NARH President Review Hospital's Highs, LowsBy Tammy Daniels
07:35PM / Sunday, January 15, 2012
ADAMS, Mass. — Northern Berkshire Healthcare could emerge from Chapter 11 in the next few months but it's recovery will be ongoing.
Northern Berkshire Healthcare President Bill Frado Jr. speaks to the Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday.
"When we come out of bankrupty in the next couple months we can be reasonably profitable," NBH President Bill Frado Jr. told some 50 members of the Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday, adding "We're going to be on the line all the time."
The struggles of North Adams Regional Hospital in a time of rising costs and decreasing revenue are being replicated across the nation, he said. "We're kind of in the vanguard with what's going on in community hospitals."
NBH entered into Chapter 11 last June, a week after Frado was named president, as a way to solve overhwelming debt, including some $25 million in bonds, half of which was from purchasing the money-losing Sweetwood and Sweet Brook properties, and $26 million in pension guarantees.
"You've got huge debt for an organization that makes about $65 million a year," said Frado, former senior vice president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.
The "Sweets" were sold at a loss and the pension debt taken over by a federal gurantee corporation.
But the financial problems don't tell the whole story, said Frado, who listed off some of the high marks the hospital scored on recent surveys in terms of quality of care and patient satisfaction despite the turmoil over the past few years.
Frado said reviewers told hospital officials that "the one thing that impressed us the most was that people in this hospital are so dedicated to bringing quality care to patients."
Frado, a Williams graduate who joined the NBH board of trustees a few years ago, admitted his own initial reservations on the quality of the hospital.
"I heard it wasn't a very good hospital," he said, to laughter. "But I'm here to tell you that I was wrong."
He didn't get any arguments as a number of civic club members told of the excellent care they had received at NARH.
"I think we are very fortunate that we have a local hospital," said Helen Lipinski. "When we have an emergency, we have some place to go."
Frado said the challenges facing the hospital are difficult. More than half the patients are on Medicare and Medicaid that barely cover costs and the population in Northern Berkshire is aging and decreasing. North County has the oldest demographics in the state.
It's been difficult to bring in physicians, particularly general practitioners, but the health-care system is working to attract doctors and has welcomed six new ones in various fields.
Frado said the hospital is working with the unions to create leaner, more efficient operations.
"There was still a lot of bitter feelings from the last negotiations but I'm working to create better relations," he said, referring to the hard-fought contracts with the Massachusetts Nurses Association and 1199SEIU.
In other business, the club heard from representatives of TD Bank on its Affinity Program. The bank will make annual contributions to the club based on the average balances in members' accounts.
The club also scheduled a chicken dinner fundraiser for the Dana Labbee Summer Basketball Program on Saturday, Feb. 4, from 4 to 7 at the PNA . Cost is $8 adults; $6 children 12 younger.
The Maple Grove Civic Club meets monthly at the Polish National Alliance to have dinner and hear speakers on topics of interest to the community. The club also raises funds for local scholarships and youth leagues. New members are welcome.