Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announces the formation of an acute care clinic at MCLA to help provide medical services in Northern Berkshire until  an
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announces the formation of an acute care clinic at MCLA to help provide medical services in Northern Berkshire until an emergency center opens at the former NARH. Friday, April 25, 2014. (Scott Stafford / Berkshire Eagle Staff / photos.berkshireeagle.com)

NORTH ADAMS -- Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has announced an arrangement with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to expand the hours of the school's health center to serve as an acute care clinic.

It will serve as a non-emergency clinic to handle minor, but pressing, medical issues for the general populace of Northern Berkshire County until an emergency room can be opened at the closed hospital building.

Physicians and staff from Berkshire Medical Center will work there on a temporary basis to help staff the facility during the extended hours.

Emergency medical situations should still be handled by calling 911 for ambulance transport.

During a brief press conference at MCLA on Friday afternoon, the governor also expressed his gratitude to all the parties involved in reaching an agreement to open an emergency medical facility at the former North Adams Regional Hospital, especially the leadership at Berkshire Health Systems, parent company of BMC.

"After extensive, complicated negotiations, we have an agreement," Patrick said, allowing BHS to purchase the NARH property. "Acquiring the hospital property was the enabling event that will allow them to open an emergency center there."

Patrick vowed to support the effort to bring more medical services to the facility after BMC takes possession of the property, which is expected in July.

He said the state is examining how best to aid the effort through either helping with the capital outlay to purchase the property, or some other form of financial arrangement to help with the ongoing operational costs of running an emergency center to help make it more sustainable.

The state will also hire an "independent consultant," Patrick said, to perform a medical needs assessment of the entire county to better determine what types of medical services are needed in a North County facility, which should help BHS develop a workable plan for providing services here. He did not know how long such a study would take, but that he was keen to get it started quickly.

NARH closed abruptly March 28, after three days' notice, leaving 530 workers unemployed. In the weeks since, the North County region has been without emergency services, while ambulance services have been strained by longer travel times to BMC in Pittsfield and Southern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.

BMC's agreement with the bond holders to purchase the former NARH was announced in a bankruptcy court hearing in Springfield on Thursday.

BHS officials said Thursday it could have the emergency room open by mid-May, and estimated it would eventually need to spend up to $10 million on repairs and improvements to the entire hospital if the deal is finalized.

MCLA President Mary Grant said the idea for the acute care clinic came during a "brainstorming session" Thursday after the news of an agreement.

"We thought it would be a good step along the road to again providing urgent care in the community," she said.

Grant stressed that the clinic would be for non-emergency, non-life-threatening maladies.

Patrick noted that the joint effort will continue until an emergency center is "actually open. We're curbing our enthusiasm because we've been this close before. It ain't done yet."

He added that as BMC prepares the emergency department for opening, Massachusetts Department of Health officials will be there to help make the facility "as ready as possible" before federal authorities begin inspections to complete the operating license requierments.

"I appreciate how important it is to get that process completed quickly," Patrick said.

To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 663-3741, ext. 227. On Twitter: @BE_SStafford