Update: 75 former NARH employees hired by BMC

Editor's note: This story was modified on April 2, 2014 to reflect that the 75 NARH employees hired by Berkshire Medical Center were mainly for doctors' practices, not for an emergency medical center.

NORTH ADAMS -- Officials working to revive medical services at the former North Adams Regional Hospital announced Tuesday that 75 former employees have been hired by Berkshire Medical Center..

The announcement followed a day of meetings involving state and local officials and a Berkshire Medical Center leadership team.

Gov. Deval Patrick spoke with the media Tuesday morning outside the president's house on the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts campus, after meeting with state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright and representatives of BMC.

Attorney General Martha Coakley spoke a press conference at about 4 p.m. at City Hall with the mayor, Downing and Cariddi.

According to Patrick, it was unclear exactly which services would be restored, but he said state and local officials are working with Berkshire Medical Center representatives to reopen the emergency room, the Visiting Nurses Association program and hospice services --- with the possible addition of an OB/GYN office as well.

Both Patrick and Coakley stressed that reopening the emergency room quickly is the priority.

But there could be an obstacle looming on the horizon: The Eagle has learned that Northern Berkshire Healthcare, the parent company of the North Adams Regional Hospital, will be filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Monday.

Under the Chapter 7 process, ownership of the company's assets is transferred to bankruptcy trustees, whose mission it is to liquidate those assets to provide revenue to the company's creditors.

When that was brought to Coakley's attention Tuesday afternoon, she said she has been made aware of the possibility and her staff is checking into it.

"We have heard that, but we don't know that," she said. "We are looking into it."

At a later meeting with former employees at the American Legion building in North Adams, Downing said if Chapter 7 bankruptcy is filed, "that could impact access to the physical [campus]. Coakley's staff is working on a way to preserve access throughout the bankruptcy process."

Earlier in the day, Patrick said license applications for both state and federal approvals that would allow BMC to open a satellite emergency room operation in the NARH facility would be signed and sent today.

The state-level application will be given priority processing, he said, and his office will urge expediency in processing the application at the federal level.

He said that no specific date has been set for reopening emergency services at NARH, which closed on Friday.

"I hope it's days, but I don't control the approval process," he said. "I'll be trying to move it along on the state and federal level.

At the American Legion building, Downing said, "they have hired 75 staff, mostly doctors and the staff at doctors' practices, including family practice, OB/GYN, GI and three blood draws in Williamstown, North Adams and Adams; some IT positions, and two nurses who were employed at NBH and are now employed at BMC."

Coakley said it is hard to speculate how long it would take to open an emergency treatment center at the NARH facility, but that at the earliest, it would be seven to 10 days.

Otherwise, she said she didn't have specific information, other than to say that the meetings Tuesday were productive, and that they have started to define the path they need to take to get medical services restored to the North County region.

In her opening comments, Coakley indicated Mayor Alcombright and Rep. Cariddi, noting that the three of them had been school mates as youngsters in North Adams, as she was raised here.

"So I know exactly how important this hospital has been, is and will be in this community," she said.

During her meeting Tuesday afternoon, she said, "We have made some progress. We are all committed to restoring emergency services so crucial to this area."

Coakley said all the players in the effort are cognizant that the longer North County goes without emergency services, the more chance the increased travel time could contribute to the loss of a patient.

"We intend to work every day on this until we get emergency services back up and running. It's not about if we will get this done, it's about how we're going to get this done."

The governor said he was frustrated that the NBH trustees announced the closing so abruptly last week, with a three-day notice. He said state officials had been working for the previous two weeks with the hospital to achieve a reduction in services and a transition to a more sustainable model.

"We had a deal," he said.

Coakley said her office will be working with the trustees to determine exactly how they came to the point they had to close the facility with short notice.

"Our office is very interested in how this happened," Coakley said. "There are regulations that require 90 days' notice. We want to be sure we can avoid this happening again at other facilities."

Any potential for legal consequences for anyone involved in closing the hospital would not be determined until after an investigation is completed, she added.

Reporter Adam Shanks contributed to this report.

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