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The rally was held outside River Hospital and its nursing home.
The rally was held outside River Hospital and its nursing home.

1000 Islanders rally for "a miracle" at nursing home

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About 60 people braced the chilly winds coming off the St. Lawrence River yesterday to urge River Hospital not to close its nursing home and adult day care unit. The hospital says it can't sustain the home's financial losses. But the demonstrators believe the community can raise the money needed to keep open the place their elders call home. David Sommerstein reports.

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Laurie Phelps fears her mother will be relocated far from Alexandria Bay.

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David Sommerstein
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[chanting]

Save Skilled Nurses...

Bud Mulchy chants into a bullhorn in front of River Hospital, smack in the middle of the village of Alexandria Bay, right on the St. Lawrence.  People clutch signs reading "where will my mom go?" and "this is the wrong way to treat seniors."

Debbie Cupernell of Chaumont shouts into the bullhorn, then collapses into a friend's arms and cries.  She says her mother wouldn't be alive if not for the hospital's nursing home and its nurses' personal care.

She couldn't speak.  She couldn't eat.  She couldn't do anything.  Now she's walking, talking.  She feeds herself, dresses herself.  She doesn't have very good memory, but she's still my mom.  She still acts like my mom.  And there's nobody like these nurses.  She doesn't want to leave and we still don't know what we're going to do with her.

Last month, River Hospital's board of trustees determined they had no choice but to close the Skilled Nursing Facility and its adult day care program.  It was losing 800,000 dollars a year and threatened to bring down the hospital itself.

But people here feel betrayed and angry.  They say the community wasn't given a chance to help.  Many of them donated to help save the hospital in 2003.  Larry Scott's mother lives in the nursing home.

These people here, the Board members and the CEO, I call 'em something else, but I'll be polite.  They had no problem putting their hands out for donations.  My first thing if I was on the Board was to look to my elected officials.  Mr. Aubertine.  Did they do it?  No.

In fact, State Senator Darrel Aubertine only heard the news after the Board had agreed to close the home.  But Aubertine says as the owner, the decision was the hospital's to make.  And it may be irreversible.

I think the decision was made by the hospital.  It really is only the hospital that can reverse the decision.

CEO Ben Moore or hospital trustees couldn't respond to the crowd because they were at the board's regular meeting.  They'll sit down with Aubertine and Assemblywoman Addie Russell on Friday.

The people at the rally already talk about the home in the past tense.  But they still hold out hope they can persuade the hospital to shift gears,  and let the community try to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars until a long-term solution can be found.

Laurie Phelps' mother has lived in the nursing home for four years.

I'm an optimist, and I believe that there could be a miracle on the river.  And I'm hoping this is it.

For North Country Public Radio, I'm David Sommerstein in Alexandria Bay.

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