The closure of North Adams Regional Hospital three years ago this week is still being felt in northern Berkshire County: Should the now urgent care center reopen as a full-service inpatient hospital?
When North Adams Regional Hospital closed on March 28, 2014, 500 people were out of work. It had served 37,000 North County residents.
That night an ad hoc group of concerned residents got together — and the group has met nearly every week since, to try to get the hospital to reopen as a full-service, inpatient hospital.
“The need is there. With health care under attack nationwide, we want to advocate for the needs of the people North County,” Dick Dassatti says.
Dick Dassatti is the co-chair of that group, the North County Cares Coalition. He says the region is being forgotten when it comes to healthcare.
“We also want to advocate for all Americans that healthcare is a basic human right,” he says.
In 2015, Berkshire Health Systems reopened the North Adams emergency room via court order.
Over the past two years, the hospital system has invested millions of dollars to add outpatient care in radiology, orthopedics and obstetrics programs. It has also focused on special programs geared toward the region’s battle against tobacco, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
But three years later, the 32 inpatient beds it had before are still missing. Dassatti says a full-service hospital is what will give residents and their families peace of mind with a bed to stay in if necessary.
“It should not be a for-profit industry. It should be an industry where we take care of the needs of the people,” he says.
But not everybody agrees.
“The North Berkshire Region and certainly the City of North Adams… I could not be any happier at this point in time,” North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says. “When I look back three years later, three years ago where we were it was just a devastating time for this community and those who work there and for folks in general.”
Alcombright says the hospital that closed was financially unsustainable, and that’s why it went bankrupt.
“A vast majority of inpatient stuff, for inpatient beds were utilized for basically for observation beds. It’s not like we were holding people from heart surgery or brain surgery or for multiple broken bones,” Alcombright says. “Most of this stuff was someone who didn’t come out of anesthesia well on a day procedure or whatever. The vast majority who coming into North Adams Regional Hospital in 3, 4, 5 years ago were folks who were triaged out to Berkshire Medical Center or Bay State or Albany depending what was going on with them. And it was not sustainable. It wasn’t a healthy environment financially for North Adams Regional Hospital and that’s why they closed.”
Alcombright says the center that Berkshire Health Systems has overseen in his city is simply better than the hospital that was there before.
“And I look at what we have today which is a highly sustainable system put in place by our good friends at Berkshire Health Systems and Berkshire Health Center that has brought back significant employment,” Alcombright says. “But mostly at this point in time more services than when the hospital closed.”
There will be a candlelight vigil Tuesday night to commemorate the third anniversary of the North Adams Regional Hospital’s closure led by the North County Care Coalition outside city hall.
Alcombright says he supports their right to gather, but he doesn’t agree with their position.
“You know, I think it’s just an angst that it is not what we had. And I don’t want to say, I kind of stop short of this thing about we deserve or we have the right or whatever,” Alcombright says. “What we have is what we deserve certainly the ability to have good and expedient medical services here in the City of North Adams in Northern Berkshire. The bottom line is I think we do.”
Dassatti, from the coalition, says North Berkshire is the largest geographic region in Massachusetts without a full-service hospital.
For more of WAMC’s coverage of the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital and its aftermath, click here.