As state and local officials, nurses and leadership at Berkshire Medical Center scramble to keep some semblance of health care alive in North Adams, it has become apparent that Northern Berkshire Healthcare (NBH), or what is left of it, is not only of no help but may be a hindrance. At the very least, NBH should be keeping these parties to the rescue effort in the loop as to what it is doing.
Governor Deval Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley were in the city Tuesday, and the governor said efforts were underway to reopen the emergency room, an obvious top priority, hospice services, the Visiting Nurses Association, and perhaps an OB/GYN office. This would employ in the vicinity of 75 former employees at the site of what once was North Adams Regional Hospital.
The Eagle has learned, however, that NBH will file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Monday, which would enable the company to transfer assets to bankruptcy trustees who would then liquidate those assets to provide revenue to NBH’s creditors. If this was done, then there would be no facility to house an emergency room, hospice service or any other medical practice.
When Berkshire Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini issued a temporary injunction last week to prevent the emergency room from closing -- an injunction that went by the boards because NBH didn’t have enough money to pay anyone to operate it -- it included a passage prohibiting the hospital’s creditors from taking any action "that would interfere with or frustrate" the injunction without the judge’s permission. Clearly any fire sale at NARH would "interfere with or frustrate" efforts to reopen medical services there, making it incumbent upon the AG to pursue a court injunction preventing a devastating Chapter 7 ruling.
Governor Patrick doesn’t miss any opportunities to make clear his anger at the NBH Board of Trustees for closing the hospital with three days notice -- violating a requirement to provide 90 days notice -- after he thought a deal was in place to keep it open. He has not been specific about the parameters of the deal but it apparently involved reducing services and transitioning to a smaller operation. That would have been painful but not as traumatizing as what happened instead.
"We had a deal," said the governor. No one, including the governor, knows why that deal fell apart. No one knows what roadblocks may be thrown in the way of efforts to salvage some form of health care in North Adams. NBH management and trustees owe the Northern Berkshire community an accounting of why an apparent agreement to keep the hospital open to some degree unraveled and led to a closing on short notice. They also owe it to the community and all involved parties to be transparent about their future plans for the facility and to make an effort to become part of the solution.