Mass. Gubernatorial Hopefuls Weigh In On NARH

Apr 4, 2014

North Adams Regional Hospital has been closed since March 28.
Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC

Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates are weighing in on last week’s sudden closure of North Adams Regional Hospital and the ongoing work to restore emergency services in the region.

Gubernatorial hopeful Don Berwick was in North Adams Friday to learn more about the closing and efforts to restore medical services. Appointed by President Obama to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2010, Berwick served in that role for roughly a year and a half. Before CMS, Berwick helped create a non-profit designed to improve healthcare around the world, particularly in rural communities like the Northern Berkshires. The Democrat says while the sudden closure was a shock to the community, it also presents an opportunity to rethink the region’s healthcare system after restoring emergency services.

“Here’s the question…what would meet the needs of the people of North Adams and neighboring communities that would really help them achieve the health they want, the care they want through their chronic illnesses, helping people be really vital, helping people stay at home with their illnesses,” said Berwick.

Berwick says he can’t question the handling of the situation by Governor Deval Patrick because he doesn’t have the same access to information. Berwick’s campaign supports a single-payer health-care system. Governor Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley, both Democrats, were in North Adams Tuesday meeting with state health officials and leaders from Berkshire Medical Center, selected to operate a satellite emergency facility at NARH once given the authority. Coakley, who is from North Adams, is also running for governor.

“Making sure that we do this right and not just quickly so that we have a foundation to look at the area and to build on what those services may be,” said Coakley.

State Treasurer Steve Grossman attended a church service in North Adams March 30, two days after the hospital closed. The Democrat says the fact that emergency services closed for even a second is unfortunate and that he has taken steps to insure the state can send funds to the agency that opens the satellite facility at a moment’s notice.

“We here in Massachusetts, one of the wealthiest states in the country where healthcare is a human right and where healthcare is considered to be one of the important things we offer and we make available to everyone, we should be able to find a solution short-term that keeps the emergency room open or gets it reopened and then longer term to find an affordable, appropriate solution that will give the people of northern Berkshire County access to quality healthcare,” said Grossman.

Charlie Baker is a Republican running for governor and was the GOP’s nominee against Governor Patrick in 2010. Baker says Patrick and Coakley’s office should have been able to prevent the closure.

“Real leadership means anticipating and proactively engaging around issues and problems,” Baker said. “In this particular case the state should have been able to come to terms with Northern Berkshire and with Berkshire Medical to make sure that we didn’t have the kind of disruption that the people out there in North Adams have suffered through. Now everyone is just playing catch up and that’s exactly the wrong way to get the yes.”

Patrick has said the state was close to a deal with the two companies days before the closing was announced March 25. Baker, a former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and the secretary of the state’s Health and Human Services as well Administration and Finance in the 1990s, agrees going forward with BMC is the right call, but stresses the need for prompt action. Biotech executive Joe Avellone has also throw his hat into the Democratic primary field. Avellone says he believes Patrick’s administration is trying to get BMC the necessary licenses, but he is concerned about the uncertainty the state is expressing in terms of funding BMC to operate the facility. Avellone also says the state’s health officials should be leading the charge.

“If in the end there is no other recourse and the attorney general steps in some way with some kind of injunction to keep the facility open, I think that’s a sign that we’ve failed all the way to that point,” said Avellone.

Democrat Juliette Kayyem is a former homeland security advisor to President Obama and Governor Patrick. Noting this situation isn’t the time for politics and stressing the immediate need for restoration of emergency services, Kayyem says she interested in finding out why the closure of a financially stricken hospital came as a surprise to so many.

“I do not believe in a looming crisis,” said Kayyem. “Because if it’s looming we could have anticipated it and figured out how to fix it.”