Closing North Adams Hospital - A Thought Experiment (UPDATED)
Here's a thought experiment prompted by the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital:
What if there was an objective, independent inventory of all the health care resources in the state, matched with an evaluation of the needs for the next 5 years? The project could look at the distribution of acute and non-acute care units, like surgery, coronary care, obstetrics, behavioral health, primary care and dental care. It could also look at expensive new technologies, and inexpensive services like health screening and family planning. It could then assess how the distribution of these resources meets the expected needs in each region, allowing the public and state policymakers to make decisions based on upholding ideal standards of care, reducing disparities, and avoiding unnecesary duplication.
Of course, Chapter 224 included this, a provision establishing a state "Health Planning Council" to do exactly that. The Council (HCFA is a member of its advisory board) includes key state officials and several experts in the field of health planning, analysis and economics. They are producing a detailed, comprehensive inventory of the state's behavioral health resources, which will prove invaluable for state policymakers working with behavioral health and substance abuse.
And then, they are planning to pretty much stop. No health planning for acute hospitals, no planning for any other services. No recommendations, no guidelines, no looking at undersupply or excess capacity.
The FY14 funding approved for health planning was way below what the administration requested. For FY15, there are no funds forthcoming, so DPH is looking to scrounge small money in other accounts. But basically, it will be over.
Obviously the chapter 224 health planning initiative would not been finished in time to have helped guide our responses to the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital. But there will be other closings, and other requests for permission to acquite the latest high-tech gadgets. We hope the tragic closing of NARH will spur the legislature and administration to make planning a priority.
One other thing on North Adams: The closing of the hospital means that hundreds of workers are losing their health coverage. Our friends at Ecu-Health Care, the ACA Navigator for Northern Berkshire County, is overwhelmed with the need for help. Ecu-Health, members of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and the Health Connector worked throughout the weekend to ensure former hospital employees do not experience a gap in health insurance coverage. Tomorrow, 6 members of the HCFA HelpLine team will travel to North Adams Regional Hospital to help former employees secure coverage via the Health Connector and MassHealth.
The Berkshire Eagle provides a flavor of the aftermath of hospital closing:
Ecu-Health Care, state rush to help cover NARH jobless
NORTH ADAMS -- A statewide effort by multiple organizations aims to sign up former North Adams Regional Hospital employees for health insurance and provide temporary coverage, said Charles "Chip" Joffe-Halpern, executive director of Ecu-Health Care.
"The best number we have is at least 300 people have lost their health insurance, probably many more," he said. "This is very painful for the employees of the hospital."
... "We've had people weeping in the waiting room," he said. "People who are losing their jobs who have mortgages, families, and need important medications."
What has been heartening for Joffe-Halpern and the four other Ecu-Health Care employees, he said, is the responsiveness from the Massachusetts Health Connector.
"Knowing that we're going to get people coverage, and how they've organized a statewide response for Northern Berkshire County, that's been moving," he said.
"They sent four staff to us to coordinate efforts to help employees get health coverage quickly," he said. "They moved so quickly and with such passion and commitment."
Ecu-Health Care staff volunteered to put in hours over the weekend, Joffee-Halpern said, and provided health coverage counseling to former employees. And that work will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday.
As a result of the coordinated efforts, 14 representatives from the following organizations will be on site Tuesday and Wednesday: Health Care for All of Boston, Hilltown Community Health Center of Huntington, Caring Health Center of Springfield, Advocacy for Access of Pittsfield, and Community Health Programs of Great Barrington.