NORTH ADAMS -- Employees at North Adams Regional Hospital began work to protect their future on Wednesday, while maintaining hope that the hospital would not close on Friday.
The state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development’s Rapid Response jobs team held forums with hospital employees on Wednesday, and will continue to hold them through the hospital’s closing. The state team aims to help the employees receive unemployment benefits and plan for the road ahead.
"Even though we are here today, we are behind the two unions and community in keeping this hospital open," said Maureen Carney, a senior work force development strategist for the AFL-CIO and the liaison to the hospital’s unions that works with the rapid response team.
Although the unions --- the Service Employees International Union 1199 and the Massachusetts Nurses Association -- are continuing the fight to keep the hospital open, the response team helped the staff prepare for the worst.
By Wednesday afternoon, Carney said, the response team had already met with more than 200 hospital employees. The response team is working in tandem with BerkshireWorks, the Regional Employment Board, and the State Career Services Center in an effort to line hospital employees up with new work.
"They’re worried about us, but we’re worried about [the community]," said Debbie Poplaski, an Emergency Room secretary and the SEIU’s chief delegate at the hospital.
Poplaski expressed concerns about commute times for patients to other area hospitals once NARH is closed, and about an elderly population in North Adams she said will have difficulty with transportation.
The organizations are attempting to organize a job fair, Carney said, as well as resume workshops and healthcare information.
"All of this is to help ease the transition and ease the burden," Carney said.
In addition to the initial information given out about healthcare, unemployment benefits, and more, Carney said, the team is providing employees with follow-up resources in the coming weeks.
"We understand some people are distraught ... and it’s hard to take in," Carney said.
The short notice given by the hospital has made the response team’s duties more challenging, according to Carney.
"It’s very difficult when there’s no notice," Carney said. "It typically would be 60 days."