Like anyone in North Adams, I spent last week glued to the ever-distressing news about the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital.
I was looking at some pictures of the hospital’s final day that North Adams photographer Barry Goldstein posted on his website (bgoldstein.net). Goldstein does beautiful work, and with these captures the deep cutting emotion of the day with the same skill he’s applied to soldiers in Iraq, responders during 9/11 and other subjects. The photo that shook me more than any of those documenting the real people, though, was one words written on a scheduling white board.
"Thank you for destroying OUR LIVES," it read. It was signed, "The Staff."
The response from both staff and the community has had the tone of betrayal to it. A betrayal by whom? The board of trustees of the hospital has a lot of rage directed at it. You can certainly understand why that would be.
As North Adams has lost population over years and we are now seeing the result of that -- it just lost its hometown paper for similar reasons, that dwindling numbers can’t justify some services. It seemed obvious that a downscaling to appropriate services and facilities was in order, and it seems as if the board recognized this reality for the past decade. With so much warning, you’d think things could be handled much better.
The word on the street and Facebook is that once the hospital is able to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a trustee will be appointed and offers will begin to come in. The community will start a new journey of crafting a health facility that is sustainable within the realities of our city and the surrounding areas.
That’s something the NARH board of trustees certainly didn’t do. They can say that they tried, but the hospital suddenly shut down and the buck stops where it should, not where they would probably prefer.
If this closing results in a more appropriate medical facility for North Adams, that’s a positive, certainly, but the devastation caused by the transition to that solution seems unnecessary, even insulting, under the stewardship of someone who knew what had to be done to make the road less bumpy and then didn’t do it.
That’s the real problem -- it’s not what happened so much as how it happened. No matter what might come along to make the situation better, the damage has already been done. It cannot be reversed easily. The trauma has hit deep and the scar of it might never fade.
So ashamed were they that only one member -- Chairwoman Julia Bolton -- put her name to the official announcement. As with the rest of their tenure, symbolism is lost on them.
One of the big lessons to me is how a community perceives hospitals. Not all are private businesses, but many are -- ours was -- but we have this rosy, Richard Scarry view of the world of city services in which some things are just given to daily life. And with that mindset, hospitals are lumped in with the post office, the police department, the fire department, the library and the public schools. Services that give quality to life, services that, in our perception, will never go away.
Until they do.
The hard challenge will be the waiting to see if some other entity rises to the occasion to fill the gaping hole of NARH, and hoping that it will be under the stewardship of someone, anyone, who can match the needs of the community with the reality of the health care industry.
The other hard challenge will be to completely trust the intentions of any group that takes the necessary steps to do so.