Letter: Big salaries for execs. while BHS fails its mission

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Big salaries for execs. while BHS fails mission

To the editor:

It's been a little over two years since North Adams Regional Hospital closed its doors on three days' notice. The sudden shuttering of the 130-year-old institution put 500 people out of work and created a health care crisis for the 37,000 citizens of Northern Berkshire County. For nearly two months, we had to rely on an overburdened ambulance service to carry us to the Berkshire Medical Center's ER in Pittsfield (or the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center's in Bennington) in the event of an emergency.

While some important services have since been restored at what Berkshire Health Systems now calls the North Adams campus of Berkshire Medical Center, no apparent progress has been made toward certifying the facility as a Critical Access Hospital, a federal designation that BHS's Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington enjoys.

The findings of the Stroudwater report (the document produced by the consulting firm hired to assess the health care needs of North Berkshire in the wake of NARH's sudden closing), however, remain as true today as they were in 2014. The bottom line: our community needs a full-service hospital. The only impediment to resuming inpatient care at NARH was the cost associated with serving our region's large number of Medicare and Medicaid patients.

It's worth noting that BHS's mission statement — taken directly from its 2013 Form 990 filing with the IRS — reads as follows: "The mission of Berkshire Health Systems is to improve the health of all people in the Berkshires and surrounding communities, regardless of their ability to pay."

While progress toward the Critical Access Hospital designation for NARH has been nonexistent, things certainly seem to be progressing nicely for David E. Phelps, the CEO of Berkshire Health Systems, and Darlene Rodowicz, the organization's treasurer. According to BHS's 2011 Form 990 — the most recent IRS filing available when I first wrote about the sudden closing of NARH in 2014 — Mr. Phelps took home $493,981 in total compensation, while Ms. Rodowicz received $395,702.

A mere two years later, according to BHS's 2013 Form 990 (again, the most recent publicly available filing), Mr. Phelps took home total compensation of $718,405 (a 45 percent increase over 2011), while Ms. Rodowicz received $500,191 (a 26 percent increase). One can only imagine where these compensation levels are today.

I had trouble reconciling the lavish salaries of BHS's top administrators with its noble mission statement until I realized that BHS's business model is in reality based in part on restricting access to health care for the people least able to pay for it. BHS clearly has a remarkable ability to pay Mr. Phelps and Ms. Rodowicz. It is unfortunate that BHS seems to have no such ability when it comes to health care for the poorest and most vulnerable citizens of Berkshire County.

Steve Dew, Williamstown


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