Photo Gallery: NARH supporters board buses to Boston
BOSTON - Mike O'Brien, a former employee at the now closed North Adams Regional Hospital, handed a petition to a top aide to Gov. Deval Patrick on Tuesday, urging the governor to "immediately and personally intervene in what is a community disaster."
"An emergency room is not enough," read the petition for continued health care services at the hospital. "We need a full-service community hospital in Northern Berkshire County."
O'Brien, who had worked at the hospital for 36 years and is the former local 1199 SEIU union chief, said he came to the Statehouse with more than 80 nurses, community leaders and residents of Northern Berkshire to put pressure on the state's top legislators to help reopen the facility.
"I'm here to show support and to get a full-service hospital back up and running," O'Brien said.
Buses departed from North Adams early Tuesday morning with members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the 1199 SEIU, a heath care workers union. Rep. Gail Cariddi, D-North Adams, joined the group at the Statehouse.
Carrying stacks of papers listing each of the petition's 12,000 signatures, community members met with aides in Patrick and House Speaker Robert DeLeo's offices.
The governor was unable to meet with the group because he was at a memorial for one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings.
The advocates also dropped off a petition for Senate President Therese Murray, but ran out of time to speak with her office.
Burdened by $30 million in debt, Northern Berkshire Healthcare abruptly shut down the hospital on March 28 leaving more than 500 employees out of work with no emergency care in the area. The 38,000 residents in the region are entering their third week with little access to health care services.
"Being out in the northwest corner, it feels like the eastern part of the state forgets us," said the Rev. Ann Clark-Killam, a North Adams pastor and resident of Williamstown.
Plans to reopen part the hospital as an emergency service center are awaiting federal approval, but protesters said the process is moving too slowly.
"We're hoping to tell him [Gov. Patrick] we need help, we are a remote area and need a critical access designation," Clark-Killam said.
During a meeting with Bianca Hoffman, Patrick's director of constituent services , supporters said the governor's office has not been doing enough to help.
"The governor appreciates your advocacy and he has personally overseen the need for the region to have continued medical resources," Hoffman told the group.
"We're working closely with the partners at Northern Berkshire Healthcare to ensure emergency services are returned to the region," she said.
The supporters, frustrated with the lack of action, suggested Patrick attend one of the weekly North Adams community meetings.
Hoffman said Patrick's office is working closely with federal partners to reopen emergency services and she would pass along the invitation to attend a meeting.
Robbin Simonetti, a nurse who has worked at NARH for 32 years, called the hospital closing a "health care crisis."
With Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield the closest facility to the area, Simonetti said it's difficult for many elderly and remote residents to reach it in time.
"In North Berkshire, they say it takes 30 minutes for us to get to the next nearest hospital, but in the outlying towns it could be a lot longer," Simonetti said.
On the way to the Statehouse, the group made at pit stop at Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Headquarters in Framingham to request more help overcoming the crisis.
Clark-Killam said the meeting went well and she hopes MEMA and the governor take greater notice.