NORTH ADAMS -- Berkshire Medical Center will open a Satellite Emergency Facility at noon Monday in the former North Adams Regional Hospital.
Nearly two months after NARH closed its doors, BMC has received the necessary approvals to provide comprehensive emergency services to the entire North Berkshire community. The facility will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, hospital officials said in a prepared statement.
"The BMC SEF in North Adams will be capable of handling any emergency situation," said Dr. Ronald Hayden, chairman of Emergency Medicine at BMC and medical director of the BMC Emergency Department. "It is a full service facility for both critical and non-critical emergency care, and it will be staffed by many of the same physicians and nurses who had previously served Northern Berkshire patients in the NARH Emergency Department."
The facility is licensed through BMC and the BMC Emergency Department by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. It will provide emergency diagnostic services, including CT scanning, X-ray and laboratory testing. Patients, whether transported by ambulance or going to the facility on their own, will be treated on site.
Severely injured or ill patients will be stabilized and transferred to the most appropriate hospital for further care.
"Berkshire Health Systems is committed to meeting the health care needs of Northern Berkshire residents and visitors, and local access to around-the-clock emergency care is a critical community need," said David Phelps, president and CEO of BHS. "The development and opening of a Satellite Emergency Facility is a complex process, and thanks to the hard work of the staff from many areas of BMC and through the dedication exhibited by our local, state and federal officials, the licensure process was expedited on both the state and federal levels. I thank our elected representatives at the Statehouse and in Congress for their concentrated effort on behalf of BMC and the people of Northern Berkshire."
Access to the former hospital has been approved through U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Springfield, where Northern Berkshire Healthcare, parent of NARH, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.
BMC has reached an agreement to purchase the entire NARH facility and its assets for $4 million. Under that agreement, pending approval in bankruptcy court, BMC could gain possession of the entire facility by July -- if no other bidders come forward with higher bids. BMC has not said what other services it might provide in the North Adams location.
If another company purchases the former hospital, BMC still would have the right to remain in the facility for another year.
BMC and the local emergency response providers have established a comprehensive, coordinated EMS response system to ensure rapid response and coverage for any emergent situation in Northern Berkshire.
Northern Berkshire residents should call 9-1-1 if they know someone who has a medical emergency, such as being unconscious, gasping for air or not breathing, experiencing an allergic reaction, having chest pain or stroke symptoms, having uncontrollable bleeding, or any other symptom that requires immediate medical attention.
John Meaney, general manager of North Adams Ambulance, said the return of emergency services to Northern Berkshire would not only bring needed urgent health care back to the region, but will also be a relief for the local ambulance services both financially and logistically.
"I think it's the critical piece we've been waiting for," he said. "People will breathe easier knowing that we have a place to go nearby for emergency treatment. And it will be easier on us. Although we'll still have to go to BMC more often, out turnaround times will go way down."
The additional drive time has required higher costs in both maintenance and overtime for ambulance services in North Adams, Williamstown and Adams.
"This will enhance our ability to do our jobs well," Meaney said.
Union officials applauded the news, and said they look forward to more services developing at the former NARH facility. "We are thankful to see this important step being taken," said David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association. "It is important to the community. However, the community will not have its health care needs fully met until there is restoration of a full service hospital for northern Berkshire County."
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he is looking forward to the study of health care needs in the region.
"As leaders we'll have to see what comes out of this study," he said. "We need to sort out our needs versus our wants. Then, with BMC as a partner, we'll be able to build other services there. But the last thing we need is to be doing this again in five years."