Sudden Hospital Closure Stuns MA Community; More Coming

Cora Nucci, April 2, 2014

The events leading up to the abrupt closure of a regional hospital in a remote corner of Massachusetts are complicated. But many community hospitals across the country are equally vulnerable, and more will close.

Tucked into the northwest corner of Massachusetts in a valley between the Taconic mountain range to the west and the Berkshires to the east sits the state's smallest city, North Adams.

Cotton, wool, and textile mills fueled the growth of this town generations ago. Today on the sprawling site of one of those industrial complexes, the city boasts a world-class contemporary art museum. Still, incomes are low and jobs are scarce.

Things have been particularly rough lately. Residents endured a mercilessly long winter punctuated by two pronounced arctic blasts. In January, after 170 years, the North Adams Transcript published its last issue. Last week, strong winds and rain toppled the town's cell phone towers, leaving most people without Internet or mobile phone service.

On Friday, events took a turn for the worse.

With only three days' notice, North Adams Regional Hospital, operated by private, not-for-profit Northern Berkshire Healthcare, locked its doors and laid off 500 workers. Now anyone who is sick or hurt and in need of a hospital has to drive over twisting roads for 18 miles north to Southwest Vermont Medical Center in Bennington or 21 miles south to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, MA. That could be a torturous drive in an emergency, especially in bad weather.


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