NORTH ADAMS -- The cold rain just wouldn’t let up, exacerbating the frustration felt by more than 200 North Adams Regional Hospital workers struggling with the plight of losing their jobs, friends, and patients -- many of them after decades of loyal service.
They gathered in the cafeteria on the bottom floor where they made signs, chatted with friends and strategized with their union representatives.
About 10 a.m., the time of the scheduled closing of the hospital, they took the stairs to the second floor and proceeded to the lobby, where they gathered and began chanting. It wasn’t but a few minutes before North Adams Police Lt. David Sacco shouted over the din, telling the crowd they can’t block the lobby and impede patients and staff due to safety reasons.
He asked them to leave.
So the crowd proceeded out the front door and gathered under the awning, trying stay dry and unable to keep warm.
There they stood, chanting slogans and waving signs.
The police asked them to keep the driveway clear. So they cleared the driveway, standing under the awning on the island and outside the front entryway.
The chanting continued.
Then a car pulled up to the sidewalk as a small miracle was carried out of the hospital. It was Shanika Sims, a new mother carrying her newborn son, Jayceon Bullet. Walking with her was her mother, Tonya Sims.
The crowd grew silent and a path opened through the crowd from the hospital door to the car, allowing the two women and the infant to pass.
When people recognized that the woman was carrying her new baby, they broke into spontaneous applause, prompting smiles all through the crowd and on the faces of the family climbing into the car. The new father, Jeremy Bullet, helped situate his new son in the car seat, and smiled and waved to the crowd as he got back in the car and rolled slowly through.
It was a rare moment of hope and joy in the midst of a desperate struggle to protect a community about to lose its primary source of health care.
Then the protest and chanting rang out anew.
Closing time came soon after.
That’s when the last nurses in the building started filing out. There were about a dozen of them, half of them were weeping.
One by one, they stepped up to door and hugged their supervisor and long time friend, Katie Henault, the director of acute care, then stepped into the cold one by one, each receiving applause as they walked through the crowd.
After everyone had left the building, the protesters returned to the cafeteria, where the struggle and planning for a possible overnight occupation continued. They spoke about taking shifts staying in the cafeteria through the night to be sure they didn’t get locked out of the building.
At noon, they ventured back out in to the rain. The chanting rang out anew.
Then word spread that the hospital executives were arguing against keeping the emergency department open because it was not properly staffed and could be harmful to patients.
Union organizers started wondering aloud if they should head to the third floor executive offices to seek answers from Tim Jones, president and CEO of Northern Berkshire Healthcare.
Shortly thereafter, about 15 police cars arrived and police quickly blocked the entrance, even surrounding the 60 or so protesters that remained.
Sacco blocked the front door with the help of other officers, including Adams Police Chief Richard Tarsa. But during the exchange, a phalanx of about two dozen employees and union officials slipped through and headed for the third floor executive offices. There they were met by a line of police that included officers from Lee, Adams, North Adams and the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office.
They were told to leave, eventually allowing a few to stay, who eventually had a brief meeting with CEO Jones, which did little to alleviate the frustration.
Shortly before 3 p.m., the union delegates returned to the cafeteria while NBH executives huddled on the third floor, both sides awaiting a ruling from Berkshire Superior Court regarding the fate of the emergency room.
When the news came that the ER would close at 4 p.m., they were ejected from the building and escorted by at least a dozen police officers off NARH grounds.
Within minute, multiple police cruisers blocked off the entrance to the campus and narrowed the exit.
Union leaders and hospital staff were brought to tears as they gathered their belongings and left the building.
No arrests were made, and North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio thanked the protesters -- which only numbered about 20 at the time -- for leaving peacefully.
"The building is in the control of the hospital," Sacco said. "[The administration] made a decision that everyone should leave."