Hospital closure creates challenges for local towns
by Jack Deming
Apr 06, 2014 | 6043 views | 0 0 comments | 98 98 recommendations | email to a friend | print
READSBORO- The sudden closure of North Adams Regional Hospital in North Adams, MA, comes with a wide-ranging ripple effect. Five hundred and thirty jobs are expected to be lost, and residents of northern Berkshire County as well as parts of southern Vermont will be left without a close-by health care facility. For Readsboro and Stamford, this closure will create longer critical drive times to hospitals as well, with the closest hospital now located in Bennington.

North Adams Ambulance Service Inc. (NAAS) is the current medical transport provider for the residents of Readsboro, and most commonly took patients to NARH, providing advanced life support when necessary. With the shuttering of the closest hospital, critical drive time, or the travel time from the location of a call to a hospital, may increase.

According to Readsboro Selectboard chair and fire department member David Marchegiani, the town will continue to use NAAS, which also transports patients to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC) in Bennington, and on rare occasions, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital (BMH).

“This closure is a serious blow to the region,” said Marchegiani. “People from here are most likely going to choose transportation to Bennington, because Pittsfield is 40 miles away, and Bennington is close to 30.”

Noting the aging population in Readsboro, Marchegiani said that the three-day-notice the hospital gave for its closing provided no time for residents to switch their health care providers to SVMC or BMH. Marchegiani also said that the towns of Whitingham, Readsboro, and Stamford would all be affected by the loss of jobs, as each town has residents who worked at NARH. “This closure stems from the lack of jobs,” said Marchegiani. “North Adams, like here and everywhere else, is growing old without jobs. But how many big hits can an area like this take?”

For residents of Stamford and Readsboro, as well as northern Berkshire County towns like North Adams and Williamstown, SVMC is now the closest option for hospital care. According to SVMC communications director Kevin Robinson, the hospital’s doctors, emergency room, and Deerfield Valley campus in Wilmington are all ready to handle any increase in patients they may see. “It’s hard to say exactly what we’re expecting,” said Robinson. “We’re prepared to handle as many patients from those areas that choose to use our services.”

Robinson said that the Deerfield Valley campus is ready to take new patients, and while it’s adequately staffed, he didn’t rule out an increase in staff to meet demands. “If there are people in Stamford and Readsboro who are concerned about their primary care, we’re taking new patients there, and we’re more than happy to talk to them about their needs,” said Robinson. “Any time you have to change your doctor it’s as much an emotional decision as a practical decision, and we’re here to help fill those gaps with the hospital and specialty care we provide, and we’ll embrace them with open arms.”

The geographic location of Readsboro will continue to provide challenges for NAAS, as harsh weather and accidents have occasionally caused the closure of the Route 8 pass to Searsburg.

According to NAAS general manager John Meaney, patients will have the option of being transported to BMC, SVMC or BMH. The company is also in the process of adding a fifth truck to ease the expected increase in turnaround and critical drive times. “Readsboro can be challenging because it’s a rural area,” said Meaney, “but our vehicles are equipped with chains to get us anywhere in town, and we work well with their fire department to make sure we have a seamless transfer of care.”

NAAS transported 18 patients to SVMC last year and out of the 2,402 calls they received, between 75 and 100 were in Vermont,. Meaney also said that if weather were to close Route 8, his company was more than willing to take the longer, roundabout trip through Massachusetts and up Route 7 through Pownal.

Each ambulance service is licensed through a hospital and services a specific district. Last Thursday morning, NAAS switched their licensing to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, MA.

While Meaney said he found the sudden closing of NARH “extremely unfortunate,” and concerning for those in rural places like Readsboro, he wants those who may need an ambulance to know his company is not the one closing its doors.

“When people call 911 for an ambulance, they will still get a timely response, and transportation to the most convenient facility we can get them to.”

For more information on switching care from NARH, SVMC has set up a hotline for those with questions about the care they provide at (866) 428-9902.
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