June 9, 2013

Editorial: Coping with ER closure


---- — The concerns raised by ORDA about the proposed closure of the Adirondack Medical Center Emergency Department in Lake Placid have added a substantial new wrinkle to the debate.

Adirondack Health, the parent entity for AMC in Lake Placid and the much larger AMC hospital in Saranac Lake, is in a difficult position. It makes sense economically to close the Lake Placid emergency operation, which is bleeding about $500,000 a year.

Hospitals all over the country are struggling under the burden of oppressive regulations, the changing health-care equation and reduced revenue. Here in the North Country, all the hospitals have cut staff and reduced offerings in an attempt to stem the leakage.

The closure of AMC Lake Placid is just one step that Adirondack Health may take to cut costs as part of its necessarily painful "fiscal recovery plan."

But to say the idea has been met with concern is putting it mildly. It appears that only the hospital administration and some of its staff wholly endorse the idea. Opposition has been voiced by several local-government boards, volunteer ambulance companies, the Essex County Office of Emergency Services and community members.

The Adirondack Health Board of Trustees already faced an unpopular decision if it voted to approve the closure. But now the Olympic Regional Development Authority has weighed in, and the stakes have escalated considerably.

ORDA Board Chairman Pat Barrett said in a statement: “It is felt that future bids for conventions and gatherings will be affected by the potential closure of this facility. 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.”

Now, you are hitting the community in two places that really hurt: its economic health and its reputation as a world-class sports and convention venue.

Adirondack Health doesn't intend to abandon Lake Placid completely. Its plan would be to replace the AMC Emergency Department there, which is open 24/7, with an urgent-care center that operates 12 to 18 hours a day. Serious injuries and conditions would be sent to AMC Saranac Lake.

In light of the community response, members of the Adirondack Health Board of Trustees have delayed their decision, saying they will take up to 60 days to further study the plan. They promise more opportunity for community input, which we applaud.

Hopefully, a compromise of some kind can be worked out. No one can expect Adirondack Health to carry a revenue-draining venture. But the health-care group also has a responsibility to address community needs — and prominent among those are the safety of the high-caliber athletes who train and compete in Lake Placid and the scores of people who visit the Olympic Village each year.

We hope some creative solution can be found that will be satisfactory to the interests of both AMC and the community.