Photo Gallery | Former NARH employees gather at a union sponsored meeting
NORTH ADAMS -- What started out as an informational meeting and rallying session for union workers displaced when North Adams Regional Hospital closed, has turned into a weekly reunion of former hospital employees, many of whom worked together for 20, 30 and even 40 years.
More than that, the weekly meetings have been providing emotional and social support for folks who earned a good living until nearly two months ago. The get-together also serves as a clearing house for information about the campaign to re-establish health care in North County, and of the various groups and agencies offering financial assistance, food relief and other offers of support from places like Mass MoCA or the local churches.
Tuesday, for example, a representative of Mass MoCA invited the "entire NARH community" -- workers, family members and friends -- to attend Saturday's 15th anniversary celebration at the modern art museum, which includes live entertainment and access to the galleries, for free.
And the American Legion, where they meet every Tuesday starting at 5 p.m., provides a meal to anyone who wants for no charge.
At one table before Tuesday's meeting, a trio of former workers sat chatting and eating baked chicken and veggie stir fry.
They agreed that it is very nice to be able to see the folks they once worked with every day.
"The other reason we come is to find out exactly what is going on, in order for us to move forward," said Deb LaCasse, a nurse at NARH for 26 years. "We're also still trying to understand how something like this could happen -- it's so unbelievable."
She added that she has been looking for other work, but "the difference in pay will be quite substantial."
Linda Kornn, a nurse at NARH for 26 years, said it is nice to see her friends again -- after working with them for so long, they are like family, she noted.
"I enjoy seeing them, and everybody is so supportive," Kornn said.
Not everyone who comes to the meetings is a former employee. Some are concerned community members offering support, others are friends or family. Some are there to offer services to the suddenly jobless. Then there are the politicians and service providers, like members of the local ambulance services, to offer status reports on various aspects of the struggle to keep the community healthy, or to open an emergency treatment center.
Then there is the food. After a couple of meetings, American Legion member Eric Harrington noticed that on their way out, the former workers were trying to figure out what to do for dinner for themselves and their families. So the next week, he and his dad, Adams Selectman Skip Harrington, and Legion member Sean McNeice put together a dinner for those at the meeting by using donated food.
They have done the same ever since. Local restaurants, stores and vendors have been donating food, and meeting attendees have started donating money for their dinner.
The American Legion post on American Legion Drive has always donated space when the union needed to meet, said Bill Schrade, a financial officer for the post. So when they needed the space, the Legion was happy to help. The Legion also donates food and time to the weekly dinner.
According to union delegate and 26-year NARH employee Cindy Bird, union officials set the meeting for Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the midst of closing day, March 28. It was strictly a way to gather together and continue to strategize about how to bolster the campaign to keep the hospital running.
But along the way, the gathering took on new meanings, more important undertones of familial connection and mutual support.
Tuesday night, there were roughly 300 people there, just a tad bit fewer than the first few meetings.
"I was asked if we should keep on having these meetings, and I said yes," Bird noted. "We need to keep going so people can see each other and we can get that information out there. I thought attendance would go down after a while, but it hasn't. It's always almost full."
Bird said the result has been a group of unemployed people that have experienced a level of community support rarely seen in other scenarios.
"Out of sadness comes something positive," she added. "You just have to look for it."