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United Financial Unveils Restructuring Initiatives
GLASTONBURY, Conn. — William H.W. Crawford IV, CEO of United Financial Bancorp Inc. and United Bank of Glastonbury, Conn., announced that the company expects to record certain charges in its fiscal 2014 fourth-quarter earnings, aggregating to a total of approximately $5.5 million pre-tax. The company has initiated certain restructuring initiatives in order to achieve greater operational efficiencies. The charges relate to a reduction in an unspecified number of management and staff positions and the implementation of a branch-optimization strategy, which includes the closure of five non-strategic branches in United’s branch network, pending regulatory approval. The five branch locations are 180 Main St. in Northampton, 491 Pleasant St. in Northampton, 6 Church St. in Northborough, 701 Church St. in Whitinsville, and 124 Main St. in Broad Brook, Conn. These branch closures are in addition to the four branches United said it would consolidate after it announced its merger in November 2013. Those four branches officially closed in October 2014. The company expects to realize approximately $3 million pre-tax in ongoing cost savings as a result of this restructuring. Nearly all of these benefits will be fully realized in fiscal 2015. “A continuing focus on cost efficiency has always been a key driver in making our company a success. We said we would continue to look for ways to strengthen United when we announced our merger last year, and we are delivering on that promise,” said Crawford. “Therefore, it requires some difficult but prudent financial decision making to make the company stronger and more efficient without compromising our commitment to exceptional customer service or our unwavering commitment to our communities. With expectations of continued pressure on spread income in 2015 due to the likely interest-rate environment, we thoughtfully and strategically identified key operational efficiencies that will result in significant ongoing costs savings in 2015.” The bank considered many factors before making a final decision, including the location of the branches and whether they supported its branch network, performance of the branches and deposit levels, demographics, and the level of customer foot traffic at these locations as well as business activity in the area. “Deciding to close these branches is not a reflection of the hard work and dedication of the employees who work at these locations. Instead, based on many factors, we just couldn’t make these five branches successful,” said Crawford. “We know change is not easy for employees and our customers. However, we will always be focused on delivering great customer service, providing convenient access to full-service banking through different channels, and giving back to the communities we serve. Implementing this branch optimization plan does not deter us from those priorities.” The company also announced that Scott Bechtle, chief risk officer, will be leaving United Bank effective Dec. 30. The bank’s risk-oversight responsibilities will be divided into a credit-risk function overseen by current Executive Vice President and Chief Credit Officer Mark Kucia. The enterprise risk-management and compliance will now be overseen by United’s newly-appointed chief risk officer, Elizabeth Kenney Wynnick, its current executive vice president and director of Internal Audit, who is replacing Bechtle.

American Benefits Group Receives Innovator Superstar Award
NORTHAMPTON — Helping companies navigate healthcare-benefit options while controlling costs and improving service has earned the American Benefits Group an Innovator Superstar Award from the Institute for HealthCare Consumerism (IHHC). The Annual HealthCare Consumerism Awards, published in the journal HealthCare Consumerism Solutions last month, recognize companies who excel in executing innovative health and benefit management programs or providing those solutions to organizations. As healthcare costs have steadily increased, employers nationwide have been responding with large-scale adoption of high-deductible health plans paired with pre-tax, employee-controlled benefit spending accounts. American Benefits Group provides employers with turnkey, third-party administration of a wide range of pre-tax employee benefits, including health reimbursement accounts (HRA), health savings accounts (HSA), and flexible spending accounts (FSA). These accounts help companies and their employees offset the cost of deductibles, co-pays, and other medical expenses that are not covered by their healthcare plan, allowing employees and employers to contribute pre-tax funds into accounts designated for healthcare expenditures. Since pre-tax account contributions are not subject to employment and personal income taxes, they create substantial tax savings for the employees. The company also provides COBRA administration and compliance, as well as pre-tax commuter accounts. “We’re honored to be recognized by the Institute for HealthCare Consumerism,” said Robert Cummings, CEO and managing principal of American Benefits Group. “Our company delivers concierge-level services with cutting-edge technology for our customers who range from Fortune 1000 organizations to Main Street businesses. Using leading-edge technology, such as consumer web and mobile applications and a smart-benefits, debit-card payment system, we’re delivering efficiencies and a superior consumer experience for our customers and their employees.” American Benefits Group was founded by Cummings in 1989 and has 27 Northampton-based employees. Current customers include more than 650 companies nationwide with 50 to 15,000 employees, including international, iconic brands like Ferrari Maserati, Wall Street giant Cantor Fitzgerald, and Mitsubishi, as well as many area employers, such as Mount Holyoke College and Florence Savings Bank.

Conca Brings Elite Baseball Development Program to Palmer- Wilbraham Area
WEST SPRINGFIELD — The Elite Baseball Development Program that helped develop Arizona Diamondback Nick Ahmed into the powerful shortstop he is today has come to Palmer.  Conca Sport & Fitness, LLC (CSF) will be bringing its Conca Sports Performance division to AP Player Development in Palmer, located at 1 Chamber Road. Conca Sports Performance is the highly specialized athlete-development division of Conca Sport & Fitness, LLC, which offers sport-specific strength and conditioning. One such program, the Elite Baseball Development Program, has been offered at its West Springfield facility since 2009, training high-school, collegiate, and professional athletes. Athletes in Palmer and surrounding areas will have the same opportunity. With the dynamic collaboration between CSF and AP Player Development, athletes will now have the opportunity to train on and off the field, using AP’s outdoor and indoor resources. “We’re pleased to have him bring Conca Sports Performance to our facility and provide the expert strength and conditioning for the talent we are developing,” said Peter Fatse, owner and director of AP Player Development. The Elite Baseball Development Program includes individual assessments and program design, supervised strength and conditioning, and nutrition education. Pitchers and hitters are assessed using cutting-edge ZenoLink 3-D technology to create an accurate performance profile that serves as the basis for their training programs. These programs are tailored to the players’ specific needs, including strengths, deficiencies, and injury history. “What happens in the offseason is just as important, if not more so, than what happens during the season with regard to strength and conditioning,” said Steve Conca, owner of Conca Sport and Fitness. “The proper program design can make all the difference on the field, and our Elite Baseball Development Program identifies the individual needs of the players to ensure they perform their best while reducing the chances of an overuse injury.”

