North Berkshire Healthcare Consolidating, Closing Women's Exchange

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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Northern Berkshire Healthcare is eliminating and reducing certain management positions and supervisor hours and relocating two of its medical services to the North Adams Regional Hospital campus.

Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of Northern Berkshire and Northern Berkshire Family Medicine, which the health system acquired in 2008, will relocate and the health care system will close the 54-year-old Women's Exchange in Williamstown.

Hospital officials say the moves will save more than a $1 million from the fiscal 2012 budget.

The health care system is restructuring under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which it filed in June.

"We are making progress in our debt restructuring effort, and expect to have good news about that in the next few months," said NBH president William Frado in a statement. "And we are looking forward to serving our community for years to come. Today's announcement is a reflection of our vigilant efforts to keep our expenses in line with our revenue, so that we can continue that service."

Two of the positions being eliminated are tied directly to NBH's debt restructuring process. Other reductions are based on realistic projections of patient volumes for the coming year, according to Frado. 

"The health-care system, locally and globally, is changing quickly and we must conserve our resources and use them where our efforts benefit the community the most," he said.

One of those posts was held by Richard T. Palmisano II, who joined the health care system as president and chief executive officer in 2006. Palmisano was brought in to stem the financial bleeding and continue improvements made under Cambio Solutions, consultants hired to put the system back on track. His first few years saw some turnaround, but the economic crisis, changes in health-care payments that excerbated the hospital's fiscal health and confrontational negotiations with the unions tarnished his later tenure. Earlier this year, he was set aside to work on debt restructuring as the health system prepared for Chapter 11 filing.

NBH spokesman Paul Hopkins confirmed Palmisano's work ended last week. While it is not NBH's practice to name personnel, he said, "we did indicate that the restructuring positions were all eliminated." 

"Over the summer, Mr. Palmisano transitioned to a role that focused largely on restructuring and the debt/financing issues associated with Northern Berkshire Healthcare; as such, that position is no longer necessary," Hopkins said in a statement. "NARH continues to be led by President and CEO Bill Frado."
Frado, a hospital trustee, replaced Palmisano in June.

Affected employees are being offered severance pay and support through the health-care system's employee assistance program. Other changes include eliminating a part-time lactation consultant position, eliminating an interim information technology director and an open registered nurse position, and reducing the use of "traveler," or temporary contract, personnel.

Women's Exchange consignment shop, established in 1957 to support the former Williamstown Visiting Nurse Association, will close effective Dec. 13. A full-time and two part-time positions at the Cole Avenue shop will be eliminated.

Frado said the Exchange has not been profitable for the past several years.

"This was a very difficult decision but we recognize that if we are to succeed, we have to focus on our core mission – providing health care services," he said. "We recognize the role that the Women's Exchange has played over the years, and the role that its many dedicated volunteers have played. But we simply cannot sustain it any longer, as much as we would like to."

The VNA & Hospice on Curran Highway and the medical practice on State Road near the airport are expected to move in early 2012. There are no changes expected in staffing and Dr. Irwin Steubner continues as the VNA's medical director. Patients will be notified of the changes.

However, the consolidation is expected to save more than $230,000 a year. Health system spokesman Paul Hopkins said the properties would be transferred to a trustee as part of the settlement of the Chapter 11 process. "It will be up to the trustee to determine their future," he said.

NBH employs approximately 600 people in full- and part-time positions.

Frado pointed to NBH's recent success in recruiting new physicians as evidence of its continued focus on community health services. Among new physicians recruited to the community are ageneral surgeon Dr. Louis Reines; aobstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Veronica Del Riccio; emergency physician Dr. Kenneth Patterson; radiologist Dr. David McQuade; and hospitalist Dr. Stephanie Foo.

"It's obvious from these results that Northern Berkshire is still an attractive place for doctors to work.  And we are working every day to recruit new primary-care doctors, another key to our success," he said.

Updated Sunday, Nov. 6, add in information on former president Richard Palmisano.

Tags: NARH,   

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