The state attorney general’s office and Berkshire Health Systems provided a few welcome rays of sunshine in North Adams Thursday, but North Adams Regional Hospital is still on the verge of closing its doors. An occupy movement and vigil conducted by union nurses may at least provide additional time to explore ways of avoiding a closure that will shake the city and region to its roots.
In response to an appeal from Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office, Berkshire Superior Court Judge John Agostini ordered a temporary restraining order keeping the hospital’s emergency room open through April 3. The attorney general filed the complaint on the grounds that the NARH Board of Trustees violated the requirement for 90-day notification prior to closure, a rule the board fell 87 days short of meeting. At next Thursday’s hearing, the attorney general will seek to keep ER services open for at least 90 days as options are pursued.
North Adams should pursue designation as a Critical Access Hospital, under which rural community hospitals receive cost-based reimbursements through Medicare. Under CAH regulations, the hospital’s proximity to Berkshire Medical Center works against it, but an emergency trip from North Berkshire to Pittsfield is a long one and would strain medical transport services. At a minimum, emergency services must be salvaged.
Berkshire Health Systems will provide needed administrative services to keep Northern Berkshire OB-GYN and Northern Berkshire Family Practice open, which is great news for the physicians and patients from those two groups. BHS can’t be asked to ride to the rescue given the complexities and looming questions of this hasty closing, but the Berkshire Medical Center parent has made key contributions.
The occupy movement of nurses, based on the Occupy Wall Street effort and others that followed in its wake, can serve a purpose as long as it is done peacefully and is respectful of the fact that the hospital is private property. The vigil will keep public focus on the hospital and in so doing may lead to potential solutions that have yet to be considered.
Management expects the city and county to take it as an article of faith that the hospital’s financial problems are insurmountable and every effort has been made to find a way to resolve them. If management had been completely open with the community in prior months and involved it in the difficulties of a hospital that employs hundreds and serves thousands it would have some credibility today, but that lack of transparency and a sudden closing in violation of the law has deprived it of credibility. The nurses have not given up on the hospital and neither has an understandably angry and heartbroken community. Today is another day.