The weekly meeting of the Save NARH group gives a standing ovation to Michael O'Brien, former head of the local 1199SEIU chapter at NARH, for his efforts in organizing to protest the hospital's closure.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — First-responders and medical entities are continuing to be stretched a month after the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital.
The Brien Center is extending its hours and going seven days a week to serve mental health patients in crisis, emergency medical technicians are reporting increased hours to make the long trip to Pittsfield and back, and Berkshire Medical Center has had one or more periods when it hasn't had enough beds because of the influx of patients.
"Since the closure we've transported just under 200 patients to Berkshire Medical Center, 10 of those patients to SVMC in Bennington," John Meaney Jr., general manager of North Adams Ambulance Service, told the weekly gathering of the Save NARH group at the American Legion on Tuesday. "So we are certainly beginning to feel the repercussions of this now.
"Several times over the last couple weeks we've had one ambulance available in the city, so that leased ambulance is coming into use each day."
The service had ordered a fifth ambulance prior to the hospital's closing but has been forced to lease one until new one arrives.
EMTs had to ask Cheshire firefighters to spell them in administering CPR on a patient in cardiac arrest, Meaney said, because they couldn't keep up the strenuous treatment for the 45-minute or longer trip.
Another patient had walked down from the Appalachian Trail only to find the hospital closed; security alerted the ambulance to his predicament.
"We don't want these types of things happening while we wait for some progress," Meaney told the nearly 100 people hoping for updates on the hospital's reopening.
"You can't do cardiac resuscitation for 45 minutes and expect a good outcome," said Dr. Oscar Rodriguez, who worked in NARH emergency room.
BMC is ready to reopen the facility, Rodriguez said, "We have everything in place, we have everything on hand."
The holdup is getting an agreement for the use of the North Adams hospital.
Berkshire Health Systems remains in talks with the bondholders and court-appointed trustee of the now-defunct Northern Berkshire Healthcare to either acquire or lease the hospital building to restore emergency services.
Local officials had no further news on that end other than that they continue they have been positive. Another hearing is set in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Springfield on Thursday.
State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi said the arrival of two busloads of NARH advocates at the State House last week had made an impression.
State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi said last week's bus trip to the State House made an impression.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he was proud of how patient the community has been. But, he said, "we can't expected to be patient forever."
In the meantime, efforts are being made to help those affected by the closure. In addition to the Brien Center extending hours, Adams Community Bank is sponsoring a shuttle to Berkshire Medical Center
through BerkshireRides (reserve a seat two days in advance by calling 413-664-0300).
MountainOne Financial has donated $25,000 to establish scholarships at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for 10 eligible students whose families have been affected by the closure and a grant is being sought for a program to help laid-off workers with job-hunting skills.
Meaney said lawmakers are also looking at a financial package to help strapped ambulance services that have been incurring losses.
Residents are being asked to continue keeping pressure on state and federal elected officials and a group is planning to carpool to the Springfield court on Thursday. (Meet at the American Legion at 7:30 a.m. or Big Y in Adams at 7:45 a.m.)
There's a standing invitation to Gov. Deval Patrick to attend one of the Tuesday meetings.
Rodriguez warned any reopening of NARH will be short without gaining designation as a critical access facility to receive higher Medicaid reimbursements because BMC won't be able to afford to keep it open.
"If we do it again this place will be left without any services at all," he said. "We cannot allow that to happen."