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Tentative Deal Would Re-Open NARH Mid-May; BMC To Take Reins

Lucas Willard

The emergency room at the shuttered North Adams Regional Hospital could re-open within a month under an agreement with Berkshire Health Systems.

During a Thursday morning bankruptcy hearing in Springfield, the parent company of Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield announced it reached a tentative deal to buy the North Adams hospital for an undisclosed sum. Under the agreement with the bankruptcy trustee overseeing the assets of the former Northern Berkshire Healthcare and bondholders, BHS would also purchase the Northern Berkshire Family Practice building. David Schildmeier is with the Massachusetts Nurses Association. The union has intervener status in the case and represents about 100 of the 530 former Northern Berkshire Healthcare employees.

“Very positive development,” Schildmeier said. “It seems like most of the major hurdles have been cleared.”

According to a statement from BMC, the purchase is subject to court approval and a 45-day bidding process required under bankruptcy court rules. If there are other bidders, an auction will be held shortly after. A 90-day occupancy and use agreement subject to approval at the next hearing April 30th would allow BMC to open an emergency center and maintain the family practice in the meantime. It would also allow BMC to sustain emergency services even if it is not the successful bidder until a transfer of service can be completed.

BMC estimates the emergency facility can open as early as the week of May 19th with final licensing from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services required first. Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal says he has been in contact with the agency’s deputy administrator.

“We’ve been very aggressive in attempting to convince CMS about the need to re-open emergency room on a short term basis and then try to come up with a mission statement for returning that hospital to its full position,” Neal said Tuesday.

The statement from BMC estimates at least $10 million needs to be invested in the former North Adams Regional Hospital for repairs and improvements. Unaware of what type of work would need to be done, North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says the city can help if need be.

“We can help expedite any permitting that would have to happen with respect to any improvements that they might do,” Alcombright said. “And certainly also lobby at the state and federal levels for monies and/or aid packages.”

BHS has hired more than 140 former NBH employees. With the ultimate goal of a full-service hospital in North Adams in mind, Schildmeier says the MNA has been in constant contact with BHS about hiring even more former employees to staff the new facility.

“We will be advocating for the appropriate number of nurses to operate those facilities safely and appropriately,” said Schildmeier.

NBH closed the hospital March 28th with three days notice, citing years of financial struggles. The company filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy April 3rd, carrying an estimated $30 million in debt. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has said her office will be investigating to see if any laws were broken by the abrupt closure.

“Our office is going to work with the board [of Northern Berkshire Healthcare] and make sure that we determine what did happen,” Coakley said in North Adams April 1.  

People in the area have had to rely on medical services 30 to 40 minutes away in Pittsfield or Bennington, Vt., putting financial and logistical strains on the region’s three ambulance providers. Alcombright says he feels a sense of relief at the latest news, but hopes complacency doesn’t set in during the push for a full-service hospital.

“When that emergency room re-opens it’s going to take a significant amount of angst off this community” Alcombright said. “There’s this worry.”

Dawn Klein of Adams is one of the roughly 38,000 people who relied on the former hospital. She says it’s been an up and down ride during the past four weeks.

“There was some anxiety about is this actually ever going to happen,” Klein said. “What we really need here is a full-service hospital so that’s the next concern and that seems to maybe be in the wings as well.”

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