To the editor of THE EAGLE:

The year was 1969. I was a junior at Adams High School and I had just taken my first real job at a local organization. I was hired as a part-time orderly on the evening shift at North Adams Hospital by Claire Roy, RN, director of nurses. I was 16 years of age and she took a chance on me. I was too young to work past 10 p.m. That chance provided a direction that stayed with me for the rest of life, working in health care and working primarily for this local health system.

Back in 1969,, the hospital emergency room was intermittently unstaffed on the evening shift. But there was a doorbell. When a patient would arrive at the ER, they would push the doorbell and the switchboard operator would alert me to go open the ER door. One night, I did just that and on the other side of the door stood a woman with her husband slumped in wheelchair. He was dead.

Today, even that doorbell , doesn’t exist. The absolute unthinkable has happened. North Adams Regional Hospital is closed and is as dead as the man in the wheelchair. Unfathomable, but true.

North Adams Hospital was opened 125 years ago in response to a horrible accident in North Adams. A train locomotive collided with a stopped caboose filled with sleeping men, unseen under the heavy cover of early morning fog. The steam boiler of the train engine ruptured spewing hot gas into the air and onto those men. Screaming in pain and with seared skin hanging from their bones, they ran into the nearby city, North Adams. There was nothing that could be done to care for their wounds and alleviate their pain. There were no medical services available and no caregivers to provide needed care. Almost immediately, leaders of community, the great industrialists who built North Adams, stepped up to the plate and built a hospital, North Adams Hospital, with their own money.

And that is what North Adams Regional Hospital has always been about -- caregivers taking care of those in need. It goes all the back to 1969 when I learned of that core principle. I watched doctors, nurses, ancillary and support staff working together to mend a broken bone, to remove a life threatening cancer, to treat a sick heart, or to temper the pain of dying patient. That core principle was so strong that in the 1950s, a large steel mural was built into the ceiling of the front lobby, depicting a healing angel. Indeed, this was a house of the healing arts.

But that is all gone now. And the irony is the caregivers find themselves in a position where they need help. And, most sadly, they can’t do the job they love to do, taking care of the folks of this community, care that has been provided for 125 years.

Today, there is no Northern Berkshire Health Systems, no North Adams Regional Hospital, and no VNA and Hospice of Northern Berkshire. Today, there is not even a doorbell. And this did not have to happen.

DAVID BLANCHETTE

Clarksburg