Advocacy Group Continues Call for Restoration of North Adams Hospital
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Two years after the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital, advocates are still pushing to expand services and bring back a "full-service hospital."
Several dozen gathered at City Hall on Monday afternoon to remind local and state officials and to send the message that they were not giving up.
"Berkshire Medical Center has done a wonderful job providing us with some outpatient services ... they really don't meet the needs of this community," said James Lipa of the North County Cares Coalition. "The Stroudwater Report outlined our community as being the poorest amd most elderly in Western Massachusetts ...
"The wellness center that's up there really doesn't meet the needs of that community. What we really need is a small hospital along the lines of Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington that's all we're asking."
The coalition, which has been meeting faithfully every Tuesday since the hospital's abrupt closure almost exactly two years ago, also plans to send 600 signed postcards with notes to the governor's office.
Donna Motta said she and her family moved here not long after the closing and they've been trying to find answers. They made a point of being at Monday's rally and plan to become more involved.
"We have to be heard, it's that important," she said.
Rachel Branch, whose great-grandfather donated the land for the hospital, demanded on behalf of her family and the community that the hospital be restored — including its name.
The former 100-bed hospital served a population in Northern Berkshire and Southern Vermont of about 37,000 with an emergency department, surgical suites, maternity and other health-related services. While the hospital was in the black, its parent health system was struggling under a mountain of debt when it closed.
Berkshire Medical Center opened a satellite emergency facility within months of the closure and later purchased the bankrupt hospital and its related assets. Since then, it has restored the visiting nurse and hospice care services, a walk-in care center for current patients, labs, imaging services, endoscopy and a number of outpatient surgical services, several outpatient wellness services and a cafe.
It's also added two observational beds in the emergency facility.
But advocates are calling for BMC and its parent company, BHS, to go further in providing at least 10 to 20 beds along the lines of Fairview Hospital to expand inpatient services and to return maternity services. A gap in mental health services was also made by NARH's closure of Greylock Pavilion.
They frequently point to the Stroudwater Report, a state-commissioned survey of health care needs in North County designed to guide the resurrection of medical services. The 102-page report recommended keeping emergency care in North Adams and expanding on primary care — but not adding inpatient beds until the facility could get the federal Critical Access designation that would raise its Medicare payments.
BMC officials have so far deferred from addressing whether they would reapply (NARH had been previously rejected) or if it was even possible to apply at this point.
State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, said maybe it was time to drop the report on Gov. Charlie Baker's desk and ask "how can we make this happen?"
"What are the dots that are going to connect it back to that? If we give BHS more money?" she said.
A ballot measure being pushed by Service Employees International Union, and a somewhat similar measure filed on Beacon Hill, would lower payments to higher-priced hospitals and boost payments to community hospitals.
"The bill that's in play is certainly something that would help bring back services here, services that we've lost," said Cariddi.
The lack of inpatient services is also weighing heavier on area's low-income and elderly population who have to make the trek to BMC in Pittsfield.
"We're speaking on behalf of the community and there's a need, a direct need, for all these people," said Mary Marlowe, a nurse who now works for BMC's North Adams Campus after more than 35 years at NARH. "The people we serve need better access. I work with them, I hear the stories ... I took care of the person who had to take the B Bus to get her procedure and had to take a cab home."
The loss of the more than century-old hospital has been seen as an economic as well as a health care issues. Some 500 full and part-time jobs were initially lost in the closure and, while many have been rehired by BMC, there's still been a net loss.
Cariddi worries if young people looking to move to the area might consider if their hospital's in Bennington, Vt., why not move there?
"We want to welcome young people who want to have families and roots here to try to stem our loss of population," she said. "That's one of the pieces of the puzzle."
For many, it's a matter about both morality and equality.
"There's a full-service hospital in Great Barrington, there's a full-service hospital in Pittsfield," said Dick Dassatti. "They have the responsibility to provide the same level of care to the residents of North County."
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