KIM SMITH DEDAM
SARANAC LAKE — Adirondack Health wants to reduce emergency-room services at its Lake Placid hospital to part-time.
The Adirondack Health Board of Directors met Thursday night after a 60-day extension of review for its initial plan to convert the Emergency Department into an urgent-care clinic.
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“Having used the past 60 days to conduct additional research, explore alternative options and following a thoughtful and thorough discussion around the issue, the board has voted to transition to a part-time ER (emergency room) in Lake Placid,” hospital spokesman Joe Riccio said in a statement Friday morning.
“This option is being pursued in conjunction with the State Department of Health to ensure all quality, patient safety and regulatory requirements are held to the high standard set by Adirondack Health and its staff. If approved (through the Department of Health), the part-time ER will operate a minimum of 12 hours per day.”
Adirondack Medical Center at Lake Placid is one facility the health consortium was targeting as part of ongoing financial recovery measures, floating a plan to shut down the emergency room and replace it with a walk-in clinic.
Fiscal studies indicate the hospital lost nearly $500,000 last year.
But members of the Lake Placid community, including nurses, emergency-services personnel, village and town officials and officers of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, expressed concern with any cut to emergency-room services, especially in a community where international competition and major sporting events are held year round.
On Friday, with thousands of athletes and visitors in Lake Placid for Sunday’s Ironman triathlon, Mayor Craig Randall said he was heartened by the Adirondack Health Board’s decision to at least keep the Emergency Department open part-time.
“I think we’re encouraged at the moment. We’ll accept it in the good faith with which this decision was offered,” he said.
“Today, I have over 20,000 people visiting Lake Placid for Ironman; that’s four times the volume of people (living) in this community.
“To not have emergency-room access here makes no sense.”
NO FIRM DATE
The mayor said the community recognizes the financial challenges faced by the health-care consortium.
“We get that,” he said. “We still, in this community, have to be able to have some kind of local health-care access if somebody needs to be seen.
“Not everyone has the type of emergency situation where they call for an ambulance. And the only place they can go after hours is the Lake Placid emergency room.
“That is the piece of this puzzle that has to be figured out.”
In an interview, Riccio said they have not set a firm date to move Lake Placid’s ER to part-time operation.
They also have not determined what hours it would remain open.
“We’re going to take the time necessary to develop a thoughtful and thorough plan that will meet the needs of the community,” Riccio said.
Riccio wanted to be clear that the Emergency Department’s current hours will not change while final plans are under review.
“The Lake Placid ER will continue to operate as it currently does during this process. There will be no change in the current status of 24-hour operation.
“In addition,” he said in the statement, “an ad hoc transition team of community members is being formed to provide advice and assistance during the transition process.”
The ad hoc committee, Randall said, promises community input to the Adirondack Health Board.
“It is encouraging — there seems to be a door opening for community input. The ad hoc committee is something that the North Elba supervisor (Roby Politi) and I had advocated for with the hospital organization and their board, to allow the community to have an advocate forum to see what we can put together here.”
’LEGISLATION NOT NEEDED’
In Albany, Sen. Betty Little spokesman Dan Mac Entee said their office had discussed the option of part-time hospital hours with State Health Department officials.
“Our understanding is the Department of Health has indicated that legislation isn’t needed for this change in hours,” Mac Entee told the Press-Republican on Friday.
“The creation or operation of a part-time emergency room could be done so administratively (by the hospital board) and does not require legislation to change the law.
Doing so, he said, “would be something more than the urgent care clinic could provide.”
Little (R-Queensbury) had offered a bill in June to let Adirondack Health limit hours of operation specifically at its Lake Placid hospital. It passed the Senate with one dissenting vote.
But the bill never made it to the Assembly floor, as lawmakers ran out of time in the end of the 2013 session.
Randall said he understands that Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav R. Shah has authority in hospital requests for such changes in operations.
“I’ve been told that the Department of Health and the commissioner of health have continued to review the legislation with the thought that the commissioner could intervene and grant permission to do that.
“I understood that Senator Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec were working on that prospect. It looks to me that perhaps that process is moving forward.”
Mac Entee did not know if the legislation, meant as a pilot project for hospitals statewide, would be taken up again next year.
“We won’t be back until January,” he said. “This issue itself wouldn’t be done until next year.”
Email Kim Smith Dedam: email@example.com