SPRINGFIELD - A judge has signed off on a 90-day use and occupancy agreement that allows Berkshire Medical Center to open an emergency facility at the former North Adams Regional Hospital.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Henry Boroff on Wednesday approved the agreement between BMC and the creditors of Northern Berkshire Healthcare, parent company of NARH.
Under the terms of the 90-day lease, BMC will not pay rent for use of the former NARH facility; it will only be responsible for operational costs and utilities. BMC planned to begin preparing the emergency department Wednesday in hopes of having it open the week of May 19.
Attorneys for BMC said they expect the Department of Public Health to be at the former NARH site today to conduct a preliminary inspection. Final inspections would take place by DPH and federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the days before the emergency department's opening.
The temporary occupancy agreement also allows services to be maintained at other former NBH buildings, such as the Northern Berkshire Family Medicine building on State Road.
In a second agreement that remains pending in the court, BMC has agreed to pay $3.4 million for the hospital, parking garage and administrative building, and $600,000 for the Northern Berkshire Family Medicine building. The agreement includes assets such as medical equipment and office furniture.
Following the hearing, bankruptcy Trustee Harry Murphy, the attorney appointed to oversee the proceedings, said the full purchase and sale agreement should be filed in court within seven to 10 days, after which time Murphy said he would request an emergency hearing seeking the court's approval to move forward with the agreement.
Once a final sale process is approved by the court, there will be a 45-day window during which any interested party could outbid BMC. The judge will have to sign off on the bidding process for BMC's purchase to be finalized.
But under the terms of the purchase agreement, which was filed with the court this week, allowances are made in case another party outbids Berkshire Medical Center that allows it a "fair market lease rate [at the hospital building] for up to a year, while it re-establishes appropriate services elsewhere."
"Ordinarily we would wait to see if we are the successful bidder" before establishing services, said John Rogers, vice president and general counsel for BMC. But Rogers said the circumstances of this situation don't afford BHS that luxury. In the event that BMC is not the successful bidder, Rogers said, BMC would still look to establish services in North County. "We see that as a fundamental part of our mission," he said. "If we don't end end up in control of the building ... we would need some time to provide an alternative site in North County."
Once an emergency department is open, offering outpatient diagnostic imaging services would be a top priority, Rogers said, noting that the drive from Northern Berkshire to Pittsfield for patients undergoing such a routine procedure would be "quite inconvenient."
As for a final scope of the services that will be offered in North Adams, Rogers said that BMC will work with DPH and other partners to see what the region's health care needs are in a "comprehensive planning" process.
North Adams Regional Hospital closed abruptly on March 28, after three days' notice, discharging its more than 500 employees. In the weeks since, Northern Berkshire has been without emergency services, while ambulance services have been strained by longer travel times to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield.
Mike Fadel, director of campaigns for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, welcomed Wednesday's developments.
"Each step that expedites the re-establishment of services ... is a positive step," Fadel said. But he added the MNA is "particularly concerned that the focus is not shifted" away from a full-service hospital being established in North Adams.