PITTSFIELD -- Three weeks ago, Robbin Simonetti, Angie Lingner and Elaine Williams were comfortably employed as nurses at North Adams Regional Hospital.
On Thursday, they were among the unemployed, pursuing job opportunities at the 2014 Berkshire Career Fair at Berkshire Hills Country Club.
"It's kind of surreal," said Lingner, of North Pownal, Vt., who had worked at NARH for 32 years before the hospital abruptly shut down with three days' notice on March 28.
"I've applied for one job," Lingner said, "but I don't have my resume done yet."
The former nurses were among a large number of former Northern Berkshire Healthcare employees who attended Thursday's event, which attracted 51 employers, the majority based in the Berkshires.
Berkshire Medical Center has hired 143 former NARH employees since the hospital closed, but some 530 jobs were eliminated when Northern Berkshire Healthcare closed the hospital.
When asked how many of her former colleagues were in at Thursday's job fair, Simonetti said, "quite a few of them."
Then she paused for a moment.
"Many of them," she added.
Another slight pause.
"Almost all of them."
Danielle Thomas of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, the job fair's host organization, said more than 100 people attended within the first two hours of the six-hour event.
"In past years it hasn't been this full this quickly," Thomas said.
The employers in attendance ranged from resorts to restaurants to retail chain stores. There also were manufacturers, educational institutions, and several health care related organizations. Thomas said several of the health care employers signed up last week after NARH closed.
Companies that attend job fairs traditionally supply prospective employees with information about their businesses, and have them fill out job applications. But one of the health care organizations, Porchlight VNA/Homecare of Lee, was looking for employees.
"We are hiring, if somebody's interested," said Porchlight representative Anna Chapman. She said several former NARH employees had visited her table within the first hour.
"I've taken quite a few applications," she said. "Some gave me all the paperwork. Now, we have to do background checks."
She said the former NBH employees were arriving at her table "in bunches" and that "20 plus" had visited during the first 90 minutes.
"It's the most I've ever had at a job fair," Chapman said.
What did they ask her?
"They want to know what home care is about because they've always worked in a hospital," Chapman said. "They're trying to compare. ... It's a big jump going from a hospital to a VNA."
At Berkshire Healthcare's table, employment and recruitment administrator Paula Kleiman-O'Hagerty said she saw many familiar faces.
"At the job fair in North Adams last week we saw hundreds of people there," Kleiman-O'Hagerty said. "I'm seeing some of the same faces here."
Another former nurse, Lindsay Moran, of Adams, attended the career fair with her 11-month old daughter Brixton, whom she toted in a child carrier.
"We don't have daycare any more," said Moran, who had worked as a labor and delivery nurse at NARH for four years. "I don't have a job."
Former NARH RNs Maria Gancarz and Angie Lingner talk about job hunting at the 2014 Berkshire Career Fair at Berkshire Hills Country Club in Pittsfield, Thursday April 10, 2014. ( Ben Garver/ Berkshire Eagle Staff / photos.berkshireeagle.com)
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