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Statements Follow Court Order Requiring NARH To Continue ER Services

Lucas Willard

Via a court order issued Thursday afternoon, Berkshire Superior Court is requiring emergency services at North Adams Regional Hospital to remain open for the time being. The court has put the case on hold until April 3.

The order, per requests from the state attorney general office in conjunction with the Department of Public Health and Berkshire Health Systems, requires parent company Northern Berkshire Healthcare to exhaust all its funds to keep the departments open until Berkshire Medical Center is able to license and operate a satellite emergency department from the North Adams hospital.

Shortly after the court order was issued, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office released the following statement.

“As someone who grew up in North Adams, I know firsthand how critical this hospital is to the surrounding community,” Coakley said in the statement. “This injunction is the first step towards preventing an immediate health crisis for the area and keeping emergency services open. We are continuing to work closely with the administration and elected officials to help ensure continued access to critical health services for the entire community.”

Thursday’s statement from the attorney general's office continued.

“Upon learning about the proposed rapid closure of the hospital, AG Coakley immediately began working with other leaders to explore all options available to prevent a regional health crisis for the area. A complaint was filed this afternoon in Berkshire Superior Court alleging that Northern Berkshire Health Care (NBH) had failed to provide the 90-day notification prior to closure as required by law. The complaint points out that if the hospital closes, the nearest emergency room available for the area would be a 30-45 minute drive away, creating immediate health and safety concerns for the region.”

Northern Berkshire Healthcare released the following statement Thursday night.

“Northern Berkshire Healthcare is taking the necessary steps to comply with today’s court decision,”  The NARH Emergency Department will remain open with staffing including emergency physicians, registered nurses, lab, medical imaging and pharmacy services, as well as necessary support staff. NBH had planned to close the Emergency Department in a safe, planned way to ensure patients were treated in appropriate settings. We are now working to assemble staffing and ensure that we have necessary supplies – neither of which is guaranteed. We are also required to keep operating until we exhaust the organization’s funds, raising the possibility of running out of money while patients are in our facility. At this time there has been no offer of additional funding from any source. We are working hard to address all of these issues and a multitude of others. We are concerned about safety in the current circumstances, and as long as the order remains in place.”

Berkshire Health Systems released the following statement Thursday night.

“A Berkshire Superior Court judge has appointed Berkshire Medical Center to assume operation of North Adams Regional Hospital’s emergency department and related services, pending resolution of several logistical issues. BMC must first apply to the state Department of Public Health to operate a “satellite emergency facility” under the Berkshire Medical Center license. The application process is under way and is being expedited by DPH; the timeline for that licensure is not yet clear. BMC will remain engaged with the state DPH to keep the process on track. BMC intends to engage NARH staff to reopen and run the emergency services. In coming days BMC will work with DPH to evaluate staffing needs related to patient flow. BMC is also evaluating the level of other on-site services that will be needed to support emergency care in a hospital that is otherwise closed. For BMC, engaging the NARH staff to reopen and run the emergency department will ensure the smoothest possible reopening and service.”

“NARH staff knows the facility, the hospital systems and the community,” said David Phelps, president and CEO of BHS, in the released statement. “We expect to restore services as soon as DPH completes its licensure review.”

These actions come after Tuesday’s announcement of NBH's plans to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, ceasing operations and relinquishing control of its facilities. The hospital and three other medical practices NBH owns were also scheduled to close. Berkshire Health Systems, which operates Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, announced it is providing administrative services that would allow Northern Berkshire OB/GYN and Northern Berkshire Family Medicine to remain open. The plan calls for them to relocate to different offices in the area. The statement does not mention any support for Northern Berkshire General Surgery, also slated to close.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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