MORIAH "" With construction workers pounding nails around him, Congressman John McHugh stood in the Moriah Business Park Tuesday and talked about how the town narrowly kept local health care when it was forced to close its old health center.

"It was clear without some dramatic change the Health Center was going to be shut down," he said. "There has to be access to good health care."

McHugh (R-Pierrepont Manor) reacted by getting about $549,000 in federal funding for construction of a new primary-health-care facility that's expected to be open by the end of the year.

The rest came from a $250,000 State Department of Health grant secured through Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro) and Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury), along with a $400,000 Small Cities Program grant.

In 2004, town officials were told by the Department of Health that the Mineville Health Center, located in the crumbling former Republic Steel hospital building, didn't meet current regulations and building codes and could not stay open.

Moriah, a town of 4,800 people, couldn't afford to build a new facility.

"This was a story that started as a crisis," McHugh said. "There was danger in this community of losing health care. No one can live in an area where there's no access to primary health care."

McHugh, who's been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 23 years, said the town sprang into action.

"I've never had a community call me more often or with more compassion than Moriah."

He praised the work done by Little and Sayward to help with funding for a new Health Center.

"They ensured the continuation of health care. They worked hard. Hudson Headwaters (Health Network) came forward and made a commitment (to provide medical services). It was no small challenge. This is a great work in progress."

The Moriah Health Center is one of 12 now operated by Hudson Headwaters, and is temporarily located in the Moriah Community Building in Mineville.

"Health care in the Adirondacks is an ongoing project," Hudson Headwaters Chief Executive Officer Dr. John Rugge said.

"There's no natural economy, lots of poverty. We know what we've got to do."

He said when Little came to tour the old Health Center, she found just how rundown it was.

"She went in the bathroom and couldn't get out. The door locked. They had to take the door down to get her out."

Little said the door was eventually opened.

"When I saw it I knew there had to be some changes at the Mineville Health Center. All I could think of was this community deserves better health care than this."

The Health Center had been operated by Champlain Health Concerns, a local non-profit group created for that purpose. It was managed by Inter-Lakes Health after it moved to the Community Building, then Hudson Headwaters.

"John Rugge knows how to get every grant out there," Little said. "He's brought health care to many small communities here in the Adirondacks."

Sayward said the issue quickly rose to major importance.

"I was hearing in Albany, I was hearing everywhere, that we had to do something about Mineville Health Center. My hat's off to this community."

The new Moriah Health Center will cost about $1.2 million when it's finished. It will have five examination rooms, a treatment room and a counseling room in a 4,750-square-foot structure in the Moriah Business Park off County Route 7.

The Health Center's official groundbreaking was Tuesday morning, and Moriah Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava said the new building should meet the community's needs for the next 30 to 40 years.

"This is a great day for the Town of Moriah."

E-mail Lohr McKinstry at:

lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com

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