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Baystate Health pledges to fight for Franklin County health care

Commits to supporting push for detox center

GREENFIELD — Baystate Franklin Medical Center President Chuck Gijanto said Thursday that the Baystate Health system plans to apply pressure on the state to bring a detox center to Franklin County.

At an event billed as a public forum on the hospital’s future, the conversation took broad turns to discuss health care in general — including the health system’s role in the area’s fight against opioid abuse.

It came on the eve of a visit from Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, who plans to meet with community leaders in Greenfield and Springfield today to discuss the regional and statewide addiction crisis.

“There is a need for detox in this region. There is a need for sober living in this region,” said Gijanto. “Until the state of Massachusetts steps up and funds these programs in a way that communities need ... nobody is going to touch it.”

Baystate will do its part to make the funding happen and support a project that follows, said Gijanto.

“Whether we end up running (a center), supporting it or participating with it, is to be determined,” he said. “But I will tell you that the will in this community to bring those services here is very powerful.”

In front of a crowd of about 50 in the Greenfield Middle School auditorium, Baystate Health officials stressed that the Greenfield hospital will remain strong in the years to come.

The health system is hoping to launch a planned $26 million Greenfield operating room construction project later this year — an initiative that officials say has already led to new physician recruits here.

And Gijanto said that the hospital continues to move forward on buying the former Holy Trinity School property on North and Beacon streets. The space would be used for additional parking spaces and would eventually house new medical offices, which will provide even more room for doctors to come to the area and work.

Organized by the locally-organized Community Health Care Initiative, Thursday’s forum was in stark contrast to a community event held in spring 2013 — when residents expressed concerns that the Baystate Health system was slashing services from the Greenfield hospital. Hospital officials hadn’t been invited to that event, which had been organized by the Massachusetts Nurses Association during the nurses’ labor dispute with the hospital.

In the year that’s followed, the health system has started funneling money into Franklin County projects, beginning last fall with a $150,000 gift to help the town of Greenfield connect buildings with broadband Internet. The organization served as the lead sponsor in this year’s United Way of Franklin County campaign and gave $20,000 to the YMCA to help hundreds of residents follow through on an exercise regimen prescribed by their doctors.

At Thursday’s event, Mark Keroack — a vice president and chief operating officer, who will become Baystate Health’s chief executive officer in July — said he’ll make it a priority to ensure that residents have their health care needs met in Greenfield, not Springfield.

“We’re not just here to sort of hang out,” said Keroack. “We’re here to grow ... to try to increase the amount of care that’s given in Franklin County.”

Hospital recruitment efforts continue to accelerate, especially since hospital officials unveiled plans for new, larger operating rooms, to be built by 2016. That project will require $18 million in borrowed money, something that Keroack said the Greenfield hospital couldn’t have obtained on its own without the health system’s strong financial backing.

Baystate Franklin Medical Center will also continue rolling out its pilot “telemedicine” program. Specialists in Springfield will be able to perform examinations and consultations on patients in the Greenfield hospital, through the use of video technology.

Still, panelists acknowledged limitations to what the health system can do in Greenfield.

When asked about the lack of an inpatient pediatics program at the hospital, health officials said that there are very few children in the area who need intensive care at any given time. The children who do are very sick, they said, and are unlikely to be treated well by doctors with limited opportunities to practice and develop their skills.

Sara Rourke, a physician and president of the Baystate Franklin Medical Center staff, told the audience that her daughter was treated in Springfield, not Greenfield, for a burst appendix.

“If she had been in Greenfield, she probably wouldn’t have made it,” said Rourke. “And that’s really scary to me.

“There are great surgeons in Greenfield,” she said, “(but) there are not great surgeons who operate on children on a daily basis and there is not an ICU in Greenfield to support those sick kids. I was perfectly willing to drive up and down I-91 when my daughter was getting the care she needed.”

Health system officials invited residents to keep discussing the services they need and want. In some cases, said panelists, the answer will likely lie with state funding. Officials said that the health system’s $40 million to $60 million in profit each year goes right back into capital projects requested across all of its hospitals.

The Community Health Care Initiative, formed last year to advocate for strong local care in Franklin County, also invited residents to attend its meetings. The next meeting will take place on June 12, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at Greenfield Community College.

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com, 413-772-0261, ext. 264, or on Twitter @RecorderShores

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