NORTH ADAMS — On the second anniversary of the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, about 25 members of the North County Cares Coalition and a few members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association advocated at City Hall for restoration of in-patient services at what is now Berkshire Medical Center's north campus.
The hospital closed with three days notice on Friday, March 28, 2014, giving 530 employees little time to prepare for the loss of their jobs, and several thousand patients little time to seek medical services elsewhere.
Berkshire Medical Center purchased the facility at auction after the parent company of NARH, Northern Berkshire Healthcare, filed for bankruptcy. Since then, BMC has been steadily moving new medical services into the facility, starting with restoring the emergency room in May 2014.
"It's time we create an equal standard of care in Berkshire County," said James Lipa, a member of the coalition. "The poor and elderly in North County do not have access to the same standard of care as folks in central and south [Berkshire] county. Without equal access to health care, North County will not only remain an unhealthy place to live, but also will remain unattractive to companies outside the hospitality industry."
Lipa said that, according to a study commissioned by the state and known as the Stroudwater Study, residents of the area have a higher rate of asthma, heart disease and mental illness than most other parts of the state. He added that opioid addiction has become an acute medical problem since the closing of the hospital, pointing out an increased need for more in-patient addiction treatment.
"We need 15-21 in-patient beds to treat opioid addiction as soon as possible," he said. "And we still need the same kind of care the Stroudwater report said we need. But it's just not happening."
Lipa introduced Rachel Gallup Branch, great-granddaughter of Arthur Gallup, who bought the land on which the North Adams Hospital was built.
She said her family invested their money for the North Adams community.
"We, the Gallup family, demand that our hospital retain its historical North Adams Hospital name, and demand that the $180,000 restricted funds held by the attorney general's office be released for beds in our North Adams Hospital, and for that purpose only."
Another speaker, Francisco Ramos, organizer and outreach manager at the non-profit Health Care for All, said he is happy to see the community continue to call for increased services at the hospital.
"I came to see how we could help, how to aid you in expanding access to health care in North County," he said. "Access to health care is a human right, and if you don't have access to health care, that is a violation of your human rights."
Since BMC purchased the property, it has invested in excess of $10 million, including the purchase of the building.
According to spokesman Michael Leary, teams have established, expanded or restored dozens of services in North Berkshire, including 24-hour emergency services and observation beds; outpatient imaging; outpatient minimally invasive orthopedic, gynecological and urologic surgery; endoscopy; home care through the Berkshire Visiting Nurse Association; the laboratory; the Neighborhood for Health; tobacco treatment services; diabetes education; the Berkshire Partnership for Health, which is a countywide initiative that is designed to target four key areas of health risk — diabetes, falls, smoking and high-blood pressure, and several physician practices at the North Adams Campus of BMC.
Most recently established there are Operation Better Start, a unique partnership of diverse clinical disciplines including Registered and Licensed Dietitians, Nurse Practitioners, Registered Nurses, physicians, and Certified Exercise Professionals. They work together to provide a coordinated framework of services to women of childbearing age, children, adolescents, young adults and their families.
The goal of Operation Better Start is to achieve positive changes in long-term health through guidance on nutrition, exercise and changing your lifestyle to lower health risk factors.
Berkshire North WIC, a Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children, also started recently to provide nutrition and health education, healthy food, breast feeding education and support and other services free of charge.
"And we are continuing the development of a Renal Dialysis Center at the North Adams Campus of BMC, which is scheduled to be operational in the late summer or early fall of 2016," Leary said.