Candidate Berwick Sees Chance for Health-Care Innovation

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Dr. Donald Berwick, a candidate for governor, met with a small group outside of North Adams Regional Hospital on Friday morning.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Gubernatorial candidate Donald Berwick says the demise of Northern Berkshire Healthcare could provide an opportunity for health-care innovation.

"I know there's an immediate crisis but I keep thinking there's an opportunity to think about a system ... to think about what would you like to build here for the whole region," the pediatrician said. "Make it an example for the whole nation, let alone the state. I'll bet it can be done."

Meeting with a small group of people just off the campus of North Adams Regional Hospital on Friday, Berwick said he was trying to get more information about the health-care system's abrupt closure the week before.

A single-payer system, or "Medicare for all," could have prevented NBH's financial collapse, he said.

"In this case, we would have a pool of money for the state, it would be accountable, it would be transparent," Berwick said, standing next to a small podium on the windswept corner. "It would be a public trust or in public hands and we would be be able to deal with this problem from a point of view of centralized financing, which I think would make an enormous difference here."

The former administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it was imperative to fight back on the state level because the federal officials were hamstrung. He gave the example of a drug that stops premature labor that had cost a few hundred dollars a course; a loophole allowed the drug to be patented, and now costs $25,000 for Medicaid patients.

"Running Medicaid, I could not negotiate for drug prices," he said. "I was forbidden from doing that."  

Berwick said the public "needs to be aroused by this" and take charge of their own health care in a family-based support way with the appropriate professionals.

"There's all these wonderful things we could do if we think fresh," he told those gathered.

The candidate has a background in seeking alternative, innovative and efficient ways of providing health care through the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement, which he founded and ran for 20 years.  

"My background is in how to make a system really thrive, that's my interest and I'd love to be talking to you about that now," he said. "My whole mission has been health care in communities and finding the right way to do it."

North Berkshire isn't alone in its worries about adequate medical care, Berwick said. "There's a lot of places like this in America and they're all struggling ... not as violently as this."

Pursuing new ideas of delivering care — and whether the community needs an acute-care hospital or something completely different — would have to be done through a community platform. He urged the group research prototypes around the nation, or world, and reach out to communities that have made health care work for them.

He also offered to come back and help out with what he could.  It was a weird thing, he'd come across when meeting people in Western Mass, he said.

"As I leave the room people say 'don't forget us.' "

"I want to tell you there's not a chance I would forget you," Berwick said. "I grew up in a place a lot like this ...  You've got my attention. You've always had it."

Tags: candidates,   closure,   election 2014,   NARH,   

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