North Adams City Council OKs resolution calling for more inpatient addiction treatment


NORTH ADAMS — After two minor amendments, the city council passed a resolution on Tuesday imploring Berkshire Health Systems and state officials to open additional addiction treatment services in North Adams.

The nonbinding resolution, which passed 7-1, calls on Berkshire Health Systems, the parent company of Berkshire Medical Center, and state leaders to open inpatient detox and critical stabilization beds at Berkshire Medical Center's Northern Berkshire Campus.

Debate went on for nearly 90 minutes before the crowded city council chambers, with some councilors calling for it to head back to committee for revision while others felt fine moving it forward immediately.

The resolution — which lays out the argument for increased services here based on Department of Public Health data showing a sharp rise in opioid addiction in the area — was vetted during a nearly three-hour Public Safety Committee meeting earlier this month.

The North County Cares Coalition, a nonprofit formed after the former North Adams Regional Hospital closed, proposed the resolution earlier this year.

Amendments made by the city council on Tuesday night included a slight change in language where it references a consultant's report conducted in the wake of North Adams Regional Hospital's closure in 2014. At the request of Councilor Keith Bona, the resolution also was amended to include additional state officials Rep. Richard Neal and Gov. Charlie Baker.

Striking a conciliatory tone, North County Cares Coalition leader Richard Dassatti said he would be fine with the council adding language that thanks Berkshire Health Systems for the work they've done since purchasing the Northern Berkshire Campus. However, Dassatti continued to stand behind the message and tone of the resolution, saying the area "desperately" needs these services and demanding an "equal standard of care" across Berkshire County.

Councilor Robert Moulton Jr., suggested thanking Berkshire Health Systems within the resolution, but other councilors disagreed and the language was never formally added.

"I don't think it dilutes it, I think a little bit of sugar is appreciative," Moulton said.

Much of the discussion amongst councilors centered on the tone of the resolution, with some, like Joshua Moran, worrying "we're calling somebody out for doing something elsewhere and not here."

"Focus on the problem, which is the opiate addiction," Moran said.

Councilor Eric Buddington and others said the resolution was to the point.

"This resolution is a simple thing that we can move on," Buddington said.

Councilor Kate Merrigan was absent from the meeting due to an illness, but in a letter read aloud by the council president, she requested that the resolution be referred back to committee for the addition of language thanking Berkshire Health Systems, despite her support.

"I believe two important components of our work as councilors are to amplify the voices of residents we well as advocate for community needs," Merrigan wrote. "For those reasons, I support this resolution."

Mayor Richard Alcombright, also absent, sent a letter to councilors requesting they hold off on passing the resolution. He noted Berkshire Health Systems has plans to add 30 clinical stabilization beds in Pittsfield and argued the council should request expanded prevention and education, recovery coaches, sober living opportunities, transition housing and expanded Narcotics Anonymous services.

"The addicted community in North Adams and Northern Berkshire would be better served by this council with a resolution that supports a more holistic request." Alcombright said.

Councilor Nancy Bullett, the only councilor to vote against the resolution, thanked the North County Cares Coalition for bringing the resolution forward but believed it should be more broad and encompassing, including advocacy for prevention services.

"There needs to be a collaborative effort to make this a comprehensive resolution," Bullett said.

But Buddington and others noted that, as a resolution, it need not be entirely comprehensive of all services needed in the city.

Dr. Thomas Hyde, a member of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's heroin and prescription drug abuse workgroup, also spoke against passing the resolution immediately, arguing that there aren't sufficient data to back up the demand for additional inpatient detox beds in North Adams.

But popular opinion, at least within the confines of council chambers, was clear from the beginning: pass the resolution, and pass it tonight.

Several residents stood to speak in favor of the resolution, including Joshua Rose, who was a patient at the Greylock Pavilion, a center for mental health and substance abuse treatment at North Adams Regional Hospital.

"When I did go to the Pavilion [but] I had to go somewhere else because the beds were full, it wasn't the same," Rose said. "You get familiar with the nurses and whatnot."

As the meeting wound down, several residents pleaded with the council to move forward with the resolution immediately.

"It seems to me that this community for quite a few years has been divided over many issues, taxes and politics," said Trevor Gilman. "Here's an opportunity where the city seems to be very together in this resolution."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376


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