BENNINGTON -- The local hospital says it is prepared to handle patients from northern Berkshire County (Mass.) when North Adams Regional Hospital closes on Friday.

"We are expecting to see an influx, especially in our emergency room department, and we are beginning to increase our staff to handle that," said Kevin Robinson, spokesman for Southern Vermont Health Care, the parent company of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC).

North Adams Regional Hospital announced on Tuesday it would be closing at the end of the work week. Also shutting down will be the visiting nurse association and three medical practices associated with NARH. The Berkshire Eagle reports that Massachusetts state and local officials reacted with anger over the abrupt announcement, which according to NARH's parent company, Northern Berkshire Healthcare, was made because of the hospital's worsening financial condition.

Robinson said the local health care group learned of the closure at the same time the media was being briefed.

"A community losing its hospital is an extremely difficult thing," he said. "It's a real blow for the northern Berkshire community."

He said it is not known exactly how many patients will seek emergency room care at SVMC. Many in the NARH community are also expected to go to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Mass. for their needs.

The local hospital is working on ways to make the emergency room more efficient in anticipation of the greater volume. Robinson said the hospital is also reaching out to ambulance services in that area to make sure they can seamlessly begin transporting patients to the Bennington emergency room.

SVHC leaders spent Wednesday meeting with administrators from the Massachusetts hospital to discuss specific patients needs. Robinson said many of those talks were between doctors about individual patients to ensure they have somewhere to go for medical care.

Robinson said many specialists at SVMC, such as OB/GYNs, are taking new patients and can accommodate the needs of the northern Berkshires. SVHC's Deerfield campus in Wilmington, Vt. is also taking new patients. SVHC will also reach out to some of the NARH specialists to perhaps fill some of its own practitioner needs.

"At the end of the day we are all trying to accomplish the same goal and that's to make sure the residents of the Berkshire community have a place to go for their hospital care," said Robinson.

He said the local heath care system will continue to talk with NARH leaders about the transition patients and will continue to make adjustments to its own services.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.