NORTH ADAMS -- A "patient care ombudsman" will not be appointed to oversee Berkshire Medical Center's use of the emergency department at the former North Adams Regional Hospital, a bankruptcy court decided Wednesday.

Judge Henry Boroff sided with attorneys for Berkshire Health Systems, parent of BMC, and the commonwealth in not appointing a special caretaker to protect patients' interests during the transition to Berkshire Medical Center's potential ownership of the hospital. Boroff agreed that the Department of Public Health provides sufficient regulation.

Northern Berkshire Healthcare, the parent company of North Adams Regional Hospital, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on April 3, just days after it abruptly closed hospital doors and laid off more than 500 people.

BMC has entered an agreement with creditors of NBH to purchase the former hospital and its assets for $4 million, pending approval by the court. Other bidders will have an opportunity to try to purchase the former hospital during a required waiting period, however.

Under federal bankruptcy law, if the debtor "is a health care business, the court shall order ... the appointment of an ombudsman to monitor the quality of patient care and to represent the interests of the patients of the health care business," unless it's unnecessary.

Bankruptcy Trustee Harry Murphy, who was appointed to oversee the proceedings, told Boroff that in this case the debtor, Northern Berkshire Healthcare, would not be the provider of care, but rather BMC would provide services and continue to be regulated by the DPH.

"They (BMC officials) think it's unnecessary and may be prohibitive," Murphy said.

Robert Ross, an attorney with the Attorney General's office, argued an ombudsman is usually required in a situation in which the debtor is still providing services, and a lack of resources might force them to "compromise" patient care -- which is not the case with BMC.

The only dissenting voice was the United States Trustee, which argued that having the ombudsman "couldn't hurt."

The judge will consider appointing an ombudsman to monitor medical records in the coming weeks.

Attorneys for BMC said their organization has maintained records at the former NARH facility, and in the event it's not the successful bidder, would transfer patient records upon request. Ross argued patients will suffer no loss to records and privacy rights.

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