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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

New NBH CEO "Excited" About Opportunities Ahead

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Northern Berkshire Healthcare President and CEO Richard Palmisano II
Brattleboro, Vt. - The newly-appointed Northern Berkshire Healthcare CEO said on Feb. 15 that he is very excited about the new post and is also focused on the excellence of those associated with the area's health care system.

Richard Palmisano II is expected to begin his duties as the NBH president and CEO in April. Palmisano has been the president of Retreat Healthcare [Brattleboro Retreat] in Brattleboro, Vt. since 1997; prior to that, he was the president and CEO of the Minneapolis, Minn.- based Next Generation Health Care consulting firm.

He is a registered nurse who earned his bachelors's degree in nursing and a master's degree in nursing management at Northwestern University in Chicago. The American College of Healthcare Executives has certified Palmisano in health care management.

During a Feb. 15 telephone interview, Palmisano said that he'd planned a return to the acute care health arena and believed that he'd make the move after his two children completed high school. But an associate who works in the executive recruiting field told Palmisano about the NBH opening, and suggested that Palmisano might find the job appealing.

"I had made a decision some time ago that I wanted to return to an acute care hospital," Palmisano said, and added that he began researching the job and the NBH.

Evidence that Palmisano and the NBH would likely be a solid match turned up right from the start, Palmisano said.

Members of the NBH Board of Trustees are an aware, knowledgeable group, and the employees of the NBH companies, including the North Adams Regional Hospital, are a skilled, dedicated, committed team of professionals who seem to truly believe in the NBH and the hospital, Palmisano said. The NBH organization as a whole is a quality entity at every level, he said.

"I was really impressed with the board's recognition of the situation ahead of them," he said.

And the employees desire for excellence is an overriding force, he said.

"I have always believed that is the essential ingredient for success," he said.

Palmisano replaces former NBH President and CEO John C.J. Cronin, who announced his resignation in September. In December, the NBH announced a Fiscal Year 2005 $6 million loss, almost all of which was attributed to the North Adams Regional Hospital. At that time, NBH Board of Trustees Chairman Stephen Crowe said that about $2 million of the loss was due to "one-time expenses" that affected the hospital's FY 2005 financial bottom line.

Crowe has said that a $1.5 million loss is anticipated for FY 2006 [the current fiscal year], and also said that the hospital should be restored to "financial solvency" by Fiscal Year 2007.

A hospital financial overhaul has been underway since July at the hands of the Cambio Health Solutions LLC firm. Meanwhile, an extensive, about $23 million NARH renovation is underway, with some project components completed or near completion. When fully completed, NARH will host a state-of-the-art medical/surgical unit, critical care unit, and Emergency Department as well as a modernized maternity unit complete with private patient bathroom facilities. A new hospital entrance and lobby are also under construction.

The renovation project is being funded through NBH-acquired bonds and a CARE Campaign that has raised over $10 million in donations.

Palmisano said that he is aware of the challenges ahead but is also aware of the wonderful opportunities that are open to the NBH and the Northern Berkshire community.

"I am very excited about the opportunities," he said.

The Northern Berkshires hosts a larger-than-average senior citizen population, and Palmisano said that the health care community must be able to meet the needs of that population. The region is fortunate to offer several private physician practices and group practices, and there are ways to build and improve area medical services, he said.

"One of the things I've talked about with medical staff is making sure that we have enough specialties to serve the community," he said.

Cardiology, rheumatology, oncology, and orthopedic surgery are medical areas that may benefit from some local growth, Palmisano said.

"When thinking about the demographic, we have to consider that health care is moving away from the acute, and more people are dealing with chronic conditions," Palmisano said.

At the same time, care must be taken to ensure an appropriate number of primary care physicians, obstetrical doctors and gynecologists, and pediatricians remain available, he said.

The Brattleboro Retreat hospital is a psychiatric hospital and a treatment facility for those with addictions; Palmisano said that he would like to take a closer look at the Greylock Pavilion, a mental health treatment facility located at the NARH.

"I obviously value psychiatric services," he said, and noted that depression has been acknowledged as a "Top 10" illness affecting the United States population. "I'd like to see what opportunities there are to strengthen there [at Greylock Pavilion]."

Costs of services will be a factor, and opportunities to build will be balanced with the need to "continue stemming losses," Palmisano said.

Palmisano said that he is concerned about a possible employer trend toward eliminating full-scale health care insurance plans and replacing the coverage with what are called "mini-medical" or "limited benefit" plans.

The plans are usually associated with high deductibles and require people to initiate "health savings accounts;" starting and building these accounts can be extremely difficult if not impossible for families working at the mid to lower end of the area's wage scale.

"One concern is whether people will use them [the mini-medical plans], and another concern is will people be able to generate the accounts," said Palmisano.

Hospitals will provide care to people whether they have health care insurance or not, but the additional costs associated with a new group of uninsured or underinsured individuals will generate additional financial risk for the facilities, he emphasized.

"This is a nation-wide concern," he said of the trend.

Palmisano's wife Laurie Palmisano is a registered nurse who presently works at a K-Grade 8 elementary school in Marlboro, N.H..

Palmisano said that he will commute from his Spofford, N.H. home as much as possible and will likely secure a North Adams-based apartment for occasions of early morning meetings and unpleasant winter weather. He and his wife will likely move to the region in about two years so that the children can finish school with their current high school classmates, he said.

"Being from the city, I am not worried about an hour and 15 minute commute," Palmisano said. "But with my choices, driving Route 2 or Route 8, I think an apartment will get a lot of use in the winter."

Palmisano's health care resume includes being the chair-elect of the American Hospital Association's Section for Psychiatry and Substance Abuse Services and Regent of the Vermont Chapter of the American College of Healthcare executives. He is a past president of the National Psychiatric Alliance. Palmisano is currently a Board of Trustees of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems member ad a member of the United Way of Windham County.

Northern Berkshire Healthcare is the parent corporation of NARH, the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice of Northern Berkshire, Sweet Brook Transitional Care and Living Centers, Sweetwood Continuing Care retirement Community, and the REACH Community health Foundation. The NBH employs about 900 people and serves a population of about 45,000 residents.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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