Community members held a forum in North Adams, Massachusetts this morning to talk about the region’s changing healthcare climate following the March 28th closure of North Adams Regional Hospital.
About 75 people packed into a small room at First Baptist Church in North Adams for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition monthly forum. The coalition’s Al Bashevkin says the city is going through a transition that is not new to the community.
“And we’re back, not in the same place, but in a similar place that we were 30 years ago when this coalition formed,” Bashevkin said. “Thirty years ago Sprague Electric left the city and we were struggling to figure out what was going to happen with the jobs that were lost.”
Northern Berkshire Healthcare was the city’s largest employer with about 530 employees. The parent company of NARH filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy April 3. North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says the hospital closure was a punch in the gut, but the community response and support provides optimism for reestablishment of medical services.
“When manufacturing left here, it left,” Alcombright said. “It left. With health care leaving here, we are going to rebuild this. It will come back. It may not look like what it did, but it will come back unlike the manufacturing that left and drained our economy. We will see much of this return. We are very hopeful about this.”
Berkshire Medical Center is taking steps to open a satellite emergency facility in the Northern Berkshires. The company has hired 143 former NBH employees in temporary and permanent positions and sustained some of the medical practices. Before a satellite facility can be opened, licensing is required. Democratic State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield says the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has granted its license, while the area’s federal delegation works to expedite additional licensing through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Downing says he hopes the continued push for emergency services can create cooperation between the court-appointed bankruptcy trustee overseeing NBH’s assets, which includes the NARH campus.
“Until the bankruptcy issues are resolved, we can’t begin to move forward as a community. My hope is that’s addressed by the trustee and the bond holders expeditiously. I think you have local partners here that are willing to make something work, but just how we do that is incredibly if they continue to hold some of the positions they do now.”
BMC has said it would take seven to 10 days to open the facility once granted all the licenses. A court hearing continues Tuesday regarding the temporary restraining order granting BMC authority to open the facility by request of the state attorney general’s office. Dr. Alex Sabo specializes in behavioral health at BMC. He says economic hardship can transition into emotional depression, creating a need to support those affected by the hospital closure.
“We’ve got to try to protect the well-being and the mental health,” Sabo said. “Here’s 530 people who take care of those 40,000 people. They each have their own families. This is an extraordinary trauma. It’s going to raise all kinds of worries, fears, anger, sadness and anxiety. It’s going to be emotional traumatic.”
Job and resource fairs have been held throughout Berkshire County, attracting many affected by the closing. MountainOne Financial has donated $25,000 to set up a scholarship fund at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for as many as 10 students whose families have been financially impacted. Other area organizations like Soldier On and Berkshire Community Action Council have taken steps to provide non-emergency transportation to BMC. Corinne Case did contract work for NBH for seven years. She believes the closure provides an opportunity to open a practice addressing the growing opioid addiction.
“My dream is that we will have a stellar treatment center along with our emergency room and other medical services at that campus,” said Case.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents about 100 former NBH employees, is gathering signatures for a petition requesting a full-service hospital in the Northern Berkshires. The union plans to take two buses to Boston Tuesday to hand deliver the petition to Governor Deval Patrick.