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Retired nurse Jackie Hartle and hairdresser Judy Redmond want to help keep the hospital open. Photo: Julie Grant
Retired nurse Jackie Hartle and hairdresser Judy Redmond want to help keep the hospital open. Photo: Julie Grant

Gouverneur worried, still hopeful about hospital

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The EJ Noble Hospital in Gouverneur remains closed, as officials work to correct problems with the hospital's lab. The New York State Department of Health closed the lab down late last week, which meant the hospital could no longer admit patients. Eighteen patients were moved to nearby hospitals, and 70 EJ Noble employees have been placed on leave.

There's concern that the longer the hospital remains closed, the less chance it has of re-opening. Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown and Canton-Potsdam Hospital are both considering proposals to help. But people who live in the Gouverneur-area are worried. The nearest hospital is more than a half-an-hour's drive away.

Village officials have a date with the health department Friday to talk about possible affiliations with other North Country hospitals that might allow EJ Noble to reopen.

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Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

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Jackie Hartle and Judy Redmond are sitting at an old wooden table outside Jumbo’s Diner in downtown Gouverneur.  The two have been friends for decades.  They’re drinking coffee and smoking Sonoma 100s.  The talk today is about how to save the EJ Noble Hospital.

The nearest hospital is more than 30 miles away in Watertown, Ogdensburg, or Potsdam. Photo: Julie Grant
The nearest hospital is more than 30 miles away in Watertown, Ogdensburg, or Potsdam. Photo: Julie Grant
Both women have spent time there.  Jackie Hartle’s 52-year old son was born at EJ Noble. “I feel so sorry for the people that can’t come to the ER with a heart attack or a stroke, maybe by the time they get to Watertown,” she said. “I was a nurse there and I loved it and I want to see it open very soon.”

Hartle said her daughter works at the hospital, and she has friends on the nursing staff. “But I’m more concerned about the community”  she said.  “What’s going to happen if someone gets sick.  My grandson plays football, if he breaks a leg, he can’t even be stabilized until he can go someplace else.  I worry a lot, I worry about the community.”

The Gouverneur village mayor is also worried.  Ron McDougall recently took over the job, after the former mayor resigned amid scandal.   McDougall says the hospital has quickly become his top priority. He is concerned about the lack of medical care – and also that EJ Noble is one of Gourverneur’s biggest employers.

EJ Noble cannot admit patients until the NY health department approves the hospital's lab. Photo: Julie Grant
EJ Noble cannot admit patients until the NY health department approves the hospital's lab. Photo: Julie Grant
“There are around 250 jobs.  That’s big.  That’s huge to this area’” McDogall said.  “The village of Gouverneur, the greater Gouverneur area, those are good jobs and we want them back as soon as possible.”

McDougall and others have visited Albany in recent days to figure out how to get the hospital reopened, while the people wait.

At the local veterinary clinic, Glenna Gibson is standing with her Boston Terrier talking with the employees at the counter about EJ Noble.

“We’re thirty miles or more to the nearest hospital,” she said.  “There could be a lot of people dying to get to these other hospitals.  It’s not a good thing.”

But she said she wasn’t surprised at the closure.“No, I had heard they had a problem with the lab, from gossip. (But) my family always got good care there.  They were excellent with my mother when she was dying.”

Tim Monroe is the veterinarian at this clinic.  He’s also on the town board, the bank board, and has been on the hospital board for 25 years.  Monroe calls the hospital situation a “disaster” for the community.

A LabCorp truck outside EJ Noble hospital on Wednesday. Photo: Julie Grant
A LabCorp truck outside EJ Noble hospital on Wednesday. Photo: Julie Grant
He says Gouverneur is approaching Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown and Canton-Potsdam Hospital to provide assistance.  He says those facilities have more resources than EJ Noble. “Canton-Potsdam Hospital has 43 employees in their lab, of which 25 of those are licensed lab techs.  Here in EJ Noble we’d like to have 9 lab techs, of which one would be a supervisor, so that’s 8. So you can see the size is much different.  We have to share with larger institutions and attract those types of trained people here in this small, rural community.”

A spokesperon at Samaritan Medical Center told NCPR it plans to submit a letter by late today (Thursday), outlining what oversight and services it is willing to provide to the Gouverneur hospital.  Monroe says Canton-Potsdam is also considering a proposal to share lab technicians.

Officials with EJ Noble are scheduled to meet with the NY health department on Friday to discuss both proposals.  Monroe isn’t sure how long it will take to get approval and move forward.

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