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Sue Bush
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Berkshire Profile: North Adams Regional Hospital

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, April 30, 2006

North Adams Regional Hospital 2006
Welcome to Berkshire Profile, an iberkshires weekly feature appearing on Sunday. Each week, iberkshires will highlight a Berkshires resident or entity making a contribution to the Berkshires way of life.

North Adams - Births, deaths, smiles and tears, hope and healing; since 1885, the stuff of community has passed through the generations at the North Adams Regional Hospital.

Memories and anecdotes from the NARH past shared center stage with its' future during an April 29 public open house that spotlighted a new lobby, gift shop, meditation room and short stay surgical unit.

Family Ties

Retired teacher Angela Crowley was born at the hospital in 1920. That year, the first-ever NARH fundraising initiative generated $16,566.34.

Retired teacher Angela Crowley was born at NARH in 1920; her aunt trained as a nurse at the hospital.
Crowley remained in the city and became a teacher at the former Mark Hopkins school. She retired in 1958, and during the time between Crowley's birth and her retirement, the hospital dedicated the H.W. Clark Family Memorial Nurses Home [1928], dedicated a new maternity building [1929], introduced a cutting-edge, 18-month private duty nursing education program [1938], and from 1954 to 1955, erected a new hospital building.

Crowley was a patient at the "hospital on the hill" as a child and spent time as a patient there during 2005.

"I had excellent care," she said of her post-surgery [joint replacement] stay. "I couldn't have asked for better care, and that was when all the construction was going on and the hospital was in a state of flux."

Crowley's mother also received care at the hospital, and her aunt Agnes Crowley received her registered nurse education at the former NARH nurses' school.

"My association with the hospital goes back quite a while," she said with a smile.

Making Breakfast And Cleaning Rooms...As An RN

Retired registered nurses Millie Smith, 89, and Mary Lofflen, 91, attended the open house and shared memories of their hospital tenure.

Lofflen earned her nursing degree at the NARH teaching site in 1935; Smith was trained at the former St. Luke's Hospital in Pittsfield and received her nursing credentials during the mid-1930s, she said.

Both worked at NARH for about three decades before retirement.

"When I was here, the nurses made the breakfasts for the patients," Lofflen said. "Nurses cleaned the rooms, too. I worked all over the hospital and finally I landed in the ER [emergency room]."

At first, she wasn't certain that she could handle the rapid pace of the emergency department, Lofflen said.

Generations of nursing care: retired NARH RN Mary Lofflen and Vice-president of Patient Care Services Billie Allard

"I told them I didn't know anything about ER nursing and they said 'you'll learn.' And I did, fast."

Smith was a floor supervisor and her charges included yearly groups of licensed practical nursing students enrolled at a Charles H. McCann Technical School nurse education program.

"I got a lot of the students, which worked out well for me because when I've been here as a patient, they remember me and take good care of me," Smith said.

"The Nurses Are So Friendly"

Clarksburg residents Philip and Agnes Fosser attended the Saturday afternoon event and were both pleased with the work and the results.

Philip Fosser said he is scheduled to undergo surgery in the near future and he will likely have first-hand experience with the short stay space.

"The rooms are nice and private, and it's bright and uplifting," he said. "The nurses are so friendly. I'm so happy about that; that the nurses seem so excited and enthusiastic about all the new space."

"Everything is so nice and bright and clean," said Agnes Fosser. "It's very well designed and has lost that institutional sense. It seems homey."

The modern space coupled with a positive nursing staff attitude has made Philip Fosser feel much more confident about his anticipated time at the hospital, he said.

Over A Century Ago...

Retired NARH RN Millie Smith met many students nurses during her tenure at the hospital.
The undeniable need for a city-based hospital was brought to the community forefront via tragedy in October 1882, when a horrific train collision left some men badly burned and killed several others.

A North Adams Transcript newspaper article dated Oct. 26, 1882 told the grim tale: "The most disastrous accident that ever happened in North Adams, and the town has seen many, occurred Saturday. At first it was thought that two or three were fatally injured, but as the hours go by and victim after victim is added to the list everyone is stricken with inexpressible horror at such a wholesale destruction of human life."

The accident happened when two trains collided during the early morning, while a dense fog greatly hindered visibility. Steam and scalding hot water burst into a caboose that was carrying a number of men headed for work destinations, and the resulting carnage was reportedly almost too brutal to comprehend.

The newspaper article reported about local generosity that is so often displayed to this day: "Messrs. W.L. Brown and W.S. Johnson with other philanthropic citizens drove to the homes of the sufferers and requested that no expense be spared to give the men both medical attendance and careful nurses. Until the doctors had visited all the sufferers, it was impossible to sat how many were fatally injured. Drs. Babbitt, Bushnell, Brown, Curran, Millard, Matte, Lawrence, Loignon, and Stafford worked on the injured men all day," the newspaper reported.

