NARH supporters hold hands in solidarity at a meeting Tuesday night at the American Legion.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Former Northern Berkshire Healthcare employees and supporters gripped hands and cheered on Tuesday night after a day filled with hope — and state officials.
"The pressure that this community has put on has shown a light, and they see that we weren't kidding," Michael O'Brien, a union delegate, said to the packed American Legion Hall. "We meant business, and we are going to keep it up."
Gov. Deval Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley both were in the city during the day to discuss the processes in place for getting at least the Emergency Department open through the auspices of Berkshire Medical Center.
Other hopeful signs include the hiring of some 77 employees for VNA & Hospice of Northern Berkshire, according to Mayor Richard Alcombright. He expected that some 165 positions in total will be filled as soon as the licensing for the reopening of the Emergency Department and ancillary services are complete.
"Today, in my mind it was the turning point with respect to my confidence in rebuilding our hospital and our services," the mayor said later Tuesday night. He described the morning meeting with the governor, state officials and Berkshire Health Systems representatives as "a four-hour, rolled-sleeves work session."
Alcombright said the governor had been heavily involved in operations behind the scenes: "He was steering the ship from day one."
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, who also attended the morning meeting along with state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, said he has made expediting the restoration of hospital services his No. 1 priority.
"I have instructed staff in both of my offices that this is the primary focus above and beyond anything else, and to drop everything when anyone who has been impacted by this calls," Downing said.
Downing added that in his travels recently he has found tremendous support from all over Western Massachusetts.
"Everyone knows and understands that the fate of this community speaks to the fate and strengths of their own communities," he said. "I know we still have a lot of progress to make, but know you have incredible support obviously in this community and support far beyond the borders of this community, far beyond the borders of this region, and far beyond the borders of this county."
Downing added that he will stay in contact with delegates and leadership to expedite the process and aim to get the emergency room working and as many services as possible. He also read a letter to the community from Gov. Deval Patrick.
"From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the energy you have shown and thank you for sense of community that you have shown," Downing said. "To be up here over the past few days, although in some ways tragic, it's been so incredibly inspiring to see people coming together and doing everything they can do to help their neighbors."
There are still immediate obstacles to overcome in the meantime, including worries over the distance people will have to travel to get to BMC in Pittsfield.
A number of attendees were wearing 'Save N.A.R.H.' T-shirts.
The mayor told the School Committee on Tuesday that once the ER is open, and residents can get some relief, the Department of Public Health will analyze the medical needs of the North Berkshire, including with public input.
"Then we can take the appropriate time to look at what is the right fit model for this community going forward," said Alcombright. "The key word is we don't want to be doing this again three or five years from now."
Michael Fadel, of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said the group had shown commitment to a cause, and that local union leadership of the MNA and 1199SEIU should get some credit.
"You're making a stronger community, you're making a better hospital, that's what a democratic community looks like," he said, urging the group to hold hands and make a commitment together. "This group has been leading this charge and at some point they'll get the due recognition that they need."
• The members will meet Tuesday, April 8, at 5 p.m. at the Legion for updates.
• Hospital routine records Medical Records Department at the hospital. Radiology and images can be picked up at BMC from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
• BerkshireWorks will hold orientation sessions at the American Legion on Thursday, April 3, and Friday, April 4, from 9 to 11 a.m.