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Uncertainty Remains Six Months After NARH Closure

Lucas Willard

It’s been just over six months since North Adams Regional Hospital closed, leaving the area without emergency care and putting more than 500 people out of work.North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says when the hospital closed March 28th, it was a punch in the community’s gut.

“The wind totally knocked out of the sails of the residents here with respect to healthcare and the emergent care that we need,” Alcombright said. “It was a very sad time, a lot of depression, angst and worry. I think now, quite honestly, there’s a whole another level of people seemed to be more relaxed around the idea that we have what we have, which is pretty significant considering the time that’s elapsed.”

After giving notice Tuesday afternoon, the hospital closed on a Friday. Citing worsening finances following a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011, parent company Northern Berkshire Healthcare filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy days later, laying off 530 full- and part-time workers. A court order kept the emergency room open with the aid of Berkshire Health Systems.With BHS’s help, nearby Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts opened its campus health center to the public for non-emergent care on April 30th and on May 19th Berkshire Health Systems opened a satellite emergency facility at the North Adams hospital. Al Bashevkin is the executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

“We’ve lost a community leader and that was Northern Berkshire Healthcare and North Adams Regional Hospital,” Bashevkin said. “We’re in the process of just trying to put the pieces together to find that healthcare system that does really work for Berkshire County.”

In September,BHS purchased the former NARH campus and has since restored outpatient services, announced $6 million in investments, and hired 214 former NBH employees. The state opened a worker assistance center in North Adams City Hall in August to help those who lost their jobs with NBH. Again, Bashevkin.

“I feel for the people that have lost their jobs,” Bashevkin said. “That’s pretty finite. The unemployment benefits have run out for the people that have lost their jobs and I’m sure for them this is not easy.”

Alcombright says there is still angst about losing the city’s largest employer. The mayor says it will be a couple years before the region is able to measure the economic impact. Williams College economist Stephen Sheppard did a quick analysis when the hospital closed. He found the region will see a yearly reduction of nearly $100 million in economic output and lose some 230 jobs on top of the NBH workers.

Alcombright says the community response, which included hundreds attending weekly meetings at the North Adams American Legion, drove him and other elected officials to find solutions.

“The pressure of the community was really something to have witnessed, something to have lived through and quite honestly it’s what kept people like me, Ben Downing and Gail Cariddi – it kept of focused and kept us moving,” said Alcombright.

A state-commissioned report found that inpatient services should only be provided at the North Adams facility if BHS attains federal critical access status. BHS received that designation for Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, but NARH’s  2011 application failed. BHS is still deciding whether to apply. Bashevkin says a division remains between those who believe the only solution is the return of a full-service hospital and others who see that as unrealistic.

“I think we have to take step back and take a look at a regional perspective on how health is delivered in the county and trust it to people that are making the decisions that are trained at making those decisions are making the right decisions here for North County,” said Bashevkin.

Alcombright says it would be wonderful to have a full hospital up and running again, but adds that no one wants to be in the same situation 20 years from now.

“I’ve said this right from the beginning, it’s wants versus needs,” Alcombright said. “Wants versus needs can typically turn into what’s sustainable vis-a-vis what’s unsustainable.”

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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