NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The decision to close North Adams Regional Hospital after more than 125 years caused plenty of anger --— not the least of which has been directed at the timing of the decision.
The commonwealth's governing authority confirmed on Wednesday that the timetable proposed by Northern Berkshire Healthcare is atypical, but it reported no immediate plans to block the closure.
But Attorney General Martha Coakley said she is looking at ways to keep the hospital's doors open — at least in the near term.
“North Adams is my hometown and I know how important North Adams Hospital is to all the communities in the area," Coakley said in a statement released by her office. "I am deeply concerned by the rapid pace of this closure and am working with all parties — the Governor, the local delegation, the Department of Public Health, and others — to address this. We are considering all legal options to prevent this quick closure and maintain access to health care services for this area.”
In the wake of Tuesday's announcement, many of the hundreds of comments posted on social media have focused on the speed of the closure.
Hospitals in Massachusetts usually do not close that quickly, according to a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department Health.
Usually, hospitals in the commonwealth are closed after a public hearing held 90 days in advance of closure, but a recent change in Northern Berkshire Healthcare's financial condition led to the accelerated closure, DPH Media Relations Manager Anne Roach wrote in a response to an email seeking comment.
"North Adams Regional Hospital confirmed their plans to close with DPH on Tuesday," she wrote. "This is an ongoing process, and the department is working to provide all support necessary to ensure patient care needs are met."
Hospital closures are unusual but by no means unique in the commonwealth.
The Massachusetts Hospitals Association website lists 59 closures and/or conversions of hospitals from 1980 through last year's closure of Waltham's 45-bed Kindred Hospital Northeast.
In 27 of those cases — about half — the hospitals in question were converted to "other health-care related uses," according to the MHA.
The typical other uses include outpatient clinics and nursing homes.
In Western Massachusetts, the most recent closure before this week was Holyoke's Providence Hospital, which closed in 1996 and was converted to a behavioral health and outpatient center.
Providence Behavioral Health Hospital offers inpatient and outpatient services, including substance abuse treatment, according to its website.
A little closer to North Adams, Northampton State Hospital, a psychiatric facility, closed its doors in 1993.
The only other Western Mass facility on the list from 1980 to the present is the Belchertown State School, one of the two mental retardation facilities on the list; it closed in 1980.