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Former North Adams Regional Hospital In New Hands

Lucas Willard

Berkshire Health Systems has finalized its purchase of the shuttered North Adams Regional Hospital. The $4 million deal includes the hospital campus and its assets along with the Northern Berkshire Family Practice building near the city’s airport. Northern Berkshire Healthcare filed for bankruptcy in April, closing the hospital, its practices and putting 530 people out of work. Since then, Berkshire Health Systems has taken on NBH’s family medicine practice, OB/GYN, VNA and hospice care. In May, Berkshire Medical Center opened a satellite emergency center at the shuttered hospital. BHS spokesman Michael Leary says the number of people seeking treatment at the center has remained steady.

“Between 50 and 60 people per day, the vast majority of the people who are being seen at the satellite emergency facility are being treated and released,” Leary said. “Only a small percentage have needed to be transported to a further emergent-care or inpatient facility.”

BMC has also expanded outpatient imaging services at the North Adams site from three to four days a week based on demand. It hopes to secure a federal license for mammography testing this fall.

Leary says BMC will use a report commissioned by the state and the Massachusetts Hospital Association as part of its decision making for the future use of the newly acquired buildings. The report on the region’s healthcare needs by Stroudwater Associates is expected to be released in the coming weeks. Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz says BHS will be part of the region’s healthcare future.

“Well Berkshire Health Systems owns the assets at North Adams so I think they are clearly going to be a part of whatever the future of health services here in North Adams looks like,” Polanowicz said. “It’s one of the reasons why they committed to buy the resource out of bankruptcy and why they’ve hired a number of the staff already. So they will be a clear part of the success of what happens here in North Adams.”

BHS has hired 150 of the 530 former NBH employees. Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association handed Polanowicz a letter last week during the opening of a worker assistance center for former NBH workers requesting the Stroudwater report be made public. David Schildmeier is an MNA spokesman representing more than 100 of those former employees.

“That report gets circulated very soon and gets circulated before any decisions are made, well ahead of that, so that the community has an opportunity to have input with the state officials and consultants as to the community’s opinion about those findings.” Schildmeier said. “Because they are crucial to the determination of what’s going to happen with the restoration of the hospital.”

Polanowicz said he planned to look at the letter. Stroudwater held a public forum in July and plans more community input before finalizing the report. State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield says the process should remain open.

“I think it makes a good deal of sense that when the report is made public, that the workers and community writ large gets a chance to see it, digest it and then respond to it,” Downing said. “Then we can take that input and go from there.”

Beyond its center in Pittsfield, BHS operates Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, a critical access facility that allows for increased federal reimbursements. The former NARH applied for the status in 2011, but didn’t get it. Leary says BHS needs to see Stroudwater’s report before making any specific decision, like pursuing critical access status. In April, Polanowicz said his office would look into securing that status if an inpatient facility is established, something he’s not yet sure of.

“Whatever services are ultimately provided here that they’re sustainable, I think that’s one of the key balances that we have we to have,” Polanowicz said. “I don’t think any of us want to go through what we went through back in March of this year.”

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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