In 1882, hours after the second train disaster in a month had left 35 workmen badly injured or dying, citizens of North Adams organized a subscription drive to raise the $12,000 needed to build a hospital. Since there was no hospital to take care of the injured men, any boarding house with extra room was soon packed with casualties.
Only three hours after that second train accident, W.L. Brown and W.S. Johnson of North Adams started a subscription drive to raise funds for a hospital. Within a few days they had several thousand dollars in both large and small contributions. The first hospital committee members were Mr. Brown and Mr. Johnson, C.T. Sampson, H.G.B. Fisher and William Arthur Gallup -- family names that became very important to the early history of the hospital.
They were especially proud of the site chosen for the building, the Estes estate. The 30 acres of peaceful pastureland high above the city positioned the hospital away from any noise and "open to the pure air of the hills."
The original North Adams Hospital opened on March 2, 1885 with 12 beds "for the care and treatment of the sick and disabled." At the time, the price of a hospital stay was $4 a week if you lived in North Adams, $5 if you did not, and there were "no fees to the physicians and surgeons who gave their services to the hospital." During that first year, 34 patients were admitted, the first on March 11.
Running the hospital was left to the women of the community, many of whom were among the original corporators. A Board of Control was created and its members handled the daily details of hospital administration as well as raising operating funds. The original outpouring of contributions was enthusiastic, but there was little in the treasury when the hospital opened. In 1886, Louise B. Tyler, Secretary of the hospital, wrote to a Mr. Davis thanking him for his recent donation: "If you could know of our many discouragements, you would realize how heartily your great kindness is appreciated."
In 1891, a nurses' training school was opened in an effort to ensure an ongoing supply of fully trained staff to care for the growing number of patients it treated. Over the years, the school became well known and students were accepted from all over the country.
It was not an easy life, however. A student's day began at 6 a.m. with lights out at 10:15 p.m. They were on duty from 7:20 in the morning until 8 at night, and had one half-day and half of Sunday off each week, and two hours a day for study, rest and recreation if the hospital could spare them the time off. They received $6 a month, which was "not intended as wages, it being considered that the education given is a full equivalent for their services."
As might have been expected, the demands upon the hospital soon outstripped its facilities, and by 1905, only 20 years after its construction, the building was hopelessly overcrowded. So it became necessary to construct an annex in 1905, the first of many additions made to the original structure down through the years. In 1912, through the generosity of the Herbert Clark family, a nurses' residence was constructed on the hospital grounds.
However, because of limited financial resources and more restrictive state regulations, it became necessary to close the nurses' training school in 1937. Almost immediately a school for private-duty nurses was opened. It operated until 1943, when the Clark House was given over for patient rooms.
The hospital got its first motor ambulance in 1920 and opened its first "accident and emergency department" in 1938. World War II was probably the hardest period for the hospital because of the severity of local and national shortages of nurses, doctors and supplies. For a while, it seemed that the hospital would have to close, but with the invaluable help of volunteers it was able to endure the hardship.
In the ensuing years, the hospital became a more important and necessary community resource. And while periodic additions to the original structure increased the number of beds and provided more space for expanding medical services and specialties, it became clear in the early 1950s that a new building would be needed. A broad-based fund-raising effort was launched, and the majority of the $1,789,183 it took to construct the new hospital was raised from local individuals, businesses and organizations.
In 1955, local residents cheered when the new building officially opened its doors to welcome patients. A similar fund-raising effort in the late 1960s resulted in the addition of the North Wing that housed additional beds and a number of ancillary services. Two decades later, the Centennial Fund provided well over a million dollars toward a $3.5 million effort to modernize the existing facility and construct new areas for clinical use.
Today, NARH has completed a major renovation and expansion project. The hospital now has a new and expanded Critical Care Unit, state-of-the-art Surgical Services, a beautiful new Birthing Center, and a new and larger Emergency Center.
Throughout its history, the local hospital has grown with the community -- expanding as the population grew, keeping pace with changing needs and advancements in medical science, and developing cost-effective ways to offer the best medical care possible. This has been a constant even as doctors, nurses and staff, the buildings, and medical technology changed.
As NARH meets the challenge of providing health care into the 21st century, there is another constant: the commitment and support of the community -- not only to the hospital as a physical facility -- but to its caregivers. In recent years, that support enabled the purchase of a new stereotactic breast biopsy unit, the expansion of NARH's endoscopy suite, support of a multidisciplinary team that is working to improve the treatment and quality of life for congestive heart failure patients, special wound care education for visiting nurses, and the creation of an employee education center. That commitment is reciprocated by the hospital staff in the care it provides to the community.