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Officials cut the ribbon to mark the start of MCLA's four-year nursing degree program. From left, Carol Passley of BMC, BHS President Darlene Rodowicz, Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler, Vicki and Brian Fairbank and Charles O'Brien.
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Educators, Lawmakers Celebrate Launch of MCLA Nursing Program

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Congressman Richie Neal obtained a $620,000 earmark for the nursing program, through Congressionally Direct Spending from the Department of Education.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts new bachelor of nursing program was given an official launch on Thursday afternoon with a crowd of education officials and lawmakers. 
The ribbon cutting on the third floor of the old Doctor's building — now the MCLA Health Sciences floor — was followed by a tour of the new offices, meeting and classrooms, and the mock 3 North Nurses Station where students will be put through their clinical paces. 
"The curriculum was developed to train nurses holistically, including the full liberal arts core curriculum, rather than just a clinical practice, applied knowledge and engaged citizenship are central components of the program's curriculum," college President James Birge said. "The best nurses are trained in the liberal arts tradition."
The event also marked the announcement by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal of a $620,000 federal earmark for the program and part of the fiscal 2023 spending bill. 
"We're celebrating a really terrific story today," said the congressman. "I spent 10 years on the board of trustees at Holyoke College and we tried very hard to try to figure out how to adopt a nursing program.
"We concluded it just wasn't going to be easy."
He wanted to remind the gathering of the role the federal government plays in education and health care. It's the Medicare system that is financing "experiments like this," he said. 
Carol Passley, senior director of nursing at Berkshire Medical Center, spoke how nursing was a second career for her and how overwhelming and rewarding an experience it had been. 
"Berkshire Health System is proud that we've been able to partner with the college to help in the earliest phases of launching this degree program and we are excited to work closely with MCLA in the next phase of the program to offer these nursing trainees the opportunity to experience meaningful clinical rotation at BHS facilities," she said. 
Nursing had changed since she completed her degree 25 years before particularly in terms of technology and career avenues. But some things haven't changed.
"I believe that there is no more important vocation than to be the person called on to hold the hands of patients or family at their bedside," Passley said. "And we do it every day. ... to be there to help heal or ease the pain of any and every hour of the day or night."
Also speaking was Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler, who said he knew firsthand who much work had gone into the initiative. 
"I want to commend all of you for this incredible effort," he said. "I'm often reminded that education of our students, the education that our students deserve, is both a celebration of learning and higher knowledge, as well as clear preparation for a future path career path that each student will take."
Tutwiler noted that the new program will provide access to nursing education to communities within an hour's drive of tri-state region of Massachusetts, New York and Vermont. 
"Year after year, MCLA will help prepare the next generation of Western Massachusetts nurses growing a healthcare workforce in a region where it's greatly needed to benefit the school the community and the state for years to come," he said. 
Birge said the U.S. Department of Labor is projecting more than 5,700 annual job openings for registered nurses in the state and that the demand is expected to grow by 7 percent annually the next five years.
"The need for more nurses locally, regionally and nationally is undeniable," he said. "Right now, here in Berkshire County, there are 210 unfilled registered nursing positions."
Setting up a nursing program require heavy investment in equipment, infrastructure and qualified personnel," Birge continued, "and that's where the community partnerships really shine here."
BHS had provided the startup costs for the nursing education lab and McCann Technical School's licensed practical nursing program, one floor down, gave logistical and operational support. 
In addition to the Neal's obtaining the earmark, the program received some $2 million in funding and grants from the state for development and equipment. 
"Charlie and Lisa O'Brien and Brian and Vicki Fairbank, who are longtime supporters of MCLA and the Berkshires, contributed significant gifts primarily for student scholarships to ensure an affordable path to a degree," he said. 
Neal reminded everyone that the good news wasn't over and he would be back for the reopening of North Adams Regional in January. 
"I've taken a real interest in the North Adams Hospital. And we're going to have some series of continuing good announcements about it because when you're the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, you can change the law. And we did," he said, adding that state Rep. John Barrett III had been "on me forever" about the mileage limitations that had prevented North Adams from being designated a Critical Access Hospital. 
"We're going to bring back many of those services in the North Adams Hospital. And I think that you all ought to put your hands together for yourselves because you more than anybody else are responsible for this day." 

Tags: MCLA,   Neal,   nursing education,   ribbon cutting,   

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Northern Berkshire United Way Sets $480K Campaign Goal

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

Christine and Peter Hoyt are this year's campaign co-chairs. Their goal is to raise $480,000 over the next year. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire United Way supports 20 member agencies in the work they do addressing social, health, youth and family services throughout the region. 
Two of those agencies — Louison House and Community Legal Aid — highlighted some of the efforts within the community at United Way's annual campaign kick on Wednesday morning at Norad Mill. 
The agency also announced its new slate of officers and board members, including President Kelly McCarthy and Vice President Tyler Bissaillon, and took a moment to remember the contributions of the late Stephen Green, a longtime community activist and former campaign co-chair with his wife, Susanne Walker.
"While our hearts in our community at large are at a loss for a man who truly embody all of the characteristics and traits that we acknowledge as Northern Berkshire, such as honesty, integrity, commitment, selfless service, dedication, we can be comforted in knowing that his legacy lives on," said Jennifer Meehan, vice chair of Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, of which Green was a board member and former president. 
Kathy Keeser, executive director of Louison House, described the history of the shelter that opened more than three decades ago after the closure of Sprague Electric and other local mills devastated the economy. Founded by Theresa Louison, the agency has expanded to provide emergency shelter, family housing, transitional housing, preventive services and, soon, a youth shelter facility. 
Housing is a growing need while at the same time, housing costs are rising, she said, and this effects particularly the people Louison House serves, people who don't have savings or credit — "who are at the last chance of an apartment."
"People are really struggling, but it's our community connections and it's our work with other agencies," Keeser said. "We do a piece of the puzzle. Ours is about getting them out to housing — working with mental health, substance abuse, all the other agencies around to help us do that. And the United Way has been a big part of that, along with Williamstown Community Chest, and so many other businesses and individuals that support us. So it is the community that helps us succeed and helps us do what we're doing."
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