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Mass. Gov. Patrick And AG Coakley Continue Work On NARH

Jim Levulis

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley were in North Adams Tuesday to discuss restoring a medical facility in the area after North Adams Regional Hospital closed Friday. Both met with local lawmakers and leaders from the state’s public health department and Berkshire Medical Center.

Governor Patrick says BMC has signed an application allowing the Pittsfield-based healthcare company to operate a satellite emergency facility at North Adams Regional Hospital. The application still needs to be approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and at the federal level through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Patrick says his administration is working quickly to get the application through the state while the area’s federal delegation — Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, along with Congressman Richard Neal — work on the federal side to give BMC the go-ahead.

“They’ve told us that they would need probably seven to 10 days after licensing to be able to do that,” Patrick said. “They may be able to do it sooner, but there are issues around staffing and labor that have to be worked out with the individuals and then there are issues around real estate basically that have to be worked out with the hospital board. We’re going to help them with that and in other ways we can.”

Democratic State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield says there is one more separate license needed from CMS allowing Berkshire Health Systems to assume VNA and Hospice functions of Northern Berkshire Healthcare. In his discussions, Patrick says the expectation is to have a medical facility in North Adams, but in what capacity is unknown. The governor says an independent consultant will be brought in to help the state and BMC decide what the facility will offer. He says it will most likely include emergency services, Hospice, VNA, imaging services and potentially OB/GYN.

Patrick also announced BMC has hired about 75 of the 530 former employees of Northern Berkshire Healthcare. Senator Downing says the recent hires are mostly doctors, doctors’ staff along with some IT personnel and two nurses. The parent company of North Adams Regional Hospital announced it was closing the hospital and filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy March 25th. Speaking at a community meeting Tuesday night, Downing says the bankruptcy could pose access issues to the NARH campus.

“BMC’s council is working with the attorney general to try and figure out what we can do to continue to preserve access because so long as we know that’s unimpeded we know that we have a clear runway,” said Downing.

Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley spoke with reporters and union representatives from North Adams Regional Hospital at North Adams City Hall Tuesday afternoon, hours after Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick's visit.

Attorney General Martha Coakley hasn’t confirmed when bankruptcy will be filed, but says the state is committed to making sure what is put in place is done correctly, not just quickly. The hospital has been closed since March 28th after Coakley’s office reversed a temporary restraining order, which it had hoped would keep emergency services open for 90 days.

“We believed in good faith when we went in that we would be able to do that,” Coakley said. “It came to light and the reason the order got changed the next day was much of the hospital essentially had closed even by Wednesday night.”

NBH gave less than three days notice that it was closing. Coakley says her office will be looking into the legality of the move. The Democrat says there are regulations that require a 90-day notice.

“There aren’t particular teeth in those regulations and sometimes financial services overtake organizations,” Coakley said. “But I will say to you today our office is going to work with the board [of Northern Berkshire Healthcare] and make sure that we determine what did happen, particularly because we need to know and we want to know that because there are other community hospitals around the state and we want to make sure we avoid this for other communities.”

Patrick says the state, NBH and BMC were close to a deal before the hospital closed.

“When you consider how close we were and how involved we were in getting a deal before their announcement I think it’s impossible to think of what more could have been done,” the governor said. “It would’ve been great to have had frankly a more constructive parent in North Adams Regional Hospital.”

The nearest hospitals are BMC, 22 miles south in Pittsfield, and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, 18 miles north in Bennington. SVMC and BMC have agreements with ambulance services out of the North Adams region and both facilities accept Mass Health insurance.  The attorney general’s office is due back in Berkshire Superior Court Thursday at 10 a.m. for an update on the current court order.

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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