Letter: Events show need for North Adams hospital
To the editor:
On Oct. 21, 1882, two trains collided in North Adams just outside of the Hoosac Tunnel, resulting in the death of eight workers and injuries to 30 others. Perhaps the carnage would have been less if the region had a hospital, and local residents decided to wait no longer.
Dr. Paul Donovan tells us that "[w]ithin hours of the accident, a subscription drive began to raise funds for a hospital " Less than three years later, on March 2, 1885, North Adams [Regional] Hospital opened.
Although the names of leading North Adams industrialists have often been associated with the project's funding, The Transcript wrote: "[T]he funds that support the hospital come almost entirely from contributions from the citizens and churches of North Adams "
And that hospital has been a lifesaver and source of comfort for the people of Northern Berkshire for well over a century, until it was precipitously closed in 2014.
Berkshire Health Systems/Berkshire Medical Center bought the facility in bankruptcy court for a song. The state hired Stroudwater Associates to evaluate the medical needs of Northern Berkshire and, after a lengthy process, concluded that NARH should be reopened, smaller than before, but once again, as a full-service hospital. But BHS/BMC said, "no."
Now, six years later, the region and the nation face our greatest health emergency in over a century. On March 18, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, representing 23,000 nurses and health care workers, wrote to Gov. Charlie Baker and requested that he reopen several recently closed hospitals, including NARH.
While hospital officials in Pittsfield consider retrofitting a former high school and senior center for a soon-to-be overburdened hospital population, a real hospital facility stands vacant in North Adams. With a significant elderly, disabled and poor population, Northern Berkshire is particularly susceptible to the ravages of the coronavirus.
In 1882, as the result of a horrendous accident, the residents of that region came together to build a hospital.
In 2020, will BHS/BMC be proactive and head off something that could be even more horrendous, and reopen the hospital?
The writer is a professor emeritus of sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
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