Robbin Simonetti, a registered nurse at NARH, waits for participants to board for a bus trip to Boston to present petitions to state officials.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Two busloads of community members and health care workers boarded buses Tuesday morning to present petitions calling for the reopening of North Adams Regional Hospital to Beacon Hill.
"We've collected about 12,000 signatures on the petitions and we're highlighting that we're entering our third week with still no light at the end of the tunnel as far as emergency services being up and running again," said Jim Gander of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. "There's still a tremendous amount of uncertainty."
The petitions are accompanied by comments and pleas to restore at least emergency services. The Change.org petition, directed to Attorney General Martha Coakley, includes comments from dozens of current and former residents, parents and students at local colleges, and residents of communities that could be in the straits.
The hospital and its Emergency Department closed abruptly on March 28, throwing hundreds out of work and affecting the emergency medical needs of some 36,000 residents in North County.
The two unions that had represented health-care employees of Northern Berkshire Healthcare — MNA and 1199SEIU — have continued to pressure state and federal officials to reopen the emergency department.
Some incremental progress has been made.
Berkshire Medical Center has been approved by the state Department of Public Health to operate a satellite emergency facility but has not yet received federal certification from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
It has so far engaged 143 former employees of NARH and its parent, Northern Berkshire Healthcare, including staff and physicians to reopen the emergency facility. These employees are currently going through orientation at BMC.
The fate of the hospital is likely to be determined by the courts. A temporary restraining order out of Berkshire Superior Court preventing the removal of equipment and other necessary items required to operate the ER and charging BMC to operate it is still in effect; a hearing scheduled Tuesday on an injunction was postponed to next week.
The health system's filing for Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy has also moved the issue into U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The court, and the court-appointed trustee and major creditor Wells Fargo Bank, have so far expressed a willingness to work toward a solution. However, negotiations with BMC have so far stalled over possible leasing arrangements: The court trustee wants to lease the entire building, BMC says just renting the ER and ancillary departments is already too expensive.
A status conference is scheduled in the Springfield court on Wednesday morning.
Community meetings are being held every Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the American Legion for updates on what many in the region are calling a public health crisis. The nearly 90 participants in Tuesday's bus trip, which will also stop at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency in Framingham, are hoping to meet with high-ranking officials on Beacon Hill at noon.
Gov. Deval Patrick is not expected to be available since he will be attending a ceremony with Vice President Joseph Biden and other dignitaries to mark last year's Boston Marathon bombings.
"We're really not seeing much activity from the governor's office or other elected officials, except for the local elected [officials] who have just been tremendous," Gander said. "They've come to every meeting to inform people everything they know and they've worked very hard."
Mayor Richard Alcombright, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing and state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi have spent an "inordinate amount of time on this crisis."
An update on the trip will be provided at the weekly meeting at the Legion at 5 p.m. Tuesday.