WILLIAMSTOWN -- More than two-thirds of the phone calls to Village Ambulance Service each month result in an ambulance transporting a patient to North Adams Regional Hospital.

There are about 370 calls made each month, General Manager Shawn Godfrey said, with about 250 patients relying on the hospital's emergency room, X-ray services or other health services.

The closing of North Adams Regional Hospital on Friday will challenge ambulances by adding 30 minutes of extra travel time, Godfrey said.

"I won't say it's life or death, but it will certainly create an impact on the overall outcome," he said.

Those who manage Northern Berkshire County ambulance services say Tuesday's announcement that NARH will be shutting down means patients will need to be transported to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, Vt. and Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield.

While North Adams Regional has eliminated certain services in recent years, ambulances could still rely on the hospital as a valuable source for immediate treatment and stabilization.

The three ambulance services in Northern Berkshire include Village Ambulance, North Adams Ambulance and Adams Ambulance.

Stephen Sheppard, an economics professor at Williams College, said the result of a longer travel time for emergency treatment will likely result in an increased mortality rate. Sheppard and students are in the midst of conducting a study on the affect of treatment locations in relationship to mortality rates.

"We find that an increase in distance does harm health and there is increased risk" of mortality, Sheppard said.

Berkshire County, in general, has a growing aging population. For ambulances, that means dealing with more calls related to stroke-related symptoms or chest pains that could be a pre-cursor for a heart attack.

Village Ambulance attends to the towns of Williamstown, Hancock, New Ashford and also could provide backup services as far north as Bennington, Vt. It recently added a fourth ambulance to deal with a growing caseload due to the aging population and business in Southern Vermont.

"We do see a higher number of those afflictions that you wouldn't see in younger folks," Godfrey said.

"Easily two-thirds" of the ambulances end up at North Adams Regional Hospital, according to a dispatcher from the Adams Police Department, which dispatches calls for the Adams Ambulance Service.

North Adams Ambulance Services sent an average of 204 patients a month -- or 1,224 patients total -- to North Adams Regional since October, according to General Manager John Meaney.

"You're going from a five-minute transport to 25- to 30-minute transport on average," Meaney said.

He added, "There certainly will be an impact and it will be a little hard to tell."

Godfrey said NARH's closure could also impact Village Ambulance's business operations. Seventy percent of Village Ambulance's business is dealing with inter-facility calls, which means transporting patients from one medical facility to another.

The ambulance company will now need to meet Berkshire Medical Center's need.

"A fair amount of our revenue is through inter-facility transfers," Godfrey said. "That could definitely impact us."

Eagle staffer Scott Stafford contributed to this report.

To reach John Sakata:
jsakata@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @jsakata.