Save NARH campaigners at the State House with state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, left.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Save North Adams Regional Hospital campaign is hoping to broaden its support base after delivering some 12,000 petitions signature to the governor's office on Tuesday.
That includes reaching out to officials and residents in North County communities, and the state's federal officials, to attend one of the weekly community meetings at the American Legion.
And Gov. Deval Patrick. The group even offered to buy him a beer.
Patrick was otherwise occupied at a memorial for the Boston Marathon bombing victims on Tuesday with Vice President Joseph Biden, but the Save NARH group proffered an invitation to him through his aides.
"I personally invited the governor to the meeting next week or any one he could make," said Michael O'Brien, former head of the local 1199SEIU chapter, at Tuesday's update meeting. "We would appreciate him being here.
"If everyone would drop him a line and invite him. ... We have been told he is working very forcefully behind the scenes but we told his aide, we're not seeing it."
A lot of work is going on behind the scenes or in the lengthy regulation process to restore, at minimum, emergency services to a community left bereft by the closure of the hospital and the bankruptcy of its parent company, Northern Berkshire Healthcare, last month.
Mayor Richard Alcombright and state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing had little information to offer other than that talks between Berkshire Health Systems of Pittsfield and NBH's major creditors are proceeding. BHS's affiliate, Berkshire Medical Center, has been tasked with providing emergency services if a deal can be struck to use the vacant hospital.
"It sounds like its headed in the right direction and they're trying to do everything they can to get in as soon as possible," Downing said. The facility and BMC have obtained state licensing and are partway through the federal Medicare licensing process.
Alcombright said the talks were encouraging. "That I think is a huge step and we're way ahead of where we were last week," the mayor added.
A status hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Springfield.
The Save NARH group is hoping that the size of the contingent on Tuesday's trip will raise more awareness on Beacon Hill about the medical needs of the far northwest corner. The petitions included some thousand comments and "little vignettes," said O'Brien, of how residents felt about the loss.
"I think we were able to put across the strong point that we need emergency services," said Karen Roberts, a nurse. "This community needs and deserves those services."
The buses were met by state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, who escorted them through the State House and meetings with the governor's aides, his director of constituent services, and with the office of House Speaker Robert DeLeo. The group also stopped by Senate President Therese Murray's office but did not have time to speak with her aides before boarding the buses for the trip home.
The trek also included a stop at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency on Framingham on the way down to impress upon its director that the loss of the hospital and its emergency services.
(Their appearance at MEMA apparently caused some consternation among the state police, who questioned them and delayed their departure. When they arrived at the State House, a more accommodating state police unit was waiting to assist them, apparently having been forewarned.)
The NARH Menu at the American Legion on Tuesday night.
James Gander of the Massachusetts Nurses Association urged the those regularly attending to talk to their neighbors and bring new people to keep the effort going.
Alcombright said he updates other community leaders regularly about the hospital's progress but admitted he hadn't thought to ask them to attend the information meetings.
"I'll ask them to come next week," he said.
Some showed up on Tuesday by opening an "NARH Menu" at the Legion. Chef Eric Harrington, whose wife, Amanda, lost her job as a registered nurse after 11 years when the hospital closed, decided food was the way to help.
He and his wife, his father, Adams Selectman Arthur "Skip" Harrington, friend Sean McNiece and Jeffrey Snoonian, a candidate for selectman in Adams, served up hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and soda from donated supplies.
"Most people don't know what they can do, so it was easy for us because Eric came up with the idea," said Skip Harrington. "It's hard for most people to figure out how to help."
Eric Harrington agreed, saying they were like a little food pantry.
"It's easy. You can come down and help. Or if you're a grocery store, or restaurant, and want to give some food," he said. "We're not limited to what we feed people. If you donate some chicken or beef, we'll make it work."
Harrington said they'd be back next Tuesday. "It's a good vibe, it's a better response than I expected."
The group is continuing the petition drive (petitions can be signed at City Hall, the library, the North Adams Ambulance Service and Northern Berkshire YMCA) and some 200 lawn signs were passed out along with new window poster that says "Save Our Services."
The logos of the MNA and 1199SEIU have been removed from the new signs to better reflect the group's transformation into community campaign.
Ann Clark-Killam, pastor of First Congregational Church, said the nurses, hospital staff and union had spearheaded the effort but now it was time for the wider community and its leaders to step in.
"It's time for the other people in the community to step up and broaden the support and the leadership," she said. "The faith community, the [Northern Berkshire Community Coalition], Mass MoCA, MCLA ...
"Bringing all our community groups together so that we work as one team."
Thanks to Walter Smith, who shared his photographs of the trip with us.