Mike Ameen has dealt with North Adams Regional Hospital a lot in his life. He was born there. His mother was a nurse there for 35 years. As softball coach at Hoosac Valley High School and now MCLA, he's had to send injured players there.
Friday's scheduled closing of NARH, along with the local visiting nurse and hospice group and three medical practices, has him asking a question many in North Berkshire - both inside and outside the athletic community - are asking.
What's going to happen now?
"There will be no avenue for anybody to get quick service," Ameen said. "At the college level, you have a training staff. So at least there is that. But at the high school level, you're really at the mercy of calling an ambulance, and having them bring [the kid] to BMC.
"Things happen all the time. It will be difficult."
Athletically, five Berkshire County high schools - BART, Drury, Hoosac Valley, McCann Tech and Mount Greylock - field varsity teams in at least one sport. MCLA and Williams College also have varsity sports, albeit with athletic training staffs at each school. The area also has a number of youth and adult recreational leagues, and the Berkshire Black Bears of the first-year North Atlantic Professional Hockey League is scheduled to hit the ice at the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink in North Adams later this year.
Any injured players on those teams who could once be treated at NARH will have to, after Friday, be transported to either Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield or Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, Vt.
George Beckwith, an EMT in Northern Berkshire for 30 years who has also officiated both baseball and football games throughout the Berkshires, said there shouldn't be a huge problem with transporting injured players in the wake of the NARH closing.
"The toughest part is the calls are going to take a little longer," he said late Tuesday night. "There's never been an issue in the past, and I don't see that there should be that much of an issue now."
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association requires that all member schools have a licensed certified athletic trainer, and that schools must have medical coverage at both football and hockey games by either a licensed trainer or an EMT. There are also trainers, physicians, physician's assistants, certified EMTs or nurse practitioners on hand at MIAA postseason events, as outlined in the MIAA Handbook.
For other sports in which medical coverage is not required at games, the schools still attempt to find medical professionals and/or EMTs.
Drury, for example, had coverage for every soccer game, boys and girls, in the fall; it also had coverage for boys and girls basketball this winter. Last spring, every track event at Drury was medically covered, and Molly Meczywor, Drury's athletic director, said Wednesday that this is the goal again this year. She'd also like Drury to have EMT coverage for baseball or softball.
"I would say that most schools have some kind of coverage," Meczywor said. "Obviously, safety first is the most important thing."
While in-school events seem to be covered throughout the year, there's still the issue of summer training, which is not as well-regulated. Ameen is concerned that when temperatures rise and young athletes play or train without proper hydration, the lack of a hospital in North County will truly be a problem.
"How many kids in the summertime get dehydrated and cramp up?" he said. "What are you going to do? Put them in an air-conditioned car and pump Gatorade in them, and [drive] to Pittsfield or Bennington? It's ridiculous that you even have to ponder."
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink often has EMTs on site, according to Darin Lane, the rink manager. Failing that, there are often firemen or EMTs working at the facility, and some staff members are even first-responder certified.
Lane spoke with Phil DeFranco, the NAPHL and Black Bears president, on Wednesday regarding the hospital closing. Lane said he doesn't think the closing will be "a deal-breaker" for the Black Bears, given that BMC and SVMC are still options for injured players.
"We're all worried about the families," Lane said. "We're all worried about the economy and the effect it's going to have. You might see more of a ripple effect with our youth groups and our adult hockey, maybe."
That ripple effect is also being considered at the college ranks. Ameen, for one, is concerned that the lack of a medical facility in North Adams could dissuade MCLA recruits from choosing the college to continue their athletic careers.
"They preach that we're supposed to take care of the athletes ... but we don't have any medical facilities to take care of them," he said. "It's amazing that this might happen. You talk about the town slowly dying ... and the same thing can happen at the athletic level at the college. Slowly, our turnaround in the last few years, it could hit a big roadblock.
"It's very daunting to consider."
To reach Matthew Sprague:
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