Ecu-Health Care, state rush to help cover NARH jobless


NORTH ADAMS -- A statewide effort by multiple organizations aims to sign up former North Adams Regional Hospital employees for health insurance and provide temporary coverage, said Charles "Chip" Joffe-Halpern, executive director of Ecu-Health Care.

"The best number we have is at least 300 people have lost their health insurance, probably many more," he said. "This is very painful for the employees of the hospital."

The feelings among those at Ecu-Health Care have been "painful" since Northern Berkshire Healthcare announced last week it would close its hospital, the local visiting nurse and hospice group, and three medical practices, Joffe-Halpern said. The local nonprofit health care-access organization is currently housed in the NARH Doctor's Building.

"We've had people weeping in the waiting room," he said. "People who are losing their jobs who have mortgages, families, and need important medications."

What has been heartening for Joffe-Halpern and the four other Ecu-Health Care employees, he said, is the responsiveness from the Massachusetts Health Connector.

"Knowing that we're going to get people coverage, and how they've organized a statewide response for Northern Berkshire County, that's been moving," he said.

Health Connector officials reached out to Ecu-Health Care last week, he said.

"They sent four staff to us to coordinate efforts to help employees get health coverage quickly," he said. "They moved so quickly and with such passion and commitment."

Ecu-Health Care staff volunteered to put in hours over the weekend, Joffee-Halpern said, and provided health coverage counseling to former employees. And that work will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday.

As a result of the coordinated efforts, 14 representatives from the following organizations will be on site Tuesday and Wednesday: Health Care for All of Boston, Hilltown Community Health Center of Huntington, Caring Health Center of Springfield, Advocacy for Access of Pittsfield, and Community Health Programs of Great Barrington.

Jason Lefferts, spokesman for the Health Connector, noted March 31 was the deadline to apply for unsubsidized coverage under the national Affordable Care Act. But individuals can apply after today if they've had problems with the website or have seen a change of employers, he said.

Ecu-Health Care will be closed Thursday and Friday, Joffe-Halpern said, so it can move to a new location. He declined to give an exact address, but said the organization would remain in the city.

Counseling will be held this week in offices across the hall from Ecu-Health Care, located at 71 Hospital Avenue, room 208.

He said he's encouraging NARH employees to call Ecu-Health Care at 413-663-8711 as soon as possible to make an appointment.

"I don't like anyone having a gap in coverage for even a minute," he said.

To reach Edward Damon:

or (413) 663-3741 ext 224.

On Twitter: @BE_EDamon


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