NORTH ADAMS -- U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said Friday that an effort to designate North Adams Regional Hospital as a "critical care access" facility -- allowing higher federal reimbursement of patient Medicaid and Medicare costs -- will require a joint effort by state and federal officials.

At a community forum Friday night, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said he had received a commitment to reimburse the additional Medicaid at the state level from Executive Office of Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz.

Neal, in an interview with The Eagle on Friday, said he would support federal legislation to label NARH as a critical care hospital. Neal expects the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to roll out a proposal within the coming weeks, he said.

"Once we get a suggestion ... I'm happy to take up that charge," Neal said.

A critical care hospital must, under the law, be more than 25 miles away from the nearest ER. A proposal to include NARH in the program would seek an exception to that rule.

According to Downing, a previous effort to acquire the designation for the hospital failed because federal lawmakers wouldn't make that exemption.

Medicaid is funded federally, but distributed by states, Neal said, meaning the efforts must be coordinated at both levels.


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"All support at both the state and federal level is welcome at this critical hour," said Jeff Hall, a spokesman for the 1199 Service Employees International Union.

In a financial crisis, Northern Berkshire Healthcare closed the 129-year-old hospital Friday, leaving hundreds without jobs and North County without an emergency department.

Efforts are underway to re-open the emergency services department through Berkshire Medical Center.