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Emergency Facility Opens In North Adams Nearly Two Months After Hospital Closure

Lucas Willard

Berkshire Medical Center is operating a satellite emergency facility at the former North Adams Regional Hospital. NARH has been closed since March 28th.

The center will treat critical and noncritical emergent needs and offer diagnostic imaging, CT scanning, X-Ray and some lab testing — but no inpatient or surgical services, according to BMC spokesman Michael Leary.

“Depending on the nature or severity of the injury or illness a patient may be treated initially at the facility and then might need to be transferred for further care to an appropriate hospital,” said Leary.

The center will be open 24 hours. Many of the 150 former Northern Berkshire Healthcare employees hired by BMC will staff the facility. North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says a little after noon Monday when the doors opened, there were already roughly 10 people seeking care at the center. He says he spoke with a few of the nurses, many of whom had worked at NARH.

“One of them said ‘I’m just so happy to be home,’” Alcombright recalled. “She wasn’t talking about being in North Adams. She was talking about being in the building.”

NBH employed about 530 people at the hospital and other medical practices. The parent company filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy April 3rd, citing years of financial struggles. BMC will operate the center for at least a year while it works to finalize a $4 million purchase of the entire facility via bankruptcy court. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has said the state will support BMC in running the facility, but whether that is through direct funding or operational assistance is yet to be determined.

“We’ve looked at proforma financials for a year’s worth of operation of the ED and we’re looking at how we can essentially hold Berkshire Medical whole while they take that year to stabilize and see how its working and then see what the model should be going forward,” said Patrick.

The state has enlisted healthcare consultant Stroudwater Associates to help determine the region’s healthcare needs and how best to meet them. Leary says BMC will use those results.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the results of that analysis which we feel could act as a guidepost for sustainable healthcare services in Northern Berkshire,” Leary said. “But the specific uses for the rest of the facility have not been determined.”

Leary says BMC has identified $10 million worth of improvements needed for the former NBH facilities. BMC will decide whether to keep an interim walk-in center on the campus of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts later this week. The Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents about 100 former NBH employees, released a report showing a full-service hospital is sustainable in North Berkshire. David Schildmeier is the MNA’s spokesman.

“Purely serving the health care needs of its community, this hospital is a viable entity,” Schildmeier said. “It was in the past and could be going forward. That’s what the statistics bear out.”

Services Employees International Union 1199, representing roughly 200 former NBH workers, supports the MNA’s findings, while the Massachusetts Hospital Association has challenged it. The Center for Health Information and Analysis released a report last week finding NARH made $2.5 million in fiscal 2013. In April, state Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz said his office will look at securing critical access status through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services if an inpatient facility is established.

“CMS is not right now in the mode of approving many new critical access hospitals, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try,” said Polanowicz.

Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington is a critical access facility. Like Pittsfield’s BMC, it is owned by Berkshire Health Systems.

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