A group of union and community members carpooled to the Springfield bankruptcy court and attended the hearing.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The emergency room at the former North Adams Regional Hospital is expected to reopen as a satellite facility by mid-May under the auspices of Berkshire Medical Center.
The Pittsfield hospital's parent company has also reached a deal with the bondholders of the bankrupt Northern Berkshire Healthcare to buy its assets.
That deal is expected to be completed by July.
"We were able to reach an agreement with Berkshire Medical Center," Harold B. Murphy, the court-appointed trustee of NBH, said during Thursday morning's hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Springfield.
Murphy said the deal is to acquire all of the real estate and all of the equipment in possession of the former Northern Berkshire Healthcare.
"The buyer, Berkshire Medical, will presumably be hiring back employees," he said.
In the meantime, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., trustee for the bondholders, agreed to allow the "collateral" to be used prior to executing the purchase.
"I'm told there are no bureaucratic delays anticipated," Murphy continued, in a nod to Judge Henry J. Boroff's statements last week that he wanted the name of anyone putting obstacles in the way of the reopening the emergency room.
A hearing was set next Wednesday to sign off on the occupancy requirements to allow the emergency department and its ancillary units to open. BMC has agreed to pay for utilities and other needs; Wells Fargo is waiving any leasing or rental payments.
Boroff also ordered that the utilities owed payment by NBH could not shut off those services.
"It's going in the right direction," said attorney Joseph H. Baldiga of Mirick, O'Connell, DeMallie, Lougee, representing BMC. Baldiga said the emergency department is being reopened "as quickly as we can."
He said BMC would need two weeks from the April 30 occupation hearing to prepare the space for inspection, putting the reopening into May.
Berkshire Medical Center has obtained all the proper permitting to operate a satellite emergency facility, but the facility must be inspected in a fully prepared condition by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to complete licensing.
BMC has already hired staffing from the NARH in anticipation of the reopening and may hire more. Dr. Oscar Rodriguez, an emergency room physician at NARH, said on Tuesday that employees and equipment are ready to go.
Northern Berkshire Healthcare owned the hospital building and its affiliated structures, including the Doctor's Building and parking garage, and the building occupied by Northern Berkshire Family Medicine on State Road. The Ambulatory Care Center on the hospital grounds is owned by another company.
An agreed-upon price for the sale of those assets was not revealed; attorneys said a confidentiality agreement was in place.
Murphy requested a hearing on the purchase by mid-May.
"I would like that by mid-May, we could have a proceeding to start the purchase," he told the judge.
Boroff scheduled the hearing for May 27; that will open a 45-day window to complete the purchase. If successful, Berkshire Health Systems should take over the hospital facility by mid-July.
While the emergency department would reopen, it is not clear yet what else BMC would use the facility for. The Pittsfield-based health system had reportedly been in talks to acquire or partner with NBH but was unable to reach a deal with bondholders, precipitating the health system's abrupt closure.
In a statement, Berkshire Medical Center officials said the purchase of Northern Berkshire Healthcare's assets is subject to bankruptcy rules. Once the 45-day window begins, the court-appointed trustee may solicit interest from other parties as part of the competitive bidding process.
"If there are other bidders, a bankruptcy auction will be held shortly thereafter," the statement from BHS spokesman Michael Leary states.
"The proposed agreement would allow Berkshire Medical Center to use the buildings before the bankruptcy auction and, if Berkshire Medical Center is not the successful bidder, to continue using them for a period of time to permit an orderly transition of services to alternate sites. "
If successful, BMC is expected to invest about $10 million into the hospital building for repairs and improvements.
Leary said the details of both proposals — for operating an satellite emergency facility and for the purchase of the assets — will be made public in court filings.
Updated with statement from Berkshire Medical Center at 2:27 p.m.; with minor rewrites for clarification at 1:18 p.m.