Created: 04/08/2014 11:45 PM WNYT.com
By: Dan Levy
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. - The hospital owners are caught up in bankruptcy, emergency services is caught up in red tape, and more than 400 workers are trapped in the unemployment line. It makes you wonder: can things possibly get any worse for the people in North Adams, Massachusetts?
The emergency gatherings that continue to draw overflow crowds at the North Adams American Legion hall have become dependable places for information dispersal, not to mention a place of therapeutic need.
"To be hopeful at the highest level is not a bad thing," says North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, "I think we should shoot for what we can get."
Alcombright has become a regular fixture at the weekly meetings, as both a motivational speaker and a purveyor of information, acting as a go-between for state and congressional officials and their constituents.
On Tuesday night, the chief of the North Adams EMS updated ambulance statistics, noting that since NARH shut down on March 28th, 75 patients have been transported to Berkshire Medical Center, which is a normal patient load, however now ambulances are tied up for an average two hours.
"Obviously those turn around times are concerning," says North Adams EMS Chief John Meaney, "I think, however, we have made some changes that will accommodate that."
Meaney also says it's too early to say if the current situation is sustainable, "Financially there are certainly concerns," he says.
For the time being, the department has added a fifth ambulance, which they lease for $3,200 per month.
There are also concerns in bankruptcy court. Until that complexity can be ironed out, it's delaying the restoration of emergency room services in North Adams.
"The clear focus does have to be to bring back (emergency) services," says Mike Fadel, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, "There's no reason why the northern Berkshires shouldn't be able to support and have the same access to hospital care as southern Berkshire County."
Fadel says North Adams Hospital is the only suitable place for emergency room services. Court appointed bankruptcy trustees, according to the mayor, have been trying to lease the entire hospital for those specialized services.
"I think that's 100% wrong when the health and safety of this community is at risk," Alcombright asserts. "The thing is we can't be another three weeks without an ER. That's too much risk here. Right now I'm very concerned about this as it lingers on."
As the healthcare dynamics continue to change in the norther Berkshires, Berkshire Medical Center has hired about 150 workers from North Adams Regional Hospital to help absorb their influx of patients.
BMC has also filed for federal license approval to take over hospice and emergency care in North Adams. U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, along with Congressman Richard Neal, have sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, urging expeditious approval.