The Massachusetts Attorney General's office says the leaders of the shuttered North Adams Regional Hospital will not face penalties for failing to provide adequate public notice of their plan to close the facility in 2014. The call to reestablish a full-service hospital in North County have continued.
The closure of North Adams Regional Hospital on March 28, 2014, is still being felt in northern Berkshire County. It put 530 people out of work at the facility that once served 37,000 residents.
The hospital closed after 129 years with only a few days’ notice amid financial struggles. Parent company Northern Berkshire Health Care declared bankruptcy.
The Massachusetts Attorney General's office said Wednesday because the former hospital's volunteer trustees "acted in good faith" through the institution's financial crisis, they deserve protection from legal consequences. Still, a spokesperson for the attorney general says the office does not agree with the failure to provide the 90-day notice required by state law.
Letters were sent to Berkshire Health Systems, which now operates the facility, and to a representative of the North County Cares Coalition, which continues to push for a full-service hospital in North Adams.
Dick Dassatti is the co-chair of the citizen group.
“The sudden illegal closure of North Adams Regional Hospital, followed by a lack of accountability, shows the public needs stronger protection to ensure we don’t lose access to essential health care services. Massachusetts needs a law that truly safeguards residents from the kind of mismanagement that caused the hospital to close,” Dassatti says.
“I am very disappointed, but I am not entirely surprised,” Branch says.
The Coalition’s Rachel Branch, who is also running for mayor of North Adams, says the group is meeting next week to discuss what it will do next. Branch says the region is in dire need of a full-service hospital.
“We’re not done,” Branch says.
Berkshire Health Systems spokesperson Michael Leary says the hospital agrees with the AG’s conclusion.
“The former Trustees of North Adams Regional Hospital were very dedicated community members who volunteered their time and extensive experience in what is obviously a very challenging environment of healthcare,” Leary says. “The Attorney General’s conclusions are very thoughtful and based on a lengthy and extensive review of the circumstances that surrounded the closing of NARH, and we feel those conclusions are correct.”
Leary says BHS’s involvement in North County ramped up after the closure. In 2015, Berkshire Health Systems reopened the North Adams emergency room under a court order.
Over the past two years, the hospital system has invested millions of dollars to add outpatient care in radiology, orthopedics and obstetrics programs. It has also focused on special programs geared toward the region’s battle against tobacco, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
Outgoing North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says the services offered at the current facility are an improvement. Alcombright was pleased by the AG’s decision, saying it can bring closure to the community.
“I am not surprised. I am actually delighted by the vast majority of what I read in the letter. I think it brings, again, just another level of closure to what happened in our community several years ago,” Alcombright says. “The board and the management at that time was doing everything they possibly could to find another hospital, someone else to collaborate with and work this out through, and that they had for quite a while.”
Alcombright says the North Adams Regional Hospital was a “train wreck just waiting to happen.” In its last 15 years, the hospital reported an operating loss of more than $25 million.
State Senator Adam Hinds is a Pittsfield Democrat.
“This is a reminder of how deeply disruptive that the closure was and particularly of how sudden it was, and to this day we are still working with the implications of all of that,” Hinds says. “And that it’s an absolutely unfortunate event and so now we’re, this one step closer to closing that chapter and working towards the health needs of the community.”
The AG’s office also weighed in on a $1 million endowment from the former hospital to BHS.
BHS spokesperson Leary said the longstanding patient and family advisory councils are in place throughout the county to help guide its services – aided by comments by community partners.
The AG’s office expects proceeds from the endowment to be used at $50,000 a year or less for programs specified by the endowment donors.
North County Cares Coalition says northern Berkshire County is the largest geographic region in Massachusetts without a full-service hospital.
The two closest full-service hospitals are BMC in Pittsfield and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.