North Adams Hospital, Practices to Close Friday

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The hospital will close Friday, March 28, after 129 years of operations.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — North Adams Regional Hospital will close its doors on Friday after years of declining health.

After more than 125 years of providing medical care to the Northern Berkshire community, the full-service hospital could not adapt itself to the changing health care environment despite a number of last-minute treatments to staunch the flow of financial losses.

Some 530 full- and part-time employees will lose their jobs, but the hospital's closure will reverberate throughout the region, affecting thousands more who have depended on its care for generations.

"The implications of this decision are far-reaching, but our primary concern is for our patients," said Timothy Jones, president and CEO, who was brought in nearly two years ago to help redirect Northern Berkshire Healthcare into a position of profitability. "We are working tirelessly to ensure a smooth transition to other care providers including other hospitals in the region."

Jones' comments and those of other officials in the health-care system were provided in a statement. There were no immediate plans for a press conference.

Mayor Richard Alcombright said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing had been leading the charge in Boston with state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi and the governor to craft an aid package to support the hospital.

"I haven't heard where this is dead yet, it's just closing," said the mayor, who described the closing as a "punch in the gut." "It's too early to say."

He held out hope that the health care system could re-emerge from a coma through support from the state or other outside sources.

"Right now my heart goes out to many, many folks who never in their lives working at the hospital thought they would have to be looking for work," he said.

The closure includes all of the health-care systems operations: VNA & Hospice of Northern Berkshire and the Northern Berkshire Healthcare Physicians Group of Northern Berkshire Family Medicine, Northern Berkshire OB/GYN and Northern Berkshire General Surgery.

The board of trustees voted on the closure because of the health system's worsening financial status.

"In the six years that I have been on the board, we have investigated every possible avenue and exhausted all options as we searched for a way to continue operating the hospital and its affiliates," said Chairwoman Julia Bolton in the statement. "Board members, management, physicians and employees have worked together with dedication and commitment to prevent this outcome.  

"But now, given our finances and the daunting challenges that small rural community hospitals are facing in this health care environment, we can no longer continue."

Northern Berkshire Healthcare has been struggling with financial woes for a decade or more.

The health care system at the end of last year amputated some of its less-profitable departments — the Greylock Pavilion psychiatric care facility and pediatrics — in an effort to reinvent itself by focusing on outpatient care, imaging, a new joint replacement center and telemetry unit. It opened an award-winning wound care center in the last few years and partnered with Berkshire Surgical Associates while continuing collaboration talks with Berkshire Health Systems.

However, in public hearings late last year on the closure of the psych unit, hospital officials said the hospital had little money on hand and there were fears it would not be able to make payroll by March if they were not able to turn things around.

Health-care employees were being informed on Tuesday of the closure. Officials said they will be provided with job search help through the health system's human resources office and a "rapid response team" from the state.

The hospital is no longer taking admissions. The emergency department will close on Friday, March 28, at 10 a.m. Hospital officials said the health care system is working with area hospitals and ambulance services to ensure continuation of emergency services. Ecu-Health Care, which uses space in the facility, will have to move.

Those seeking emergency care will have to travel up to 20 miles or more to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield or to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, Vt. The North Adams emergency department sees some 20,000 visits a year.

"We're still evaluating things at the moment," said John Meaney Jr., general manager of the North Adams Ambulance Service. He said the service would be prepared to transport to Berkshire Medical Center and to Bennington. "We're just getting the news. We are prepared."

Patients of Northern Berkshire Family Medicine and the VNA & Hospice of Northern Berkshire will be transitioned to other practices and agencies through Friday, April 4, said officials.

"North Adams Regional Hospital opened 129 years ago in 1885, and as an institution we have served the people of this area with dedication and pride," Jones said. "Many of those who work here have served our patients for decades, and today's news is a shock. We wish it could be different."

Tags: hospital,   NARH,   Northern Berkshire Healthcare,   

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