State's fifth consolidated Health and Human Services Center opens in North Adams
NORTH ADAMS -- Leaders of the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, local officials, employees and clients celebrated the grand opening of the state's fifth consolidated HHS Center at 37 Main St. on Thursday.
The health and human services center offers residents access to four state agencies: the Department of Transitional Assistance, the Department of Developmental Services, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.
"This is government at its best -- finding a way to create a solution," Mayor Richard Alcombright said.
The grand opening of the hub represents a victory for state and local officials who rallied in late 2010 when the former Department of Transitional Assistance office at 37 Main St. was slated for closure because of budget cuts. The closure was seen as a way to avoid staffing cuts amid a significant increase in need around the state.
The 37 Main St. office at the time had served as an informal "hub" since 1986 for the transitional assistance office, along with the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Developmental Services, Berkshire Works Career Center and the New England Farm Workers Council, which oversees child care subsidy vouchers for the state.
Local officials said that closing the office would create a difficult 26-mile commute to a Pittsfield office for Northern Berkshire residents, and they described a rapid mobilization effort that included phone calls to Gov. Deval Patrick and agency executives to keep a local office.
The effort eventually persuaded state officials to create a social services hub in place of closing the office and to commit to having a satellite office remain open in the city until the hub could be opened.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, was one of many legislators and government officials to gather in the office Thursday to recognize the fruition of that effort. He echoed the praise of other public officials when he said that the state made the right decision, instead of the "easy decision."
The burden for residents to commute to Pittsfield is significant, said Michael Boland, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.
He said there are many people in the community in a "desperate" situation and he said government needs to be in the "business of reducing barriers," adding that barriers can include transportation hurdles.
The new office is significantly smaller than the previous 7,800-square-foot space at 37 Main St. It includes 18 cubicles, three offices, a file room and six interview rooms. According to the state, the new hub will serve thousands of area residents.
The center is on the third floor of the Berkshire Bank building, and services have been made available since Sept. 6. Residents can call the HHS Center's main number at 413-663-5391 for more information.
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