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Worker Assistance Center Opens To Help Former NBH Employees

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Jim Levulis
/
WAMC

Massachusetts has opened a center in North Adams dedicated to helping the hundreds of people who lost their jobs when North Adams Regional Hospital and its affiliates closed in March.While most of the focus over the past six months has been on restoring healthcare services in the region, when Northern Berkshire Healthcare filed for bankruptcy in April, 530 people lost their jobs. One of them was Diane Pylko. She worked as a unit secretary for 24 years at the hospital.

“It’s like I had to relearn everything,” Pylko said. “Back 24 years ago, you wrote out paper applications and you gave them to employers. Now all of a sudden I’ve got to do everything on the internet. I’ve got to do it on the computer. So now where do you go if you don’t have a computer? This resource is going to wonderful for many people here.”

Pylko is one of the 150 former NBH workers who have been hired by Berkshire Health Systems, parent company of Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield. But with the struggles of people trying to re-enter the workforce after years of working for NBH in mind, the state has opened a worker assistance center on the first floor of North Adams City Hall. Rachel Kaprielian is the state’s Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development.

“So we’re trying to ascertain what skill sets people have, how they can reapply those same skill sets or expand those skill sets which we can do right here in our career center,” Kaprielian said.

The center will be open for at least a year using a $143,000 emergency state grant. The money will support one full-time and one part-time employment specialist and fund retraining programs for up to 52 former NBH employees. Kaprielian says the state will look at keeping the center opened beyond next year and plans to hold more employment fairs, since many of those looking for jobs have skill sets based in healthcare services.

“We will have people still be in a similar field, but what are the burgeoning fields?” Kaprielian said. “But, What are the fields that are growing and what is the skill set that it would take to put someone in that field.”

Cindy Bird also worked as a unit secretary for NBH.

“I actually looked in my folder at home and my resume was from 1988 when I graduated from BCC [Berkshire Community College] and my next job was at the hospital,” said Bird.

While Bird is still looking for a job, she starts at Berkshire Community College next week. She plans to transfer to Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in hopes of becoming a teacher.

“When the hospital closed one of the fleeting moments for me was ‘Oh, my god I can go back to school now. Now would be the time to do it,’” Bird said. “So I try to look at that as an opportunity. One door closes, another one opens. We’ll see.”

Meanwhile, people in northern Berkshire County are awaiting the results of a report from consultants Stroudwater Associates, which could determine what future healthcare services in the region look like. Berkshire Medical Center has been operating an emergency facility at the North Adams hospital since May and expects to finalize a deal to purchase the entire site in the coming weeks. Unsure if a full-service hospital will be restored, Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz says the report is a few weeks from being released.

“Well, Berkshire Health Systems owns the assets at North Adams so I think they are clearly going to be a part of whatever the future of health services here in North Adams looks like,” Polanowicz said. “It’s one of the reasons why they committed to buy the resource out of bankruptcy and why they’ve hired a number of the staff already. So they will be a clear part of the success of what happens here in North Adams.”

BHS has said it plans to use the report in determining the future use of the North Adams site. Area residents handed Polanowicz a letter urging him to make the report publically available before any decisions are made.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate 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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