Haverhill Makes Final Payment on Hale Hospital Building It Hasn’t Owned in 20 Years

Essent renamed the Hale Hospital as Merrimack Valley Hospital.

The former city-owned Hale Hospital, acquired in 1931, greatly expanded in 1984 and insolvent in 2001 has been the reason given for the past two decades about why the city hasn’t been able to tackle certain projects.

Now, after two decades, the city is finally paying off the mortgage—actually the bonds floated—that paid for what was in 1984 a $30 million construction and relocation project. The city this week boasted finally paying off the $26.4 million balance of a new building it no longer owns. Next year, it will finish paying the bills— $38.5 million—for the losses it incurred in its final years.

“This is a huge deal, both financially and symbolically,” said Mayor James J. Fiorentini, who noted he has had to begin every city budget since he took office with a multimillion Hale Hospital budget hole that his office called “infamous.” In a statement, he said, “We are making progress and getting out from under the largest municipal debt in Massachusetts.”

These milestones don’t mark the end of the debt. The city still must pay health insurance and retirement pensions to former Hale employees, amounting to around $7 million annually—an amount City Council President Melinda E. Barrett found concerning during a discussion Tuesday.

“Although it shows progress and two items are falling off, it is still, what Councilor (John A.) Michitson acknowledged is the OPEB (other post-employment benefits) and the other things that will stay for a long time,” she said.

Money that had been set aside to make the old debt payments is now earmarked to pay the future debt of a replacement or renovated Albert B. Consentino School.

The city sold the hospital in 2001 to Essent Health Care, but kept most of its debt. It was later sold to Steward Health and eventually combined under the license of Holy Family Hospital in Methuen.

“Eventually we got our financial house back in order and we were able to start rebuilding the city budget, adding public services and police officers and increasing the school budget by millions every year,” the mayor’s statement said.

This year’s $11 million payment, paid on Sept. 1, was the 19th and largest of the 20 debt payments.

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