NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – Community members protested the recent announcement to close North Adams Regional Hospital on Thursday by holding a peaceful demonstration.
Community members are still holding out hope that the hospital will stay open despite being told doors will close Friday morning. On Wednesday, more than 100 people, including healthcare workers, elected officials and residentsgathered in protest.
Protestors also gathered in the hospital cafeteria early Thursday and refused to leave until guarantees are in place to keep it open.
The sudden closure has raised a lot of concerns, and area residents have signed petitions and looked at different ways to get the governor to intervene and declare a public health emergency.
A judge, however, ordered on Thursday for emergency room services at the hospital to remain open. Everything else will still close.
The hospital has been in debt since 2001. There were rumors of a merger with Berkshire Medical Center, but the debt was too much for any potential buyer.
A hospital spokesperson said they are heartbroken about the closure and understand it has been a critical resource in the community. She added they have tried doing everything they could to save it.
People began gathering at 9 a.m. for the vigil inside the hospital lobby for a peaceful protest. NEWS10 ABC camera crews were not allowed inside, and demonstrators were also asked to leave the area.
People began to gather outside the hospital instead.
"We can't afford that one young person or elderly person to die because we don't have the medical care," resident Mike Wilber said. "We need a hospital. We need it today. We need it done now."
Demonstrators said they will be back out protesting again on Friday, the same day the hospital is expected to close.
The Massachusetts State Health Department issued a response Thursday on the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital. They said typically a hospital closure would trigger a public hearing 90 days in advance, but "in this extraordinary instance, a recent change in financial condition led to the hospital's decision to close immediately."
It was a sad and devastating day for employees as they began to say their goodbyes. Karen Pekosz, a server at the hospital's cafeteria, said everyone is in the same boat. No one knows what's next.
"It's like were at a funeral. We are burying someone," she said. "I got people coming in- doctors and everybody saying their goodbyes, telling me how they're going to miss my face and my smile."
Pekosz became emotional as she spoke about her years working as a cafeteria server at North Adams Regional Hospital.
"All my customers that come through, I call them my patients. And I've gotten to know them so well I know what they want to eat and when they can't make a decision I make it for them," she said.
She said everything is happening so fast. Workers have been filling out forms and filing for unemployment. She said there were rumors of the hospital closing, but she didn't think it would ever happen.
"I honestly thought another major layoff. I never thought we would have to put padlocks on the door and say goodbye," she said. "I have to shut down my cafeteria that I feel like is a part of me."
She admits she's scared about what's to come and still wants to hold a career.
"I'm going to be 51-years-old on April 11. I'm just afraid," she said. "I know that they say they don't shun older people, but when you only know one career and it gets taken away from you, who's going to hire me?"
After she locks up her cafeteria Friday morning, she'll be picking up her last paycheck and saying her goodbyes.