I found out that the North Adams Regional Hospital (NARH) was closing over spring break, at the same time as many people at the College did. As I was not in the Berkshires, and had limited Internet access, I was not able to understand the reasons behind the closure until I got home, which is, for me, in Adams, Mass. The reality of the situation did not start to sink in until I was back in Adams with my family. While the implications of the hospital closing on the Williams community is huge, as Steve Klass, vice president for campus life, addressed in his all-campus email, the implications on the broader community of the Northern Berkshires is incalculable.
By the numbers, the NARH closing has put about 500 full- and part-time employees out of work on short notice and 38,000 residents of the Northern Berkshires without access to a hospital for almost three weeks. This includes access to emergency services within a 20 to 40 minute drive. While these numbers are important, for me, the NARH closing is an immediate threat to the well-being of my family and friends.
I live on the border of North Adams and Adams (which are in fact two different towns). Most of my family members on my mother’s side also live in Adams or Williamstown. When I heard that the hospital had closed, my first thought was to the safety of my family members. It is easily a 40-minute drive from my house to either Berkshire Medical Center (BMC) in Pittsfield, Mass. or Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, Vt. If someone in my family were to have a stroke or a heart attack, their chances of survival are far reduced now that the NARH is closed. As of Monday, BMC is awaiting federal approval to open a satellite emergency room in the NARH facilities. Until that happens, any emergency in the Northern Berkshires is far more dangerous than it has been since the hospital’s opening 129 years ago.
Amongst the 530 people who were told that they were losing their jobs three days prior to the NARH closing were cousins and family friends; people I know and love who are supporting families. The NARH was the largest employer in North Adams. Nurses who are part of the Massachusetts Nurses Association drove to the statehouse in Boston yesterday to present petitions signed by thousands of local residents, lobbying for more than just emergency services to reopen in the facilities. While BMC has hired 143 previous NARH employees as of Monday, it is simply not enough. The hospital was, without exaggeration, the largest industry in North Adams. Without it, much more than the physical health of the community is in danger.
The immediate concerns of the hospital closing are huge. The proximity of NARH has saved the lives of many people I know and love, and now that security is gone. As we in the Williams community know, this also affects our lives here. Whether it is a broken rib in a rugby match or over-intoxication on a Saturday night, the Williams community has also often depended on the hospital in North Adams. The administration’s recognition of and work to fill this health care void has been essential to our safety as students for the past few weeks.
Beyond the immediate effects on local families, the hospital staying closed will also have long term effects on the community the College belongs to. The Northern Berkshires is on the verge of becoming a dying community. Anyone who has spent any time outside of Williamstown has seen what towns like North Adams are already struggling with. In Adams, I have seen these problems firsthand: namely, struggling school systems and few economic opportunities. This is my home, and has been for 20 years. As I see it, the hospital closing will drive hundreds of families out of the area, leaving our school systems worse, our communities broken and very little left to draw new people to the Northern Berkshires. Other people, including the nurses who travelled to Boston yesterday and the thousands who signed the petitions, are also as concerned. Do not be satisfied with the knowledge that you as a Williams College student have the privilege to take a shuttle to BMC for your health care needs. I am glad these services are in place, and I know that the administration is doing everything they can to ensure the safety of students. But I am calling on you, the students, the individuals who live in this community for even a short time, to care about more than your own health needs. If you see a petition to save the NARH, sign it. If you hear about a public forum, attend. If you have the opportunity, speak out for the community that you are a part of and help to prevent this tragedy.
Megan Bantle ’14 is an English major from Adams, Mass. She lives on Main St.