You can pay me now or pay me later

There is nothing more important to a community than its hospital. Running medical institutions well is no easy job. Dave Phelps at Berkshire Health Systems is tough enough to do it right. You sure can’t blame him for not picking up the massive debt from the North Adams debacle. The one thing his board should and will insist upon is fiscal prudence. It’s tempting to look for bad guys in all of this, but there’s really no point engaging in the blame game. Unfortunately, it has already started.

Most of us understand just how devastating the collapse of North Adams Regional Hospital has been for residents of the town. It just takes a few minutes for a heart attack to do its worst and someone in the throes of cardiac arrest should not have to travel for 40 minutes to get to the nearest hospital. We in Great Barrington are fortunate to both have a hospital that services our community with a wide range of medical options and to have worked out a sharing relationship with the mother hospital.

Deval Patrick is an unusual politician. He really cares and he has the intellectual, hands-on capacity to get things done. Clearly, he has been doing whatever he can to make sure that the people of North County have decent health care. Everyone seems to be on board in the effort and when that happens, something positive is bound to occur. Nature certainly does abhor a vacuum and I simply can’t believe that something good won’t come from this. Sometimes you need a crisis to find a solution. In the meantime, I truly feel for all those people who, at least for now, are out of jobs. It’s easy enough for all of us to put ourselves in their places. It’s a catastrophe.

There is a huge push on to bring New York City train service to Berkshire County. Put me at the head of the line that thinks it is a terrific idea. We are a recreational-vacation community and institutions like Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow could only benefit from this. The more they benefit, the better off we all are. However, nothing comes without a price. We are talking more and more about high speed rail lines. The faster the trains go, the more likely it is that our Berkshires will become a commuting, bedroom community. So this is a pretty good example of what we might call the law of unanticipated consequences. Remember that we have already priced out many of our young people who just can’t afford to buy locally. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no getting her back in.

Every move forward brings with it new challenges and it is usually better to anticipate them before they arrive than to play catch up later on. The recent explosion of the two buildings in New York City should have us all thinking about the maintenance of our infrastructure. The pipes that carried gas to those two New York buildings were over 60 years old. There are similar explosions waiting to happen all over New York. As the guy on television used to say, “You can pay me now or pay me later.”

When the Great Barrington wise men choose to dig up our sewer pipes to stay ahead of the flow, they knew what they were doing. Very few of us gave them an “attaboy” for their work. Most people don’t want an increase in taxes or wish to see their streets torn up or to be inconvenienced but hey, you really can pay me now or later. Sometimes “later” has some terrible consequences. I remember when the Schoharie Bridge collapsed and people were killed, we started to get serious about our infrastructure. Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait for another tragedy to remember what’s important.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 3/29/14


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