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Investments Being Made In Former North Adams Regional Hospital

Lucas Willard

Over the course of two days, it’s been announced that $9 million has been allocated for healthcare services and improvements at the former North Adams Regional Hospital, which abruptly closed in March. Berkshire Health Systems now owns the site after the hospital’s parent company Northern Berkshire Healthcare filed for bankruptcy in April.Berkshire Health Systems will use $6 million to restore outpatient endoscopy services and orthopedic day surgery at what is now its satellite emergency facility. Building repairs and renovations will be completed along with converting electronic patient health records to BHS’ system. Spokesman Michael Leary talked about the investment October 21st.

“The projects that we announced today [Tuesday] are in line with what we have been hearing from physicians and providers in Northern Berkshire,” Leary said. “These are services that we felt were priority need.”

On October 22nd, the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission announced Berkshire Medical Center will receive $3 million, part of which will help create a multi-care center at its North Adams location. In total, the HPC awarded $60 million to 28 community hospitals in Phase 2 of its hospital acceleration, revitalization and transformation investment program. Dr. Mark Pettus is director of medical education and population health for BHS which will set up what’s being called a “patient centered medical neighborhood.”

“So it’s a centralized physical space and that would be the center for the neighborhood,” Pettus said. “We would then have appropriate and populate that space which would include clinic personnel with expertise in areas like diabetes, heart and behavioral healthcare.”

Pettus expects BMC will move forward with the multi-care center in the first quarter of 2015. A state-commissioned report by Stroudwater Associates on healthcare needs in Northern Berkshire and how best to meet them wascompleted in September. It recommended recruiting more primary care doctors, increasing outpatient services, and opening a walk-in/urgent care center. It added that emergency care should continue at the former hospital and inpatient services only if the site receives federal Critical Access Hospital status. State Senator Ben Downing says a critical access hospital coupled with what BHS has or will establish makes a good deal of sense.

“It ought to be pursued while we’re reestablishing as many services as possible and while we try and think of other solutions to the healthcare challenges in the Northern Berkshires,” said Downing.

Community members and union representatives have met weekly since North Adams Regional closed, many calling for a full-service hospital. David Schildmeier is spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents about 100 nurses who used to work at North Adams Regional.

“The report from Stroudwater Associates is crystal-clear that this community is one of the most vulnerable health-wise in all of Massachusetts,” Schildmeier said. “The report called for an increase in inpatient beds to provide inpatient care for those patients who are more acutely ill to have it close to home in their own community. Of all the things that have been done, as good as they are, they don’t include that component. Without that component, the community still has cause for concern and we’re still not meeting the healthcare needs of the community.”

BHS spokesman Michael Leary says the company is reviewing Stroudwater’s recommendations. He added the decision-making process of whether to apply for critical access status will continue for several weeks.

NARH’s application was turned down in 2011.

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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