NORTH ADAMS -- The recent closing of North Adams Regional Hospital has sparked a growing uncertainty about the future of health services in North Berkshire -- so community members are banding together to find solutions in the present.

Nearly 100 people attended the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's monthly forum at the First Baptist Church on Friday titled "How Helping Professionals Can Support Community Members During the North County Community Transition."

Discussion ranged from how health care will be delivered, how the community can support former NARH employees, and the logistics of emergency and non-emergency transportation.

Dr. Alex Sabo, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavior sciences at Berkshire Medical Center, spoke about the importance of helping former employees' mental heath.

"This is an extraordinary trauma that is going to raise all sorts of worries, fears, anger, sadness, anxiety," he said.

Sabo encouraged employees to reach out to various members of the local support network, including public officials and mental health specialists.

He also urged former employees to practice basic self-care by eating balanced meals, exercising, sleeping and even drinking water.

"As you worry about things, sometimes those simple actions fall off your list," he said.

John Meaney, North Adams Ambulance Service general manager, said the nonprofit is leasing another vehicle to handle the two-hour turn-around time to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield. In addition, he plans to add another vehicle in the next few months.

Jana Hunkler Brule, project manager with Berkshire Rides, said a transfer network will soon be in place to help Northern Berkshire residents make the trek to BMC for non-emergency appointments.

Residents having trouble making it to an appointment can call the BMC Resource Line at (855) 262-5465 and will be eligible to use a Soldier On van, she said.

A coalition has formed between her organization, local councils on aging, Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC), and Berkshire Elderly Services, she said. Berkshire Rides will handle dispatch services when the call center is phased out in two to three weeks.

"The local councils on aging vehicles, for people with no other option, will pick people up at their homes and bring them to a central location, where BCAC will transport them back and forth to BMC," she said.

The drop-off points will be Nassif's Pharmacy on Ashland Street and the Walmart Supercenter on Curran Highway in North Adams, and the Big Y supermarket on Myrtle Street in Adams.

Debra Kushnet of Greylock Federal Credit Union said her financial institution and others are on the side of former NARH employees. Banks are willing to meet one-on-one with account holders to discuss loans and other services, she said.

Other attendees included Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams.

To reach Edward Damon:
edamon@berkshireeagle.com
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On Twitter: @BE_EDamon