Our Opinion: NARH salvage operation
The questions involving establishment of an emergency department in North Berkshire appear to be "when" and "where," not "if," which is certainly good news. The abandonment of the North Adams Regional Hospital building to become another empty hulk on the county landscape would, however, be a considerable blow to the city of North Adams.
Berkshire Medical Center, which is exploring the setting up of a satellite emergency facility up north, is concerned that the hospital building is too large and costly for its needs, according to attorney Harold Murphy, who is overseeing the Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings initiated last week by Northern Berkshire Healthcare (NBH). Those concerns are understandable. Mr. Murphy added that it is difficult to envision the building used for anything other than medical services and if BMC wanted the building he would work with bondholders to make it available.
It is impossible to predict how a building may be reused someday -- abandoned North Adams mill buildings reinvented as the site of a contemporary art museum; be serious! If an emergency department could be housed in the former NARH and the rest of the building mothballed in some fashion, the day may come when a useful purpose could be found for it.
The one week postponement of a hearing on Attorney General Martha Coakley’s restraining order, under which the rules of the bankruptcy proceedings are established, was wise. As AG representative Robert Ross observed in Tuesday’s Eagle, all parties are scrambling to fulfill transitional tasks that 90 days were provided for under state law governing hospital closures. The three-day notice given by Northern Berkshire Healthcare and the board of trustees forced haste in a situation that requires careful consideration.
That extension disappointed an attorney representing Wells Fargo, who revealed during a bankruptcy court hearing in Springfield on Monday that his company is owed "north of $30 million" by Northern Berkshire Healthcare. That’s a lot of money, but "a lot" is a relative term. The San Francisco-based banking and financial services institution is, according to its website, the fourth-largest bank in the country in terms of assets and the largest in the world in terms of market. Its 2013 profit margin was $21.9 billion according to business.time.com, so it will not follow NBH into bankruptcy proceedings if it doesn’t get its $30 million in a week. Wells Fargo’s representative said in court that his company would be "constructive" in the process and acknowledged the need to "preserve health care" in the region, and in playing that positive role it may have to accept waiting some time for NBH’s debt to be resolved and acknowledging that it won’t get all of what it is owed.
Mr. Murphy will be exploring the reasons for the rapid closure of the hospital and related services, as will Ms. Coakley. This is not water under the bridge. Small hospitals all over the Northeast are facing economic pressure but they are not all closing with three days notice. North Adams and Berkshire County have a right to know how and why this came to pass.
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