fix the problems. The only thing he has done is to make these problems bigger. Maybe we’re lucky he has 2 jobs, just image the damage he could do if he was at city hall full time. I voted for him expecting real change…I guess I know how Obama voter feel now.

Dave
Dave
7 years ago

Dan, the saying sometimes you get more bees with honey comes to mind. A little to late for that I think.

Nota
Nota
7 years ago

The problem with politicians is the cookie jar..T A X E S are to easy not to resist.

Dave
Dave
Reply to  Nota
7 years ago

The sad part is, in this area there is not a 2 party system. The Berkshires have been so far up the Democratic bunghole for as long as I can remember, we wonder why Boston doesn’t look further East than Springfield(even with a Gov. who knows we exist). There are not enough voters in this area to make a difference, and the majority of the ones who do vote Boston knows will vote Democrat without knowing anything about the candidates. If we really wanted to send Boston a message we would all vote for the Republican candidate for some office that might make a difference (you choose, I do for most, for transparency purposes). When Scott Brown won, Berkshire County was so out of wack in % of votes for/against than any other county, why would any politician who won as a Democrat waste any time or money here. Throw us some of that “cultural arts money” every so often and we are good.

And Pittsfield…. At least we know the Common will be done on time so we can dedicate it to the Gov. How is that for priorities.

Dave
Dave
Reply to  Dave
7 years ago

oops west of sringfield

Pat
Pat
Reply to  Dave
7 years ago

Your words are music to my ears not because they are easy to hear, but because they are so true. This area is going down the tubes quickly and all we get are ribbon cutting ceremonies.

Tito
Tito
7 years ago

Is Johnny’s Beach Club still open?

Dave
Dave
Reply to  Tito
7 years ago

I hope so, it is the only Pittsfield bar that has a lakefront view.

Tito
Tito
7 years ago

Check out the Dino on the J B C roof, it has a baseball cap in it’s mouth. Always liked Johnny G,,, good man. LIft the suspension!

Scott
Scott
Reply to  Tito
7 years ago

That place is a dice but I agree open the doors let them kill each other and may the owner be rich and prosperous in his business venture catering to the booze hounds who’s thirst for blood the coldest beer will never satisfy.

Scott
Scott
Reply to  Scott
7 years ago

*dive the bar is a dive.

Evian
Evian
7 years ago

Come on guys stay on topic. This is a serious issue, a citys major employer shutting doors in three days. DV has lived up to his billing on this story. No one else had bothered to “peel the onion” as someone put it. People need to keep pressure on and not try to divert the story .

Scott
Scott
Reply to  danvalenti
7 years ago

That was the topic we were discussing.

Tito
Tito
7 years ago

Dave’s been going off topic for years.

The Professor and Mary Ann
The Professor and Mary Ann
7 years ago

BB article saying how irked Patrick is over this bit of business certainly didn’t reveal the The Guv attended a fundraiser at the Country Club of Pittsfield on the day NARH closed.And he didn’t bother to drive to North Adams to join the frozen unemployed demonstrating outside the NARH doors,nor did he attend the 5 PM community meeting.Alcombright,Carridi and Downing stood tall in front of the crowd.Hope his Friday eve in the cushy Country Club was at least slightly ruined by the plight of the North Adams 530.Glad to know he was angry,though,that really helps ,Governor!Thanks for truly sticking with the story,Planet.

Joe Pinhead
Joe Pinhead
Reply to  The Professor and Mary Ann
7 years ago

The employees knew for some time that the situation was untenable, the vendors were aware but the State is under the impression all is rosy? Question for those who say the contracts were so peachy and flush; is it possible those contracts are based on the numbers filed with the State? If so did anyone violate any erissa regulations concerning solvency and contributions?
Did I hear the Governor say they had been working on a plan for a few weeks? If this is so then were the employees or the union involved in this plan? Since the state and state agencies were in fact working on a plan the past few weeks did they do an audit?

Just wondering

Bill Sturgeon
Bill Sturgeon
7 years ago

Jonathan, I have to agree with Dan Valenti – Mayor Dan is into his second term and neither you nor Mayor Dan can continue to blame Roberto, Doyle, Smith, Capeless, etc, etc,!
I know that you don’t like Ruberto, Doyle, etc, but let’s face it – they, and others, did far more than Mayor Dan has done to date!
Mayor Dan, is a good family man, churchgoer, and good guy to be around at get togethers.
As for being Mayor – I will let history judge his accomplishment against other Mayors.
Enjoy the Spring Jon!

joetaxpayer
joetaxpayer
Reply to  Bill Sturgeon
7 years ago

Bill, for only doing it part-time not doing that bad. Could you imagine the damage he could do if he worked full time.