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Williams College Deal With Ambulance Service Latest Regional Move Following NARH Closure

Lucas Willard

An agreement between Williams College and a local ambulance service announced Tuesday is the latest in a changing regional healthcare landscape marked by the sudden closure of North Adams Regional Hospital in March.Building upon an existing agreement for emergency situations, Williams College has reached a deal with Village Ambulance Service to provide students with non-emergent transportation to and from medical appointments. Steve Klass is the college’s vice president for campus life. He says the school recognized more students were relying upon campus resources for rides, about 1,000 trips per academic year among a student body of roughly 2,100.

“We were providing them [the rides] in a very ad hoc way mostly through our campus safety folks and it was becoming a strain to have our officers off campus even though some of these places were a pretty short distance away,” Klass said. “So we were in the process of analyzing the growing volumes and the places they were going and within a few weeks of our beginning those conversations we got the news that North Adams Regional Hospital was going to be closing.”

Klass says the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, just five miles from the college, put the need for a solution into overdrive. The closest full-service hospitals are Southwestern Vermont Medical Center 13 miles away and Berkshire Medical Center 20 miles south in Pittsfield. About four campus safety officers plus dispatchers are on duty at any one time, with about five vans at their disposal, according to Klass.

“It’s one thing when it’s five or 10 minutes and it’s another thing when it’s an hour to an hour and a half roundtrip,” said Klass.

Williams will buy two new wheel-chair accessible vans and pay for insurance, expenses and the hiring of drivers. Hoping to be up and running by August 18, Village’s board president Dr. Win Stuebner says he thinks the outfitted vans currently in Ohio can be bought for about $70,000. He adds the May opening of a BMC satellite emergency facility at the former NARH campus has brought some relief to the non-profit’s pocketbook, ambulances and workers.

“But we’re still taking quite a number of patients up to Southwestern Vermont [Medical Center] and then down to Berkshire Medical Center,” Stuebner explained. “Our EMTs and paramedics are very well trained to know who should go directly there rather than go to a weigh station in North Adams.”

The college will coordinate rides through its health center during the day and via campus safety at night. The closing of NARH came during Williams’ spring break followed by an admitted students’ day in April where families and high school seniors have a chance to speak with college leaders. Klass says Williams was proactive in explaining to the standing room only crowd about existing medical protocols via its health center, Village Ambulance and the area’s other healthcare providers.

“We had a great set of conversations and we were able to provide this same proactive reassurance that we were aware of everything, that we had responded quickly and that we were going to continue to look at these kinds of creative solutions over time,” said Klass.

Under the guidance of BMC, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts opened its health center to the public for adults in need of non-emergent care in April. The BMC satellite facility at the former NARH campus has since taken its place. College president Mary Grant says quick community action assured current and prospective students and parents that those on campus would be safe following the closing of the North Adams hospital. 

“Did not affect our enrollment whatsoever,” Grant said. “What we did was every step of the way we communicated with families.”

Working with the state and local stakeholders, consultant Stroudwater Associates is determining the region’s healthcare needs and how best to meet them. Grant says this is also an opportunity for MCLA to review how care is provided on its own campus. BMC expects to finalize a $4 million purchase of the former NARH campus this month.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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