BENNINGTON -- The Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has joined the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts provider network, which will allow many of those affected by the closure of the North Adams Regional Hospital to receive care there.

The contract has been in place for about a week, said Kevin Robinson, communications director at SVMC. "At the end of the day," he said, "[negotiations] went very smoothly. We have a very good working relationship with Blue Cross Blue Shield."

BCBSMA members can call 802-442-6361 to find a doctor or schedule an appointment. Members affected by the NARH closure are also encouraged to contact a dedicated customer service line, 1-888-404-9846, with any questions Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"Southwestern Vermont Medical Center is known for providing exceptional, affordable, safe quality care, and we are truly thrilled about this new partnership," said Steven J. Fox, BCBSMA vice president of network management and communications, "We appreciate their willingness to immediately support our members affected by the North Adams Regional Hospital closure to ensure that they have continued access to the quality healthcare they need."

BCBSMA has about 2.8 million customers in Massachusetts, and the organization estimates about 4,000 of those had personal care providers in the area serviced by NARH.

"The closure of North Adams Regional Hospital has left residents in the northern Berkshires with questions about where to go for care," said Thomas Dee, president and CEO of SVMC, "As the closest hospital to Williamstown and North Adams, being able to provide care for these communities is a priority, and we are pleased to be a network provider for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts."

SVMC recently put up a billboard on Route 2 in North Adams, Mass., advertising the hospital as "The closest hospital for the Northern Berkshires."

"It's in everybody's best interest for the people in Northern Berkshire County to receive service," said Robinson, "We wanted this, Blue Cross Blue Shield wanted this, and we were able come together and work out a contract."

According to BCBSMA Public Relations Specialist Kathleen Makela, it is uncommon for BCBSMA to network with hospitals outside the state. "The closure of North Adams Regional Hospital presented our organization with a unique situation," she said, "Most of our members have been able to seek high quality care at Berkshire Medical Center, Fairview Hospital, and Baystate Medical Center. However, we do have some members who live closer to Vermont, and as their insurer, we wanted those members to be able to seek care closer to their homes."

Robinson said that MassHealth members are also eligible to receive service at SVMC, as the hospital has had a contract with them since approximately 2002. Robinson also noted that northern Berkshire County residents in need of emergency care can still come to SVMC regardless of their health insurance.

Southwestern Vermont Health Care currently serves more than 55,000 people in towns and villages of Bennington County, Western Windham County, eastern Rensselaer County in New York, and Northern Berkshire County in Massachusetts.

Robinson said that he was not aware of any statistical models produced by the hospital to attempt to project the increase in customer traffic at the hospital as a result of this announcement.

Last week it was announced that the parent company of Berkshire Medical Center, in Pittsfield, Mass., had begun negotiations with the creditors of the former North Adams Regional Hospital to acquire the facility. Robinson said that SVMC had no plans currently in the works to help restore healthcare services to North Adams, as they are not licensed to operate in Massachusetts, and the costs associated with that licensing are not practical for SVMC to take on at this time.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB