NORTH ADAMS -- People in need of emergency medical care are once again receiving treatment in Northern Berkshire.
At noon Monday, Berkshire Medical Center opened its Satellite Emergency Facility in the former North Adams Regional Hospital -- seven weeks after the hospital closed its doors.
There was no ribbon-cutting or opening ceremony; BMC officials decided it should be a "soft opening," BMC spokesman Mike Leary said.
Leary said that when the emergency room opened at noon, there was a "steady but not heavy" stream of patients. By 4 p.m., he added, 19 patients had walked in seeking treatment.
About 50 former employees and union members gathered in the hospital parking lot Monday to "applaud" the opening, according to officials with the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
"We're very happy for the community -- now we have an emergency room again," said Linda Freeney, a NARH nurse for 40 years. "We feel real positive about it. This is a good thing."
While workers from Callahan Sign covered the remaining signage showing the old NARH logo, a police officer stood guard to keep the press and union members from impeding traffic heading to the emergency center.
"This is good news, to put it mildly," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield. "For too long, a part of my constituency, a region of our state, has been without critical medical services."
Downing expressed gratitude to officials at BMC and others around the region who "reached out to be a part of the short-term solution and who keep pushing for a long-term solution."
Downing said a medical services study being conducted on behalf of the state by Stroudwater Associates will "give us a clear path forward -- it will be the clearest outline of what the community needs and how to provide that in a changing environment."
North Adams Regional Hospital closed on March 28 with three days' notice, leaving 530 workers jobless and Northern Berkshire without local emergency care.
Northern Berkshire Healthcare, the parent company of NARH, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy shortly thereafter. As part of the process, BMC offered to pay $4 million for the hospital facilities. A 45-day period is required before finalizing the sale of the property to allow other interested parties to make an offer.
As part of the purchase agreement, BMC is permitted to operated the emergency center without paying rent for a one-year period, even if BMC is outbid on the building.
So far, 147 workers are employed by BMC at the family medical practice on Route 2, VNA/Hospice, and the emergency center, Leary said.
An urgent care center that opened a couple of weeks ago at MCLA to handle some of the pressing medical needs in the area closed at 4 p.m. Monday.
John Meaney, general manager of North Adams Ambulance, said between March 28 and Monday, his crews transported 339 patients to BMC and 43 to Southern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.
He said patients transported to the new BMC satellite emergency center in North Adams will be stabilized and either released or, if they need to be admitted, would be transferred to BMC for further treatment. Patients needing more specialized care would be transferred to a higher level hospital.
Meaney stopped by the emergency room when it reopened Monday, and by the time he left, "they already had quite a few people in there."
There was one doctor and one physician's assistant on duty, along with some nurses and support staff, he said.
He said it was a little like a reunion.
"I saw a lot of familiar folks," Meaney said. "And it was nice to see some smiling faces. The last time we were there, on March 28, nobody was smiling."