GREAT BARRINGTON -- Paul Negrini will be one of many to celebrate Fairview Hospital's centennial anniversary today, but he can recall doubts about reaching this milestone.
The Alford resident served as a hospital board member from the early 1980s through the early 2000s, and he's currently on Berkshire Health Systems' finance committee. He recalled Fairview Health System's dire financial troubles when he was on its board that led to an affiliation with Berkshire Health Systems.
Despite challenges, Fairview Hospital has persisted and continues to provide care in an area of need.
Tonight at 8, the hospital celebrates its centennial with a gala featuring Arlo Guthrie at the Mahaiwe Theater. Tickets are available. A fireworks show for the community is at 9:45 p.m.
Fairview "provides medical services to a geographically remote area," Negrini said. For a serious injury or the birth of a child, one would have to drive 45 minutes to an hour to the Berkshire Medical Center.
With 300 employees, Fairview is the largest employer in Great Barrington, according to hospital President Eugene Dellea. The hospital provides care for residents in the southern Berkshires, northwest Connecticut, and eastern New York.
The hospital is on solid financial footing as a federally designated Critical Access Hospital, Dellea said. That designation provides full reimbursement on costs for Medicare patients. The hospitalbegan receiving full cost reimbursement this year for Medicaid, Dellea said.
Still, Dellea said he's concerned about ongoing discussions that could impact how the hospital is paid. The Affordable Care Act won't impact financing, he said. But there is always concern.
"The greatest challenge we have is how they will reimburse us in the future," Dellea said.
In the beginning
The hospital's humble origin came in 1913: Two converted homes on West Avenue, which were bequeathed by former Great Barrington resident Mary Mason. Back then, the hospital included an emergency room with a ward and an office.
In the 1920s, a 10-day fund drive raised more than $300,000 to build the facility that would become Fairview Hospital, according to a written account by historian Bernard Drew.
Longtime board members say the hospital's survival can be attributed to two key events. In 1986, Fairview Health Systems, struggling because of changes to government reimbursements, was merged with Berkshire Health Systems. And in 2003, Fairview Hospital benefitted from the designation as a Critical Access Hospital.
Fairview's board voted unanimously to affiliate with Berkshire Health Systems, Negrini said.
"The impetus behind that consideration was purely financial," Negrini said. "We were very concerned that the hospital, from a financial standpoint, wouldn't continue for another year."
Berkshire Health Systems board member George Smith, who was on the Fairview board at the time, echoed that sentiment.
"We thought back in 1986, how can we be sure to continue services in South County?" Smith said.
Through the affiliation, "we felt we had a lot better chance of being here," he said.
Fairview is one of three Critical Access Hospitals in Massachusetts. The others are Athol Memorial Hospital and Martha's Vineyard Hospital.
Dellea said the rural hospital would be challenged to exist today without the Berkshire Health Systems affiliation and federal designation.
"It would be very difficult to survive outside of Berkshire Health Systems," Dellea said.
‘Integral to community'
The hospital received praise from Bryan Ayers, executive director of Community Health Programs.
"To some, [South County] may seem close and convenient to Berkshire Medical Center. When you're living here, it's not that close," Ayers said.
"What the presence of the hospital provides, particularly one as good as Fairview, is that it is not only part of the fabric of the community but integral to the community," Ayers said.
Dr. Brian Burke, president of the medical staff, said the hospital is "well-situated to the best it can be" heading into the future.
The staff's priority is to maintain high-quality services.
"If the community loses confidence in the hospital, they won't use it," Burke said. "It has to be a very high quality."
If you go …
What: Fairview Hospital Centennial Gala featuring Arlo Guthrie.
When: Tonight at 8.
Where: Mahaiwe Theater at Great Barrington
Admission: $52, balcony seats; visit www.mahaiwe.org.
Additional: Also includes a drawing for a one-of-a-kind Tree of Life pendant/pin, handmade in platinum and set with 28 round diamonds weighing 1.83 carats. The pendant was produced by Great Barrington jewelers Tim McClelland and Walter McTeigue. A limited drawing of 100 tickets, sold for $200 each.
Fireworks: All are welcome to join the celebration and watch fireworks from the Town Hall green after the show. Fireworks will start right after the Mahaiwe performance -- about 9:45 p.m.
Fairview through the years ...
Major milestones in the history of Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington:
1913: Mary Mason donates two houses on West Avenue to start a new hospital corporation. The Hatch House would be the start of the hospital, becoming an emergency room with a small ward and office.
1927: A new facility called Fairview Hospital is created using community funds. In a 10-day fund drive, hospital trustees and community members raised more than $300,000.
1982: Fairview Hospital adds a new 7,000-square-foot, two-story addition that includes the hospital's current main entrance.
Late 1980s: Fairview Hospital aligns with Berkshire Health Systems.
1999: Eugene Dellea is selected as the Fairview Hospital president.
2003: Fairview Hospital is designated as a Critical Access Hospital. The designation puts the hospital on solid footing with reimbursements for Medicare patients at 101 percent of costs.
2009: Fairview Hospital opens a wound center.
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