Press-Republican

May 31, 2013

Fate of Lake Placid ER on hold for 60 days

KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

SARANAC LAKE — Trustees at Adirondack Health decided Thursday evening to table their next step in hospital restructuring.

They will spend up to 60 days giving further study to the plan to convert the emergency room at the Adirondack Medical Center site in Lake Placid into an urgent-care center. 

The board met to discuss Adirondack Medical Center’s fiscal recovery plan, which included the possible change to the emergency room. 

Board meetings are not open to the public, but in a statement issued about 9:45 p.m., hospital spokesman Joe Riccio said: “The board was presented with a summary of public input from the numerous community meetings on the conversion of the Lake Placid emergency room to an Immediate Care Center. 

“Upon review, the board has decided there is a need to factor in additional study, community input and give the process more thought in the context of our broader mission and strategic plan. We plan to finalize this discussion in the next 60 days. 

“Meeting the needs of today’s patients and residents and preparing for a bright future for Adirondack Health is a common goal we all share.”

DELAY ENDORSED

Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, who helped guide the merger of Lake Placid Memorial Hospital and General Hospital of Saranac Lake more than 20 years ago and who chaired the Adirondack Medical Center Board of Trustees through early 2000s, welcomed the respite.

“Sixty days is not a long time. However, I think the (North Elba) supervisor (Roby Politi) and I would agree that we believe the board had not provided satisfactory answers to all of the questions that were raised addressing the impact on all community organizations that are affected by the prospect of the emergency-room closing and, of course, on our own residents and visitors,” he told the Press-Republican after the announcement Thursday night.

Over the past two months, Adirondack Health has held several public informational meetings to garner input.

QUESTIONS RAISED

The lack of economic-impact review and strategic planning was front and center in arguments that officials from Lake Placid and North Elba presented at their joint meeting this week.

Politi said the move to convert the emergency department or eventually even close it requires “extensive thought” and careful planning.

“Sound decisions do not happen quickly and certainly not over the course of several weeks and two public forums. It is evident to us that there has been a ‘rush to judgment’ by the leadership of Adirondack Health to counteract its poor business choices of the past,” he said in a joint letter presented with Randall.

“The Essex County Office of Emergency Services has voiced its concerns relative to the enhanced pressures on its mutual-aid system resulting from an emergency-room closure in Lake Placid. Both the Keene and Wilmington ambulance carriers have publicly expressed that they will no longer transport to Saranac Lake.”

 In their missive, Politi and Randall asked hospital officials to conduct an independent and professional study of alternatives.

They placed unanswered questions on the table: “Will more ambulances be needed to offset turn-around times? Will there be greater demand and more expectations on community EMS personnel? Will the loss of the Lake Placid ER (emergency room) result in extended waiting times in Saranac Lake? What are the employment issues associated with ER job loss or travel modifications?” 

“NEGATIVE IMPACT”

The plan has drawn contention from many residents here, alongside the Lake Placid Village Board, North Elba Town Council, town officials in Wilmington and from the Olympic Regional Development Authority.

ORDA Board Chairman Pat Barrett released a statement earlier this week urging Adirondack Health CEO Chandler Ralph to maintain emergency services in the Olympic Village.

“It is felt that future bids for conventions and gatherings will be affected by the potential closure of this facility,” he said.

“ORDA operates competitive and recreational venues and feels that closure of the Lake Placid emergency room would have a negative impact on guests, athletes in training and competitors.”

The plan to re-commission the existing emergency room at the hospital in Lake Placid involves replacing it with an urgent-care center that operates 12 to 18 hours a day. The emergency room is currently open around the clock, seven days a week.

In launching restructuring programs last summer, Adirondack Health said it may eventually relocate the urgent-care facility to the Uihlein Living Center campus in Lake Placid.

EMERGENCY RESPONSE

Local emergency squads and ambulance crews have questioned the impact of emergency-room closure on their service and how the added 30-mile round trip to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake would affect both their response time and the demand for their services.

Ambulance crews have said they are not reimbursed for transport to urgent-care facilities.

Barrett said ORDA relies heavily on the volunteers associated with emergency medical services within Essex County.

And, he said, the Olympic Authority “feels an additional burden will be placed on this already heavily burdened volunteer group and their associated communities, especially at our Whiteface (Ski Resort) facility, located in the Town of Wilmington.”

Hospital officials have said repeatedly in public meetings that the emergency-response protocol was a key factor in their decision-making process. The plan was to have patients delivered to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake.

Hospital officials have said the emergency department in Lake Placid is losing nearly $500,000 annually.

Email Kim Smith Dedam:kdedam@pressrepublican.com