Elms Upgrades Library to Meet Evolving Needs
CHICOPEE — To help today’s digitally advanced students get the best possible use out of their library system, Elms College is giving the Alumnae Library a facelift this month in the form of a new ‘learning commons’ that will encourage learning through collaboration, discussion, research, and inquiry. Learning-commons spaces are an exciting trend at higher-education institutions, driven by the increasing availability and use of digital modes of information retrieval and sharing. Students now get their information not only from texts, but also online and from each other, and academic libraries are evolving into dynamic, integrated spaces that do far more than house books. Such spaces combine the library, computer lab, research center, support services, and meeting places to give students every possible resource for learning. Education has grown more collaborative over the years, and these common landing spots allow groups to innovate and collaborate much more freely than they could in the past, establishing connections and improving participation to promote learning and academic development. “Students need space to work together on learning projects, access technology, utilize academic support, and explore library resources,” said Joyce Hampton, dean of Student Success and Strategic Initiatives at Elms. The college has invested approximately $50,000 for the technology and the collaboration-friendly furniture, and also invested in a new transformer. The investment gives all Elms students — undergraduates, graduate students, and non-traditional students — a common space that is devoted to them and their scholarship, with resources designed to enhance academic success, facilitate degree completion, develop interpersonal skills, and ultimately make students more marketable. “I am hopeful that students will view the investment in their library as an investment in themselves, and will begin to treat the library as if it were their second home,” said Anthony Fonseca, Alumnae Library director. It’s also an investment in Western Massachusetts, as the library and its resources are open to the public. The new area will include computer workstations; lounge chairs with tablet tabletops that can be powered up; Backbone media platforms with 50-inch, wall-mounted flatscreens that allow for media sharing and collaboration; mobile whiteboards; café-height worktable areas with power and data access; mobile worktables with power access; laptops available for library use; new printer technology; and upgraded wireless capacity.

Holyoke Medical Center Named a Top Hospital
HOLYOKE — For the first time, the Leapfrog Group has named Holyoke Medical Center (HMC) to its annual list of Top Hospitals. An elite distinction awarded to hospitals nationwide for demonstrating excellence in hospital safety and quality through the Leapfrog Hospital Survey, the Leapfrog Top Hospital award is given to fewer than 7% of all eligible hospitals. “Earning the Leapfrog Top Hospital award tells us that we are succeeding in our mission to set a new standard in patient care,” said Spiros Hatiras, HMC President and CEO. “We believe that being a premier medical institution requires a commitment to safety and quality, as well as a fundamental respect for the patient. At Holyoke Medical Center, we treat patients with authentic compassion and empathy, as we would our own families.” Leah Binder, president and CEO of the Leapfrog Group, noted that the Top Hospital award “is widely acknowledged as one of the most prestigious distinctions any hospital can achieve in the United States. It recognizes institutions for their excellence in quality of care and patient safety, as well as their commitment to transparency. By achieving Top Hospital status, Holyoke Medical Center has proven it’s a premier institution and deserves to be recognized for its dedication to the families and patients in Western Massachusetts.” Holyoke Medical Center was one of 94 Top Hospitals recognized nationally, including academic medical centers, teaching hospitals, and community hospitals, and children’s hospitals in rural, suburban, and urban settings. The selection is based on the results of the Leapfrog Group’s annual hospital survey, which measures hospitals’ performance on patient safety and quality, focusing on three critical areas of hospital care: how patients fare, resource use, and management structures established to prevent errors. Performance across many areas of hospital care is considered in establishing the qualifications for the award, including rates for high-risk procedures and a hospital’s ability to prevent medication errors. To see the full list of institutions honored as a 2014 Top Hospital, visit www.leapfroggroup.org/tophospitals.

ENERGIA Fitness Studio Opens Second Location
HADLEY — ENERGIA Fitness has announced its second location and the launch of 50/50 Fitness/Nutrition, a Balanced Approach to Health & Wellness, at 226 Russell St. in Hadley. ENERGIA changed ownership late last year and has rapidly expanded, outgrowing its space. “50/50 Fitness/Nutrition wasn’t established simply because we ran out of space or were just looking to expand on our class and personal-training offerings,” said Justin Killeen, program director and owner of ENERGIA. “We’re completely revitalizing our systems and rebranding to ensure that people really get the full ENERGIA experience. A lot of what we provide our clients with is extremely unique, almost unexplainable in a way. Every client is different. We all learn differently, respond differently to various methods of teaching, and obtain very different results. Our method of coaching and relationship building takes the average training experience and drives it where other trainers, other gyms, won’t go.” He went on to note that one of the biggest initiatives in the new space will be to bridge the gap between healthcare professionals — doctors, nutritionists, physical therapists, massage therapists, etc. — and fitness professionals. “We don’t prescribe diets, we don’t promise instant results, and we don’t injure anyone. What we do offer is a renewed sense of balance, a promise for lifestyle change, and a community of support unlike any other.”

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