Patrick sees “moving parts” in effort to revive North Adams hospital

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 31, 2014…. The future of North Adams Regional Hospital remained fluid on Monday as public health officials and Berkshire Medical Center continued discussions about a possible license transfer to reopen emergency medical services at the facility as soon as possible.

“We’re working on it. We’ve been working on it for a week. We thought we had a deal last week, as I think you know, and we were as jarred by the board’s decision to close on Friday I think as anybody else,” Patrick told reporters in Boston after attending an event at the Harvard Club with Jewish leaders and visiting members of the Israeli parliament.

After disclosing their plans last Tuesday, North Adams Hospital closed its doors on Friday due to increasing financial pressures on the facility as talks with state officials to avoid a full closure and keep the emergency room open through the weekend broke down. The closure left residents of northern Berkshire County without a proximate health care facility for emergency or inpatient medical care, requiring travel to either Vermont or Pittsfield for medical attention, a situation that observers have described as a regional health crisis.

Patrick said he had been in touch with the North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, the Department of Public Health and nurses, and was hopeful that a short-term solution would be reached by the end of the day.

“I think there is a path forward…,” Patrick said. “I don’t exactly know what the components of that solution will be just yet because there’s still a number of moving parts but I hope we have a way forward by the end of today.”

David Schildmeier, director of communications for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said Berkshire Medical Center and the DPH were working Monday to resolve the details of transferring a license to BMC to reopen the emergency room and allow 90 days to figure out a plan for a full-service hospital in North Adams.

“It should have never closed,” Schildmeier said. “Steps should have been taken all of last week to keep it open. That being said, every minute we wait for that emergency room to open that community is in jeopardy.”
Over 500 employees, including 100 nurses, were laid off when the hospital shut its doors on Friday. The nurses association has provided a list of names to Berkshire Medical Center of nurses ready to return to work if a solution can be reached to reopen the emergency department.

The Department of Public Health did not respond to queries about the subject or status of negotiations with Berkshire Medical Center.

Treasurer Steve Grossman, who attended an interfaith prayer service in North Adams meant to unite the community on Sunday, said he would support a short-term financial rescue package from the state to reopen emergency medical services if necessary.

“My job is to pay the bills so once I’m told, I’ll get a check hand-delivered or wired to them in 15 minutes if I have to. I think it would be entirely appropriate,” Grossman told the News Service Monday. “I think we have to invest some taxpayer dollars appropriately. As a fiduciary I say that because we cannot deny these men and women and these families the quality health care they deserve, they need, they must have.”

Asked about a bailout for the hospital, Patrick said he didn’t the think the state could shoulder the financial burden of keeping the hospital open.

“There needs to be a long-term fix and if the question is, ‘Is the state going to be the source of that financial fix?’ no I don’t think we’re in a position to do that or to do enough of it,” Patrick said. “But we’re going to do what we can. We recognize and I recognize how important that resource is to the people of northwestern Massachusetts.”

Grossman said U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, a Springfield Democrat who represents much of western Massachusetts, was working to possibly secure a federal exemption to declare North Adams Regional Hospital a “critical access” facility, which would qualify the hospital for enhanced Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements. The exemption is necessary because the hospital is fewer than 35 miles from the nearest emergency hospital.

A spokesman for Neal’s office could not be reached for comment, but the Congressman told the Berkshire Eagle on Friday that any effort to designate North Adams hospital as a critical access facility would require state cooperation because state health officials disseminate Medicaid and Medicare funds.

A spokesman for Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowitz would not confirm that Massachusetts was eyeing the designation as a potential remedy to provide long-term financial stability for an emergency care facility in North Adams.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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