In the absence of a hospital, the injured and dying were cared for in vacant buildings or their homes and conditions were far from sterile.

By October 27, 1883, a cornerstone for a hospital building was in place and by March of 1885, the North Adams Regional Hospital was open to patient admissions. The first patient was admitted to the hospital on March 11, 1885, according to a hospital history timeline provided by NARH Director of Community Relations Paul Hopkins. The hospital initially held 12 beds and within the first eight months of operation, 34 patients were admitted.

The North Adams Hospital Training School For Nurses was established on Feb. 28, 1891, and in March 1901, nurses' living quarters were opened. Dedication of a surgical building and a John L. Barker Male Surgical Ward, a John L. Howes Corridor For Private Patients, and a maternity ward occurred in 1906. By 1920, an operating room and a medical laboratory had opened at the hospital.

Medical advances and development of new technologies blossomed from early 1900s to mid-century and just 70 years after the original hospital opened, a new building stood in its place. A NARH north wing was added onto the building in 1970.

In 1984, the Northern Berkshire Health Systems was founded and the organization became the parent company of the hospital and additional area health care providers. The corporate name has been changed to Northern Berkshire Healthcare. The NBH is the parent company of the NARH, the Visiting Nurse and Hospice Services of Northern Berkshire, the Sweet Brook Continuing Care Center and the Sweetwood senior living complex.

In 1998, a REACH Community Health Foundation was formed as a corporate subsidiary as a mechanism designed to provide sustainable resources for community health.

In 2003, a CARE Campaign was launched with a $12 million goal; the capital campaign hoped to raise $10 million for a planned $23 million NARH expansion/renovation project and $2 million for an endowment fund.

The campaign was successful, and coupled with $13 million in bonds, the NARH was able to construct a new critical care unit, "short stay" surgical unit, lobby and admissions area, and is in the midst of building a new Emergency Department and maternity unit.

"A Real Step Up"

Florida resident Henry Bounds was born at the hospital and the late 1940s birth of he and his twin brother made newspaper headlines.

Bounds attended the open house and talked about the new CCU.

"I've seen the new CCU and I'm very impressed with it," he said. "That was a real step up. It's something that was needed and will benefit this community for a long time."

City native Chuck Felix toured the site as well.

"I went through the short stay unit and it looks good in there," he said. "This renovation is good for the community. It's good for business; when people come to an area they want good education and good health care facilities."

Registered nurse education programs were discontinued at the campus decades ago, and the LPN program at the McCann school was halted during the 1980s. However, hospital officials have said that a licensed practical nursing education program may begin at the hospital during 2007. The program would be operated in conjunction with the McCann school.

The Good, The Bad, and The Future

The hospital is no stranger to significant challenge.

In December, NARH administrators reported an Fiscal Year 2005 loss of over $6 million. Previous fiscal year losses include a reported $1.7 million loss during Fiscal Year 2004, an $803,000 loss during Fiscal year 2003, a $1.2 million loss during FY 2002 and a $1.7 million reported loss during Fiscal Year 2001.

Top-level administrative resignations meant the 2005 departure of former NBH CEO John C.J. Cronin and former NARH President Dr. Bruce Nash. A team of medical facility consultants associated with the FTI Cambio Health Solutions firm arrived at the facility during summer 2005 to overhaul the hospitals's finances and operations.

A new CEO, Richard Palmisano II began work on April 10 and a search for a new Chief Financial Officer is underway.

As of earlier this month, hospital projections for an improving financial picture were holding course; in December, NBH Board of Trustees Chairman Stephen Crowe said that the hospital expected to report a $1.5 million loss during Fiscal Year 2006 and in April, Fitch Ratings reported that the hospital had reported a $1.1 million operating loss through the October start of Fiscal Year 2006 to the end of January.

According to information reported on a Business Wire web site, the $1.5 million budgeted as a FY 2006 loss is viewed by Fitch as "attainable, as the hospital typically experiences its largest operating loss during the first quarter of the fiscal year."
Crowe has also said that the hospital will return to financial solvency during Fiscal Year 2007.

The hospital has faced nurse lay-offs and sometimes less-than-amicable relationships between administrators and unionized staff over the past six years, and a reorganization of the hospital's Medical Imaging Department is currently underway.

Area media outlets have kept a close eye on the hospital and reported on almost every financial and operational aspect of the facility.

And while lost revenues, construction inconveniences and employee issues have inspired headlines, generated numerous newspaper editorials and invited public speculation on a regular and frequent basis, the business of the hospital, the births and the deaths, the tears and the smiles, continue.

A new generation draws first breath at the NARH

Over the years, both the hell and the high water have come to the doors of the NARH.

And so far, it's the hope and the healing that have prevailed.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.

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