Possible relocation of emergency services raises concern at Northern Berkshire community meeting


Photo Gallery: Weekly NARH community meeting

NORTH ADAMS -- Former employees, union officials and community members gathered once again at the American Legion Tuesday afternoon to hear the latest regarding the closed North Adams Regional Hospital.

There was not a lot of good news, but there was plenty of determination.

Most of the questions surrounded the bankruptcy proceedings and how it will affect the timing of opening an emergency care center to serve the North County region.

The news that Berkshire Medical Center might seek an alternate location for an emergency care center seemed dismaying to the gathering.

"Where could they set up another emergency room?" wondered one woman.

Michael Fadel, director of campaigns for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said that BMC doesn't want to be saddled with debt, so they may be reluctant to make a deal that saps their ability to create a sustainable emergency care operation.

"But the only place for an emergency department is at North Adams Regional Hospital," he said. "That is the only way any of the other services can come back."

Later on, Fadel added that there are a lot of unanswered questions right now regarding the transfer of ownership of the hospital that should become clear during the bankruptcy proceedings.

"But we still need to push for the restoration of full services at NARH," he said. "We need to get the emergency department open with some services, with the long-term goal opening the full hospital."

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright noted that in his discussions with executives at Berkshire Health Systems, he was told that the bond holders want Berkshire Medical Center to lease the entire four-story hospital facility just to use the emergency department space on the ground floor. BHS officials balked at such a deal, possible causing a further delay in re-establishing an emergency care center in North County.

"I am extremely displeased with the [bankruptcy trustee]," he said. "That sort of negotiating tactic is inappropriate when the health and welfare of a community is at risk. That is unacceptable to me at any level. The health of our community has more weight than the interests of the bond holders."

John Meaney, general manager of the North Adams Ambulance Service, told the gathering that turnaround time for an ambulance to travel to BMC and return to service is averaging about two hours, long enough to require the leasing of another ambulance.

Since the hospital closed, he said, 75 patients have been brought to BMC, and two were transported to Southern Vermont Medical Center.

Another interesting statistic Meaney offered was that four walk-in patients turned up at the ambulance service offices off River Street looking for a hospital.

"One young man came in, blood pressure through the roof and feeling dizzy. He drove to the [North Adams] hospital and it was closed. He couldn't make it to BMC, so he came to us," Meaney said.

He was transported to BMC.

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