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Mayor Richard Alcombright meets with 1199SEIU members in the hospital dining room.

North Adams Hospital Employees 'Occupy' Campus

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Protesters line Hospital Avenue outside the NARH campus on Thursday afternoon.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — As protesters gathered on Hospital Avenue on Thursday afternoon, their thoughts were with Beacon Hill.

About two dozen protesters gathered just off the grounds of North Adams Regional Hospital and provide a backdrop for live TV news reports by stations from Albany, N.Y., and Springfield.

Inside the building, union representatives helped union and non-union employees alike prepare for life after Friday's announced closure of the more than 125-year-old institution.

"I have no faith," said one longtime employee leaving the building with a bag full of personal materials.

Some are planning on not moving on. The Massachusetts Nurses Association is calling the gathering of union and community members in the hospital's dining room an "occupation." The hospital's two unions — the other is Service Employees International Union 1199 — had been calling for residents to join them in a vigil.

Union members earlier had heard from Mayor Richard Alcombright, who repeated he has continued to be in contact with the governor and the region's state delegation.

1199SEIU was planning for high visibility actions including a radio announcement, posters and the very visible protest, all to ensure that the eastern end of the state was aware of the depth of local support.

"The level of commitment is extremely high, " said Jeff Hall, spokesman for 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. "This is now expanded beyond a regional issue, it's now a statewide issue and getting statewide focus in the press, but that focus needs to turn into action."

Outside, one longtime local union rep said he was still hopeful officials in Boston could find a way to forestall that closure, at least temporarily.

"I'm hoping something will come," said Michael O'Brien, a respiratory therapist with 37 years of experience at NARH and 35 years' experience as the chapter chairman for Service Employees International Union 1199.

"I've been talking to people saying I think the governor will come through with some kind of stay - either a temporary injunction or declaring some type of health-care emergency."

The majority of the signs held by protesters on Thursday called on Gov. Deval Patrick and elected officials in Boston to do just that.

O'Brien said he was heartened that those representatives reportedly were working "around the clock" to get a deal done.

He said it's in every elected officials' best interest to get a deal done to preserve the local hospital.

"The first person who dies because the were too far away from the hospital - no politician wants that on their record," he said.

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