NORTH ADAMS -- People who were laid off when North Adams Regional Hospital closed last March now can get help in their job searches or learning new skills -- without traveling to Pittsfield.
State and local officials were on hand Wednesday to launch a new worker assistance center in City Hall for former NARH employees.
The center's training will focus on how workers can reapply the skills they already have into another job, or retrain workers with additional skill sets -- such as computer and resume training, said Rachel Kaprielian, state secretary of Labor and Workforce Development.
"We're going to be focused on what jobs are out there," Kaprielian said. "We will be having people still in a similar field. But what are the burgeoning fields? What are the fields that are growing, and what is the skill set it takes to put someone in that field?"
Kaprielian noted that part of the training will be to embrace change.
"We want to help people see past what they know, and see how they can grow," she said.
The center, funded through $143,600 from the state department of Labor and Workforce Development, aims to help find work in the region for the roughly 200 former NARH employees who remain unemployed.
The opening comes nearly five months to the day after the hospital closed, leaving 530 employees out of work with only three days of notice. Berkshire Medical Center has since hired roughly 150 former NARH employees and opened a satellite emergency facility and outpatient imaging center in the former hospital.
It is expected to close soon on the $4 million purchase the building and its assets. BMC has not said what sort of services it will provide once it owns the entire facility.
The office will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday for former NARH employees. It will be open to the general public from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Fridays, according to Melanie Gelaznik, programs operations manager at BerkshireWorks.
The center will remain open on weekdays for at least a year, according to Heather Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Employment Board. At the end of that year, the state will "see where we are" to determine if the office will remain open.
Although the center is opening months after the hospital closed, Kaprielian noted that the state's rapid response team has been in "close contact" with the former NARH employees throughout that time, and has worked to create training programs for them. But officials noted that transportation to Pittsfield for employment resources at BerkshireWorks could be challenging for those affected by the hospital's closure.
"We always change with what the need is," Kaprielian said. "We will always respond to what regional need and change is."
The need for the center in North Adams was made clear after a June survey of former NARH workers by the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, according to board Chairman Richard Belair.
"Based on the results, the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board ... applied for set aside resources to establish the workers assistance center here in North Adams," Belair said.
The funding for the worker assistance center demonstrates that Gov. Deval Patrick's administration is committed to health care in North Adams, said state Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz.
"This worker assistance center in North Adams reinforces that commitment to the region's health care community, to supporting workers, to supporting patients and their families," Polanowicz said.
Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, and Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, noted the opening of the center as a positive for the community.
"This is one step in a journey and we look forward to the day when we see a straggling ‘Save Our Hospital' sign and we say ‘All right, that was from a tough time, and we as a community pulled through. We made sure that everyone in our community that needed support got it," Downing said.
In his remarks, Mayor Richard Alcombright noted the benefit for other struggling members of the community.
"What is also very exciting is that this center will be located right next to our Veterans Services Office, providing an on the spot resource for our local veterans seeking employment," he said.
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