North Adams Regional's name was replaced by a new sign indicating the emergency room has reopened.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Nearly two months after abruptly closing, the emergency department at the former North Adams Regional Hospital opened at noon on Monday.
And the signs for NARH were being replaced with new ones signifying the new operator of the facility: Berkshire Medical Center.
"We're ready to go, we've already had a couple people drive down and go in," said Berkshire Health Systems spokesman Michael Leary shortly before the "official" opening. "We did have two or three people stop earlier in the morning and ask what time it would be open. One we sent to the MCLA [wellness] facility and she went there, and the other two said they would come back."
BMC is operating the satellite emergency facility as part of an agreement with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court-appointed trustee of the bankrupt Northern Berkshire Healthcare, the state and representatives of the defunct health-systems creditors.
The ink on the deal wasn't even dry before BMC had crews on their way to prepare the closed department for reopening. The precipitous closing had left the ground-floor department in "somewhat disarray," said Leary, requiring cleaning, replacement of some furnishings, checking equipment to ensure it was in working order and generally making sure everything was safe and up to standard.
"The BMC SEF in North Adams is capable of handling any emergency situation," said Dr. Ronald Hayden, chairman of emergency medicine at BMC and medical director of its Emergency Department, in a statement. "It is a full-service facility for both critical and non-critical emergency care, and it will be staffed by many of the same physicians and nurses who had previously served Northern Berkshire patients in the NARH Emergency Department."
More than two dozen members of Northern Berkshire Healthcare's former union chapters were on hand for the opening but were disappointed that they were not able to speak with BHS officials to say "thank you."
The 1199SEIU and Massachusetts Nurses Association members were kept up in the parking lot, but their opinions were generally positive in that the reopening of the emergency department was a good sign in their push to restore full hospital services.
"We're here celebrating the opening of the emergency room," said Robbin Simonetti of the MNA, a nurse at the former North Adams Regional. "I don't think I'll ever get past it's not the North Adams Hospital. ...
"It's something very important for the community. We have a lot of elderly community members and it's very important that they have an emergency room, and for them to drive 40 minutes to an hour away, is not good."
Since the closure of North Adams Regional, North County ambulances have been transporting patients up to an hour to BMC in Pittsfield or Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington. About 50 transports a week were coming from North County, according to statistics from a few weeks ago, said Leary. He categorized the number as not "overwhelming" but acknowledged opening the North Adams facility would ease some of that volume.
Still, BMC is staffing both emergency room facilities. Some 147 people had been hired overall by BMC to staff the reopening of the emergency room, the visiting nurse association, NBH's physician's practice and the wellness center.
"It takes a considerable amount of angst off our community, we know that for certain," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, after stopping at the waiting room to speak with staff. "We've been waiting for this for eight or nine weeks now; we have to look at this as a really good day and a positive step to what will be come final solutions to health care in the city of North Adams and Northern Berkshire.
"It's a really good first step."
City officials and union representatives are continuing to press the state to involve them in the report commissioned to Stroudwater Associates on the medical needs of the community. MNA has repeatedly invited Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz to the weekly community meetings on Tuesday at the American Legion for an update on the process.
For now, there's a sense of relief within the community that at least emergency services have returned.
"I wouldn't let myself get sick before because there was no place to go," said North Adams resident Shirley Davis. "Now I can get sick if I want to."
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