PITTSFIELD— After pouring herself a cup of coffee, Rosemary Boudreau paused to catch her breath.

In the wake of respiratory failure in 2011, the Adams woman was left with 20 percent lung capacity and relies on an oxygen machine.

For the past few years, she felt she was managing her health well and could do everyday tasks with ease. She has avoided stays in the hospital for almost two years.

Boudreau attributes that progress to her participation in a special exercise program at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield for people with cardiac and pulmonary issues. But, that program has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and Boudreau worries about what that means for her health.

In March, when the state ordered all nonessential health services to close, the Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Maintenance Exercise Program that Boudreau participated in was suspended.

In July, patients enrolled in the program received a letter from its director, Kelly Weider, saying it was being discontinued.

The Eagle obtained a copy of Weider's letter, which noted "the tremendous financial impact of the pandemic" as the reason why the program was discontinued.

Michael Leary, director of media relations at BMC, told The Eagle in an email that the letter did not explain the full context of the decision.

The suspension stems from the fact that the space used for the program does not allow room for needed social distancing.

Leary said the hospital planned to revisit the idea of restoring the program when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.

The exercise maintenance program served people with cardiac and pulmonary issues who had completed a basic rehabilitation program. It enabled them to work out under the watchful eye of medical professionals.

About 100 patients regularly were attending when the program was suspended in March.

Boudreau said the people she usually worked out with are "like family," and her biggest fear is opening the paper one day to see one of their names in the obituaries.

Although Weider's letter included a list of local fitness centers as alternatives, some patients said they feel unsafe attending a gym without special accommodations or staff trained to assist them. In the meantime, strides made toward better health already are lessening.

"I'm already feeling the effects in my lungs," Boudreau said.

Mary Smith, of Adams, and her daughter, Kimberly Mills, of Dalton, both had been attending the program for about a year before it ended. Both said they were frustrated at how the decision was made and what the letter cited as the reason why.

"We just feel we were passed over for the almighty buck," Smith said.

Mills said she wished that she and other patients had the chance to make a case for the program.

"They're taking away something that was really needed," Mills said.

Boudreau doubts that the program will be restored.

"It's not going to happen," she said. "I believe that like I believe the sky is purple."

Caroline White can be reached at cwhite@berkshireeagle.com or at 563-513-1065.