By FELICIA KRIEG
---- — LAKE PLACID — The Village of Lake Placid and Town of North Elba strongly oppose a proposal to revamp the Adirondack Medical Center/Lake Placid Emergency Department into an urgent-care facility.
At a joint public meeting Tuesday evening, Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall and North Elba Town Supervisor Robert Politi read a letter they wrote together calling for “an independent professional study of all possible alternatives.”
The statement, endorsed by both the Village Board and the Town Council, was sent to the Adirondack Health Board of Trustees.
“The past couple of months we’ve gone through (a process to) gather exhaustive input from the community (about the proposal),” Adirondack Health Communications Director Joe Riccio said on Wednesday.
“The board will take (the letter) into consideration and give it as much consideration and weight as it will the other input received (from other sources).”
The Adirondack Health Board meets tonight, and the proposal will be discussed, Riccio said.
He couldn’t say whether a vote would take place at the session.
Should the Emergency Department close, the next closest location would be Adirondack Medical Center/Saranac Lake.
Members of the Adirondack Medical Board of Trustees and a few physicians attended Tuesday’s meeting, Lake Placid Village Trustee Jason Leon said in a phone interview on Wednesday.
In the joint letter, Politi cited questions he said went unanswered during two public forums on the proposal.
They include whether more ambulances would be needed to offset turn-around times; whether a greater demand would be placed on EMS personnel; if the loss of the Lake Placid emergency room would lead to longer waiting times in at Adirondack Medical Center/Saranac Lake and what employment issues would be associated with emergency-room job loss or travel modifications.
People at the meeting clapped after the letter was read, North Elba Town Clerk Laurie Curtis Dudley said.
“They (the public) seemed very happy where the town stood and where the village stood.”
Leon said the meeting was a proud moment for him as a public figure.
“It was government working for the people,” he said. “The community showed up time after time to defend and to fight for the emergency room, and their elected leaders heard them and took action.
“I was very proud to be a part of that.”
Leon said Politi spoke out strongly as he read the statement at the session, very effectively expressing the position of the Village Board and Town Council.
“(His tone) was condemning; I would almost say admonishing the AMC Board for their poor business choices.”
The meeting was not a public forum, and so no public comments were made, he said.
In the first part of the letter, titled “Historical Perspectives,” Randall wrote: “The Lake Placid Emergency Room has continued to provide valuable service, not only for Lake Placid, but also surrounding communities of Wilmington (including Whiteface Mountain), Jay and Keene, despite almost no investment to upgrade the Emergency Room equipment.”
Leon said Randall is a former member of the Adirondack Health Board of Trustees.
Adirondack Health officials cite a fiscal crisis.
The Lake Placid Emergency Department loses more than $500,000 yearly, they told attendees at the public forums the organization held to explain the proposal and invite public comment.
Uihlein Living Center and its sister facility, Mercy Living Center in Tupper Lake, are both running in the red, they said.
The health-care consortium has lost federal monies due to sequestration and aid reduction, and Medicaid cuts are also a factor, officials say.
Adirondack Health has eliminated 36 jobs since last December.
Also under discussion has been the possible reconfiguration of the Uihlein Living Center nursing-home campus, Riccio said, to best serve the needs of the community. One proposal, among others, would consolidate AMC/Lake Placid’s wellness programs on that campus a half-mile away.
The hospital has just two inpatient hospital beds but also offers outpatient services, including sports medicine and rehabilitation, medical imaging and laboratory testing.
In the second portion of the letter, Politi wrote: “It is evident to us that there has been a ‘rush to judgement’ by the leadership of the Adirondack Health to counteract its poor business choices of the past.”
He said the Essex County Office of Emergency Services has expressed concern about how the the emergency-room closure would put “enhanced pressures on its Mutual Aid System” and that ambulance carriers in Keene and Wilmington have publicly said they will no longer transport patients to the hospital in Saranac Lake.
And he wrote about the value of a hospital emergency department to Lake Placid and its identity as a “legendary resort town with a prominent past and bright future.
“In the long run, decisions based solely on money can end up as shortsighted disasters.”
— News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this story.