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Four Years Since Hospital Closure, North Adams Wounds Remain

Lucas Willard
The former North Adams Regional Hospital is now the North Adams Campus of Berkshire Medical Center.

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the sudden closure of North Adams Regional Hospital.

March 28th, 2014. With just three days notice, Northern Berkshire Healthcare shuttered North Adams Regional Hospital, the sole provider of emergency services in the northern part of the county. Around 530 employees of the hospital were suddenly without work.

What followed was a whirlwind of protests, investigations, and unanswered questions. Days after the closure, Congressman Richard Neal was calling for action.

“We’ve been very aggressive in trying to get that emergency room situation cleared up with the waiver that is necessary. I’ve talked to [Massachusetts] Attorney General Martha Coakley about it as well,” said Neal.

Coakley echoed his call.

“I will say to you today our office is going to work with the board [of Northern Berkshire Healthcare] and make sure that we determine what did happen, particularly because we need to know and we want to know that because there are other community hospitals around the state and we want to make sure we avoid this for other communities,” said Coakley.

Shortly after NARH closed, Berkshire Health Systems reopened the North Adams emergency room via court order. Making the only bid, the Pittsfield-based company bought the campus in September 2014 for $4 million. Since then BHS has invested millions of dollars to expand beyond emergency care at the North Adams facility. But in August 2017, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office announced that the bankrupt Northern Berkshire Healthcare would face no penalties for the abrupt closure. Then-Mayor Richard Alcombright responded.

“I am not surprised. I am actually delighted by the vast majority of what I read in the letter. I think it brings, again, just another level of closure to what happened in our community several years ago. The board and the management at that time was doing everything they possibly could to find another hospital, someone else to collaborate with and work this out through, and that they had for quite a while,” Alcombright said.

Not everyone agreed. The North County Cares Coalition, a citizen group formed immediately after the 2014 closure, was then co-chaired by Dick Dassatti.

“The sudden illegal closure of North Adams Regional Hospital, followed by a lack of accountability, shows the public needs stronger protection to ensure we don’t lose access to essential health care services. Massachusetts needs a law that truly safeguards residents from the kind of mismanagement that caused the hospital to close,” said Dassatti.

Four years later, new North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard sympathizes with those still fuming from the closure, but draws attention to the Berkshire Medical Center facility on the site of the former hospital. It offers health services, but is not a full-service hospital. Bernard spoke with WAMC News Wednesday.

“I completely understand the sense of loss, I appreciate their advocacy, but also we need to recognize that as people work to make the case, we do have a facility in the community, and that one of the ways that gets stronger is the more people who use it. So, we have a facility available, and if that becomes people’s first venue when they have a medical need, that will strengthen the operation going forward," said Bernard.

Mayor Bernard estimates that the BMC facility has made up for 80 percent of the employment the hospital once provided in North Adams.

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