NARH community meeting attendees implore Gov. to get involved


PHOTO GALLERY: Community meeting to save NARH

NORTH ADAMS -- Hospital employees, labor representatives and city residents on Wednesday implored Gov. Deval Patrick to draw from the state's distressed hospital fund to revive North Adams Regional Hospital and four affiliated organizations.

By declaring a public health emergency, Patrick could empower the commissioner of public health to appoint a turn-around manager to run the hospital, Michael Fadel of the Massachusetts Nurses Association said during a public forum at the American Legion.

"If ever there was a moment that called for [Patrick] to exercise those emergency powers, it was this moment, for this hospital," Fadel said, eliciting applause from a crowd of more than 100 who'd gathered to show support.

Fadel called on residents to hold a vigil inside the hospital starting at 9 a.m. this morning. Forty-eight hours remain during which the hospital can be saved, he said, and declared now the time for action.

Some left Wednesday's forum headed for the hospital to begin the vigil immediately.

Mayor Richard J. Alcombright told the crowd Patrick "gave marching orders to his cabinet to fix this" but "we don't really know what that means yet."

"We cannot be without medical services here in Northern Berkshire," Alcombright said. "We all know that. No matter what happens, [services] will be restored."

"This hospital still can be saved and it must be saved," Fadel said. "We think there's a solution to be had. As recently as Monday, our understanding was a potential merger with Berkshire Medical Center that would stabilize the future of the hospital was within a hair's breadth of being achieved. We don't know the details of what happened; only the board of trustees knows what happened and what fell apart. But we know the financial gap is not significant. It's well within the means of the state to intervene and bridge the gap."

In a letter to Patrick delivered Wednesday, Boston University professor Alan Sager agreed. He said the small hospital "doesn't need a lot of money to stabilize its finances."

Employees of the hospital filled the room -- nurses, cleaning staff, clinicians, secretaries and others -- some still donning work scrubs.

A "somber environment" and "a lot of chaos" prevailed inside the 109-bed hospital Wednesday, staff reported. Employees cleared out their workspaces of framed pictures and other personal belongings while management informed patients of the hospital's imminent closure, scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.

Nurse Robbin Simonetti said more than 400 employees arrived at a hospital-wide meeting Tuesday expecting to learn of a NARH-Berkshire Medical Center merger.

"I really had no doubts in my mind that we would ever close," Simonetti said.

Lisa Marie Pisano, who works in radiology, said, "It was so hard talking to the patients today, saying ‘You can still come for your appointment tomorrow,' and then having them say, ‘What do I do after that?' The answer was ‘I don't know.' I don't like saying I don't know."

Williamstown resident Kenneth Swiatek said, after looking over the financials, he found the whole affair an "artificial crisis."

"It sounds like the board of trustees is creating a crisis to bash the unions and get what they wanted to," Swiatek said. "It's just like the Hostess bakery sold out their business to do away with the union, so now you can still buy Twinkees. We don't want Twinkees and Ding Dongs, we want unions."

Fadel said litigation against the hospital may be pursued because it fell far short of providing the Department of Public Health and employees a mandated notice 90 days in advance of closing.

"This was unprecedented in the history of Massachusetts hospital closure," Fadel said.

To reach Phil Demers:
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On Twitter: @BE_PhilD


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