Community is never more important than in times of transition, as the recent closing of North Adams Regional Hospital reminds us.
The hospital was where so many of us were born, gave birth, were diagnosed and were healed. That was where we often gathered as families to share the precious last moments of loved ones. And now in a very different way, the closing of the hospital is another shared experience. Though felt more acutely by some -- especially those for whom the hospital provided livelihoods -- the closing affects us all.
The staff at NARH were as caring as those of any hospital anywhere, its administrators as able, and its board members as dedicated. In the end, however, sustaining a small, rural, independent hospital proved too difficult.
In the short time since the closing, the community has rallied impressively. Elected officials, both state and local, leapt into action, along with business and nonprofit leaders. I am grateful that Williams economics professor Steven Sheppard could bring to bear so quickly his expertise in the assessment of economic impacts and his deep knowledge of our regional economy.
No one familiar with our community’s determination can be surprised by the progress that’s already been made. Some services have been renewed and some jobs reclaimed. Support has grown for those who lost jobs and for the now even more important mission of Ecu-Health Care.
Much work, however, remains in the evolution of North County’s health care system. As we pursue that work, I encourage us to keep in mind the following points.
The staff of Northern Berkshire Healthcare are this effort’s most vital asset. Facilities are important, but the foundation of the new system will be these capable and experienced professionals.
Regionalization was inevitable. This was the case because of economic forces beyond local control. The hospital’s leaders knew this and pursued regionalization vigorously. Unfortunately it couldn’t be accomplished in time to avoid the current disruption. In conversations that we at Williams College have had with Berkshire Health Systems and with Southwestern Vermont Health Care about the provision of care for our students, we’ve been encouraged by their eagerness to be a collaborative part of the broader regional health care solution.
We must look out for the poorest among us. This change hits hardest those with the fewest resources. They also are the ones who would have the most difficulty connecting with a health system that is more geographically spread. Great health care is of no use to you if you cannot get to it.
We’re all in this together. The best system will emerge only with the full engagement of everyone -- our elected officials, our businesses, our colleges, our other nonprofits, our civic and religious groups, and our neighboring health care systems.
Knowing, as I do, the talent, the spirit, and the resilience of Northern Berkshire, I have no doubt that we can together devise the best possible health care system for our community.
Adam F. Falk is president and professor of physics at Williams College.