Former NARH employee Diane Pytko, center, opens the new Worker Assistance Center with Secretary of Labor Rachel Kaprielian.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Rather than a ribbon, the new Worker Assistance Center in City Hall was celebrated Wednesday with the opening of a door.
Hopefully, a door that will lead to new paths for the hundreds affected by the closure of Northern Berkshire Healthcare.
"This resource is going to be a lifesaver for the people of North Adams and the surrounding areas," said Diane Pytko, a 24-year North Adams Regional Hospital employee whose life abruptly changed on March 28 when it closed.
She's been among the 150 or so who have been rehired by Berkshire Medical Center but understands what her former colleagues are going through.
"I didn't know how to do a resume. ... Where do you go if you don't have a computer?" she said, noting the new office will offer that help. "And you don't have to drive to Pittsfield. ... If you lose your job you can't afford transportation."
The BerkshireWorks office in North Adams was closed several years as part of a consolidation of a number of state offices, leaving the 530 suddenly unemployed in March with the difficult task of getting to Pittsfield. MountainOne stepped into the gap to supply a computer, printer and phone for job-seekers.
The new center is being funded for a year through a $143,000 grant from the state Department of Career Service's Rapid Response Team. The city supplied the first-floor office space and BerkshireWorks will provide staff.
"This is a center to help connect people with jobs," said Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rachel Kaprielian, who attended the opening with Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz.
"We want to help people see past what they know and see how they can grow."
The Rapid Response team had been deployed quickly in the wake of the hospital's closure and Kaprelian said her department had worked closely with the city and other stakeholders.
BMC has established a satellite emergency facility at the former hospital and is now providing imaging services. How much more it will offer will likely depend on the results of a health-care needs report being compiled by Stroudwater Associates.
"We're very pleased with the work that Stroudwater's done, the way they've gone about the process has really involved a lot of community members," said Polanowicz. "The important part about the Stroudwater report, what is significant, is to really assess something that is sustainable."
Heather Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, wrote the grant for the center and hopes it may help jump-start a more permanent BerkshireWorks presence.
"We always see what the need is and we always respond to the regional need," Kaprielian said. "Obviously, the closure of the health center created a big shift in the Berkshires so we responded."
Melanie Gelaznik, manager of program operations at BerkshireWorks.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the center will also help veterans seeking services in office next door.
"It's certainly an indication that we are not forgotten communities out here," he said.
The center will be open weekdays from 9 to 2 for displaced hospital workers, and on Fridays for the general public. Assistance is also available on Mondays at the Adams Council on Aging from 9 to noon.
Melanie Gelaznik, manager of program operations at BerkshireWorks, said the center will connect job seekers with training, aid them with applications and help them utilize their existing knowledge in new areas.
"One of the most important things is recognizing the skills you already possess through training and to transfer them into another career," she said. "No one in this room does not have valuable skills that can be transferred to other employers."
Gelaznik also hoped to aid a peer counselor, preferably someone from the hospital.
"I can't thank this community enough for supporting this endeavor for the former employees of North Adams Regional Hospital," she said.
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