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Berkshire Health Systems Announces New Care Program In Northern Berkshires

Berkshire Health Systems today announced a new care program for people in Northern Berkshire County who saw the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital in March 2014.The Neighborhood For Health initiative is described as a comprehensive outpatient medical care effort targeted at high-risk patients. Diabetes, heart, addiction and mental health treatment are among the program’s services, which are available for people living in the Northern Berkshires. It’s designed so that a person can meet with an array of specialists in the same building as directed by a care coordinator. Dr. Mark Pettus is director of medical education and population health at Berkshire Health Systems.

“So unlike focusing on just diabetes or substance abuse it would really look at that holistic picture for that individual,” Pettus said. “Then within 48 hours we would arrange a follow-up here in the Neighborhood where the resources here could be matched and tailored for that individual.”

The program is located on the second floor of the former North Adams Regional Hospital. Pittsfield-based Berkshire Health Systems has owned the site for about a year, operating a satellite emergency facility. It is now known as the North Adams Campus of Berkshire Medical Center.

The program is designed so that once a Northern Berkshire resident comes to the facility for care their zip code activates a call to a care coordinator who will visit the patient. From there the coordinator will prepare a comprehensive care plan and arrange a future visit. In addition, the Brien Center, which specializes in behavioral health and addiction treatment, will run an addiction day-treatment program as part of the Neighborhood.

“It meets them where they’re at as far as their motivation is concerned, how much they really want to get treatment and how much they’re really focused on a path to recovery,” said Brien CEO Christine MacBeth. 

The effort is funded by a three-year, $3 million grant from the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission. BHS matched the grant. A mix of 12 clinicians, psychiatrists, dieticians and other healthcare workers make up the Neighborhood For Health team.

Pettus says about 2,000 people in the region are hospitalized each year so the goal is to make sure all of them receive some sort of coordinated care. Beyond the highest priority people, Pettus says the program will support patients of the four primary care practices operating in the region. Pettus says many of the services will be covered by government provided health insurance. If care is not covered there will be no additional charges for the individual. Chief Financial Officer Darlene Rodowicz says the goal is to make the model sustainable.

“Proving that there’s value in paying for care and keeping people well as opposed to waiting until people are sick and then accessing care,” Rodowicz said. “So we’re going to be measuring whether we are able to reduce the overall cost of care through reduced readmissions to the hospital. When someone’s been discharged, if we can keep them well and home with their families that has a savings to the healthcare delivery system because we don’t have repeat admissions.”

She says the state is looking to replicate this model if it is sustainable.

When North Adams Regional Hospital closed and its parent company declared bankruptcy in 2014, some 500 people lost their jobs. Since then a group of community members including former employees and healthcare union members have called for the restoration of a full-service hospital with inpatient services. BHS has said such a facility is not sustainable without a critical access designation from the federal government. Rodowicz says the facility is not eligible for that designation and for the time being BHS does not plan on applying for it.

“It’s the mileage as well as Route 7 is a federal highway,” Rodowicz said. “So those two issues create a problem from a designation prospective.”

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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