Gov. Deval Patrick, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, and Thomas Romeo, vice president of physicians services for Berkshire Health Systems, at the conclusion of Friday's press conference.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The MCLA campus wellness center will be come a temporary urgent care center to accommodate the public's medical needs while they wait for emergency services to return.
Berkshire Health Systems, which is in talks to acquire the assets of the former Northern Berkshire Healthcare, will staff extended hours at the center.
Gov. Deval Patrick and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Mary Grant announced the proposal at the MountainOne Student Wellness Center on Church Street during a press conference Friday evening.
Grant said she is hoping that by Tuesday staff and equipment from Berkshire Medical Center will begin providing "acute, non-emergency" services.
"The wellness center here at MCLA is opening extended hours, 12 hours a day, seven days a week as an urgent care or acute care center," Patrick said.
"Not as an emergency room but as a place where people can go for basic care. The type of which was rendered in the emergency department at North Adams Regional Hospital."
Some of the 150 former North Adams Regional Hospital employees hired by BMC will staff those extra hours. Grant said the college has been using its staff for some additional hours on the weekends since the closure of the hospital. Now, BMC's staff will boost the hours to provide care for the bumps and bruises that previously often led to visits to the hospital emergency room.
"It also provide an additional service to our students," Grant said, adding that the college will not incur any burden to staff or equip it because that will fall on Berkshire Health Systems.
She also made it clear that "this isn't an emergency room." In case of a serious emergency, residents are still asked to call 911.
Northern Berkshire residents will have to wait until the week of May 19 for BMC to open an satellite emergency room on the former North Adams Regional Hospital campus.
Patrick said all of the state approvals have been completed for that process to happen and the next step is for the federal Bankruptcy Court to approve the deal being worked out between the bondholders and BMC to take occupancy. From there, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approval is needed.
Berkshire Medical Center staff estimates a 10-day to two-week period to get the emergency room up and running and Patrick said the state Department of Public Health will be on hand to smooth that transition.
BMC's agreement to purchase the hospital is not expected to be completed until July, pending a public auction period. In the meantime, the state is paying for a consultant to look into the health needs and wants in the Northern Berkshires.
"It's not meant to be a wish list. It is a study," Patrick said.
BMC may not open a full-service hospital despite buying one. The assessment will help guide the company into determining what to do and where to do it. There is no time frame on when the analysis will be completed.
The news is yet another positive sign for Mayor Richard Alcombright, who called the closure a "punch in the gut." The former North Adams Regional Hospital closed nearly a month ago and has since then filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, putting its future in the hands of its bondholders and the federal court.
"This is just really a happy time for the city of North Adams because we've had a difficult few weeks," Alcombright said.
While MCLA's temporary expansion of its medical facilities may help solve some of the local health concerns, it still doesn't put more than 400 people back to work.
Cindy Bird, of local 1199SEIU, which represented workers at the former hospital, said many of her former co-workers are looking to move out of the area for other job. But, there isn't a lot out there.
"It's a matter of traveling. You've got all of these nurses — 530 people weren't all nurses — you've got all of these people out there and BMC can't take everybody," Bird said. "I know a couple of my friends have gone elsewhere for interviews — Weymouth and New York State — for me, that's not possible."
Bird worked as a unit secretary in the operating room. A comparable position isn't currently available in a closest enough area for her.
"I've looked everywhere and there is nothing anywhere. I have 26 years of service there so anything you start with is going to be at the bottom. You are losing everything — all of your time, all of your benefits, everything," she said.
Bird wants the entire hospital reopened and for her co-workers to be back to work. She also wants health services restored for her own family. She is glad that there is going to be a study looking at all of the services and not limited to just the emergency room. And she is glad that MCLA is helping out by extending hours.
"I think it is a positive move forward. While I'd like it to be earlier, he did say MCLA will open up their health services extended hours until that happens. So, I think positive," Bird said.