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North Adams Regional Hospital Closed Over Weekend; BMC To Operate Emergency Services

Lucas Willard

On Friday afternoon, Berkshire Superior Court approved an order allowing Berkshire Medical Center to temporarily provide emergency and medical records support at North Adams Regional Hospital. To do so, BMC must first obtain a license from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to operate a satellite emergency facility at the North Adams hospital.

BMC released the following statement after the court order was approved.

“The multi-part application process has been initiated and once the application has been completed the Department of Public Health has stated it will be given an expedited review. The timeline for completing that process is not clear at this time. BMC will remain engaged with the state DPH to keep the process on track.”

Until then it appears the entire hospital will be shut down.

“This is a troubling outcome that has left the region vulnerable, and we are concerned about the wellbeing of the staff, patients and families impacted,” said DPH Associate Commissioner Madeleine Biondolillo in a statement following the court order. “We continue to seek a resolution that will allow an Emergency Department to operate safely, because we believe in the need for this health resource for the people of northern Berkshire County. We are working with Northern Berkshire Healthcare and local EMS services to ensure patients are transitioned safely to other facilities until a resolution can be reached.”

The request from the commonwealth of Massachusetts was delivered by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office and approved Friday afternoon by Judge John Agostini. It replaces Thursday’s restraining order preventing Northern Berkshire Healthcare from closing emergency services at the hospital. Coakley says in a release her office had no choice but to revise the previous order and allow the hospital to close over the weekend after learning no funding was available to maintain staff and supplies.

The current order says it aims to avoid an immediate threat to the health and safety of people in NBH’s service area. The order requires NBH leadership to allow BMC and the Department of Public Health to access records, facilities and equipment on site as determined necessary by BMC and the DPH.

Then, NBH released a statement saying it will no longer accept patients, and that ambulance services have been directed to take patients to BMC in Pittsfield or Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.

Earlier Friday, NBH Board of Trustees Chair Julia Bolton released a letter to the community. It reads “If, in the days ahead, members of our local and state communities can find other solutions and restore at least some of the services we are losing, we would be elated.”

David Schildmeier is with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents about 100 workers at the hospital.

“There’s a way around this that doesn’t involve closing,” Schildmeier said. “It needs some political will, it needs political courage, it needs people to stand up and protect this community. If they won’t then the community must and will.”

To provide emergency services, the order states BMC shall have full authority to employ, assign and fix the salaries and wages for all additional personnel BMC deems necessary and desirable including but limited to former NBH employees. The court order states BMC shall spend funds as may be made available to maintain emergency services and electronic health record support. BMC must account for these expenses, called “The Start-Up Amount” and provide that number to the court and the attorney general’s office as soon as it’s available.

Democratic State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield says he and others were working on a solution.

“We continue to talk with Sec. Polanowicz at Health and Human Services and Sec. Shor at Administration and Finance hopefully finalize the components of a financial package to the Berkshires to support the healthcare needs of the region,” Downing said. “We hope to have that very soon.”

Coakley says her office plans to conduct a full investigation into the actions of the NBH Board of Trustees that led to Tuesday’s announcement of the scheduled Friday closures. Democratic U.S. Congressman Richard Neal says everyone was caught off-guard.

“There had been no forecast for us that the straits had been this dire. I suspect that we all got caught back-footed only because we had not heard from anybody at the hospital that this was a pending decision.”

The letter from NBH Chair Bolton says the group has been seeking affiliations with larger, more financially stable organizations for the past five years. She says those efforts intensified in the past few months and up until earlier this week had reason to hope a deal could be reached. Once efforts failed, Bolton says the only remaining option for NBH was to close.

Speaking Friday morning, Congressman Neal says he wants to be helpful in reaching a long-term solution.

“I think that moving the matter forward with CMS at the appropriate moment is going to be part of our strategy,” Neal said. “I think that making sure that adequate reimbursements are and, in the future, will be taking place is also a part of what I hope to be a solution.”

The court order led to a chaotic scene at the hospital as police asked employees and community members to leave the facility Friday afternoon.

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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