State Sen. Benjamin Downing speaks with Police Director Michael Cozzaglio at Sunday's prayer service. Downing said efforts continue to get BMC licensed to operate the NARH emergency room.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — State Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman on Sunday said the state has a "moral responsibility" to maintain some type of health services at the former North Adams Regional Hospital, likening its closure to the devastating tornadoes that tore through Western Mass in 2011.
"Sometimes a state with 6.7 million people, with a billion and a half dollar 'rainy day' fund needs to step up to the plate and find a way," Grossman said at a gathering at First Congregational Church. "I'm saying let's find a way, and the day that that day is found — and I hope it's found in the next couple of days — I, as the person who pays the bills on behalf of the state ... I will have a check here or I will have money wired here, and let's get some of these people back to work.
"This is about access to health care, this is about quality of health care, and this is about the moral responsibility of the citizens of this state.
"When there was a tornado in Springfield
, and two schools were destroyed, I stood there and said, we're going to return those two schools without it costing the people of Springfield a dime. The Mass School Building Authority did that, and 100 percent of the funding is being paid for by the people of this state. The people of the state have an obligation to step up to the plate and find resources and get emergency health care back up and running and then find a longer-term, affordable solution that provides access to care."
Grossman spoke in the vestibule of the church after an ecumenical "Prayer Service of Lament and Hope," which drew about 250 people, including many of the nurses and staff who lost their jobs when the hospital was closed on Friday.
Grossman attended the service, along with several other public officials, including State Sen. Benjamin Downing, Rep. Gailanne Cariddi and Mayor Richard Alcombright.
Government and union officials in attendance said work continues through the weekend to get the emergency department at the hospital back online, in accordance with a temporary restraining order handed down
on Friday in Berkshire Superior Court.
"I know there's been communication with [Berkshire Health Systems] today about making sure that we just have lists of nurses and other caregivers from the hospital," Massachusetts Nurses Association official Mike Fadel said. "All that's going to be in place so when they get the green light from [the Department of Public Health], there won't be a further delay about contacting folks.
State Treasurer Steven Grossman said the state had a 'moral responsibility' to maintain at least health services in North County.
"That's being arranged even as we speak. The nurses community has put together a list of nurses, and I know the SEIU folks have put together their lists, and they're making sure all that information is in BHS' hands."
Berkshire Health Systems is the parent company of Berkshire Medical Center, which Judge John Agostini ordered to operate the emergency department at NARH, "[a]fter BMC obtains authorization from the DPH."
Downing agreed that work is continuing through the weekend to create a smooth transition to BMC's operation, but no one at Sunday's event could say what DPH's timetable is for issuing the Pittsfield hospital a license to operate at the North Adams facility.
"I know BHC and BMC are working on assessing exactly what we have for infrastructure at the hospital right now, what they have for staffing already and different models they can bring up to the building to open it up, in particular for the ER," Downing said. "I think they're also trying to get their arms around billing and the past few months at the hospital so they can try to make a determination of what services they can get up and running at the hospital the quickest and what would make the most sense to run.
"I have not talked with [DPH Commissioner Cheryl] Bartlett. I have talked to Secretary [John] Polanowicz. It's my understanding DPH is continuing to work on it as well, so they're trying to transfer the license as quickly as possible. And I know they've been in touch with Region 1 [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] as well."
The need for emergency medical services in the city was brought into stark relief on Sunday morning — not at First Congregational Church but at the other end of downtown North Adams, at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church.
"During Mass, wouldn't you know it, one of our parishioners collapsed in the pew," Deacon Bruce Ziter told the crowd at the prayer service. "And thanks be to God, there was a doctor at Mass this morning, and he came flying over a pew, and there was a nurse. ... And you could tell this was serious. ... We found out later she had stopped breathing.
"And then the ambulance came, and that's when it struck me: 'Where are they taking her? It's not just two minutes up the hill anymore.' Then it really, really, really hit home for me."