Work toward restoration of healthcare services in North Berkshire is progressing more than four weeks after the abrupt closure of North Adams Regional Hospital. In the meantime, the wellness center at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts will open as an acute care center for the public.
Berkshire Health Systems is working to finalize an agreement to acquire the former North Adams Regional Hospital and provide emergency services at the site by mid-May, pending a federal license. Meanwhile, the Pittsfield-based company and MCLA are stepping up to provide medical services in the interim. College president Mary Grant says the on-campus wellness center, which has already added weekend morning hours for its students since the hospital closed March 28th, will open as an acute care facility for the public this week.
“Working with our health services department and the team at BMC thinking about a way to partner so that we could provide limited services,” Grant said. “Non-emergency services. These are the kinds of routine things where someone might come in with a bump or a bruise, but to make this accessible to residents of North Adams and North Berkshire.”
Grant anticipates keeping the center open until 10 p.m. weekdays and will look at additional weekend hours. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick joined Grant and other key players at the North Adams campus Friday afternoon to make the announcement.
“BMC is going to help staff that with some of the 150 professionals from North Adams who have been hired by BMC,” said Patrick.
Northern Berkshire Healthcare employed 530 people before filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy April 3rd. A status hearing on the deal between BHS, the bankruptcy trustee and bondholders to acquire the hospital property is set for April 30th. A 90-day use and occupancy agreement is also up for approval at the hearing, which would allow BMC to open an emergency center throughout a court-required 45-day open bidding process for the hospital property. First, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services must grant BMC a license to open the emergency facility. Patrick says the agency’s decision was on hold until the facility’s location was certain. The governor anticipates the emergency department can open the week of May 19th.
“What we are going to do is have the state DPH in there with BMC as they are cleaning up and reopening and offering technical assistance so that we are ready as possible when the feds come in and do their formal survey,” said Patrick.
BHS estimates it would need to spend $10 million for improvements to the shuttered facility’s emergency department. BHS vice president Thomas Romeo says in terms of hospital construction, that’s not a high number.
“That number is an estimate,” Romeo said. “We have done an analysis of different areas. I don’t know the particulars of that. That money would come from our reserves. But we have to go through that full assessment in terms of determining what are things that have to be done right away and what things can we put off a bit. It’s a total facility type of an assessment of what those needs might be.”
Patrick says the state is going to help support BHS, but whether that be 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 governor praised BHS for sustaining other NBH medical practices such as Hospice, VNA and family practices. Patrick says the state has also brought on an independent consultant to work with the community in determining the long-term medical needs of the region.
“The only part of the hospital that’s going to be opened for certain is the emergency department and it’s not going to be opened as North Adams Regional Hospital,” Patrick said. “Everybody needs to understand that. This is a Berkshire Medical Center facility and it has to be re-imagined. Some parts of it will be in spaces that were used before with people who were staffing it before, but the whole model for health services in North County are going to have to be re-imagined and are being re-imagined.”