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EJ Noble Hospital's new CEO Marlinda LaValley, and new board chair Michael Burgess. Photo: Julie Grant
EJ Noble Hospital's new CEO Marlinda LaValley, and new board chair Michael Burgess. Photo: Julie Grant

EJ Noble Hospital: 'We're open for business'

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E.J. Noble Hospital in Gouverneur has had a tough year. Last fall, the State Department of Health forced it to close down, after finding numerous safety violations in the hospital lab.

Most of the problems have been corrected. The hospital has new management and a new board of directors. Now it needs the patients to return.

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Reported by

Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

EJ Noble's new $9.5 million expansion opened just months before the hospital's safety troubles came to light.

Everything is shiny and has that new-hospital smell. And it's totally quiet. There's not one patient here.

A hospital spokesperson tells me they don't schedule afternoon appointments in this part of the building. But the silence reveals a major hurdle in getting the hospital back to business.

Officials with EJ Noble in Gouverneur want patients to fill the hallways of the hospital's new building. Photo: Julie Grant
Officials with EJ Noble in Gouverneur want patients to fill the hallways of the hospital's new building. Photo: Julie Grant
Michael Burgess is vice president at Gouverneur-based Kinney Drugs and recently took over as president of EJ Noble's board. He says getting patients back will help "bridge the gap" for EJ Noble.

Marlinda LaValley, a long time Canton-Potsdam Hospital administrator, has been named CEO.

LaValley says the problems with the lab have been corrected, and the hospital is permitted to perform most of its past functions.

"So, if you need to come to the emergency department, the emergency department is up and functioning as it was before the closure. If you need to come in for lab work the laboratory services are up and functioning. And while all tests may not be done on site, that's the case in virtually any hospital."

LaValley and hospital leaders are speaking with reporters, in hopes of getting that message out.

Many of the underlying problems at the hospital lab stemmed from lack of resources. Right now, they're getting some help. Samaritan Medical Center of Watertown is overseeing EJ Noble's lab. And Canton-Potsdam Hospital is helping with LaValley's salary.

She says they've secured an additional $2 million loan from the state health department.

"We've been successful in working with them to access, at least on a temporary basis, some funding that helps us to bridge during this transition process while we work to stabilize the internal finances."

About 70 EJ Noble employees were told not to report to work after the lab closed last year. LaValley says most have not returned to the hospital. Some doctors also left. Still, at least 15 providers maintained their practices.

EJ Noble has been meeting payroll, and is trying to catch-up on payments to vendors.

LaValley says one service that has not reopened is the blood bank.

"The blood bank is not operational at the moment, that's considered a high risk service, if you will. That probably is something we will not approach in the immediate future. I think we need a sustained period of time when we can demonstrate to the health department and to ourselves that we're able to meet all the terms of our plan of correction, and at that point look to see if we want to expand services."

Without the blood bank, the hospital can't perform major surgeries or OB deliveries. But it keeps enough blood on-hand for emergencies.

The only thing we need to repair with the community is that we're open for business.
Board chair Michael Burgess says people aren't staying away because they're worried about safety.

"The only thing we need to repair with the community is that we're open for business."

But speaking with a few people downtown, it's clear there are still concerns.

Student Brittany Cisco, who's 23, was at McDonald's. She was worried for her own future when EJ Noble closed.

"I'm a community health major in college, and I want to get into the hospital, and I was like, 'What am I going to do now?' kind of a thing."

Cisco's father, and other people around town, call it a "band-aid station," but she's glad it's there.

Stacy Canell is shopping across the street at the health food store. She says she would go to the Gouverneur hospital.

"It would of course depend on what it was for. Not for a heart attack, but if I needed stitches."

Store owner Rushteen Dowling-Hughes doesn't have any qualms. She has family and friends who work at EJ Noble, and she's ready to go there if the need arises.

"Because we're such a small community, we need our hospital. If we have to travel very far, it could mean life or death to somebody. We definitely need this hospital."

Hospital leaders understand the instability is worrisome. They want people to know they can come back to EJ Noble, so the hallways are bustling again with satisfied patients.

See Julie Grant's related story on EJ Noble's closure of the rural Harrisville, NY, clinic. And see Chris Knight's story on local reactions to Adirondack Health's proposed plan to shut down the Lake Placid Emergency Room.

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