By Tammy Daniels & Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff Print | Email
State Sen. Benjamin Downing speaks with union and community members on Friday night after the hospital's emergency room closed.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Medical Center is in the process of obtaining authority from the Department of Public Health to operate a "satellite emergency facility" under its current license at North Adams Regional Hospital.
The statement from Berkshire Health Systems also said it intends to hire NARH staff and has already reached out to Northern Berkshire Healthcare's physicians to offer them jobs.
That's good news for the region but the time frame remains ambiguous although Attorney General Martha Coakley said her office was "working with all stakeholders to reopen emergency services as soon as possible."
Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo, associate commissioner for DPH and director of health care safety and quality, said a resolution is being sought to allow the emergency department to operate safely.
"This is a troubling outcome that has left the region vulnerable, and we are concerned about the well-being of the staff, patients and families impacted," she said. "We believe in the need for this health resource for the people of Northern Berkshire County," she said.
Community and union members met at 5 at the American Legion Hall — after being evicted from the hospital dining room — for updates and assurances.
"It's not over. We're going to fight ... The people of this community are too important for an outsider to come in and close this hospital," said Michael Fadel, an official with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents the health-care system's registered nurses.
The numbers at the hall weren't as great as Tuesday night, but a dedicated contingent turned out to hear what their elected officials could offer for news.
"There is nothing that I am going to work on more than to make sure that there is a hospital here, that there are emergency services here, and that we as a community work to build this back up," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, who with Rep. Gailanne Cariddi has been working on a solution on Beacon Hill.
Cariddi continued on a positive note, although admitting that the future was still unclear.
"I don't have any answers for you, but I can tell you when I see everyone in this room, the people I have grown up with, I can feel the strength and this community is strong and this community will survive and this community will have a hospital," she said.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he's been speaking with people in other communities that lost hospitals or gone through a similar process. Fingerpointing won't solve anything, he said, encouraging the community to continue to work together.
Earlier in the day he seemed confident the ER would reopen on Monday.
"I am very sorry that we could not pull this off but I am very confident that the ER will open early next week," the mayor wrote later on his Facebook page.
The group decided to meet every Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the American Legion for updates and discussion.
Berkshire Medical Center's entrance into the equation is a good thing, said Downing.
"They are committed to being part of this process and they understand how important it is to restore the emergency services and to build back up a sustainable model here for this community," Downing.
BMC senior leadership and a clinical team had begun initial talks with NARH personnel on Friday morning to determine what would be required to open the ER. The restraining order preventing the ER from closing was revised in the afternoon to focus on ensuring that nothing would be altered, removed or shutoff — including furniture, medical records and utilities.
In its statement, BMC reiterated that it would hire NARH staff to run the emergency services because it "would ensure the smoothest possible reopening and service."
Job offers were extended to ER physicians and those in Northern Berkshire's internal medicine and obstetrics and gynecology practices.
"We made these offers and are expediting credentialing at BMC because we want to assure the residents of Northern Berkshire county that core health-care services will remain available in their communities," said David Phelps, Berkshire Health Systems president and CEO.
Michael Leary, director of media relations for Berkshire Health Systems, indicated that no further statements were likely this weekend.
On other fronts, Gov. Deval Patrick had said he was committed to finding a solution: "What we need is a viable facility in North Adams."
His office was flooded with phone calls from supporters outside the hospital Friday morning urging him to declare the closure a public health crisis to get the state more involved.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker applauded the efforts so far but called for the state to take over the financially ailing health system — and chastised elected officials for allowing it to reach a crisis point.
"The state should consider putting the hospital into a temporary 90-day receivership in order to put together a strategic solution," Baker said.
The attorney general has charged the division of Non-Profit Organizations & Charities Division "to conduct a full investigation into the actions of the board of trustees."
"We as a community have the ability to save our hospital," said Tara Wiles, a registered nurse in the surgical unit, Friday morning. "If you look at years previously, the community has banded together to raise funds to add on to this hospital.
"What can we do now to keep it open? ... We don't need a corporation to run this hospital, we need the community."
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