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Adirondack Health CEO Chandler Ralph, center, at a public meeting May 1 on the proposed conversion of the Adirondack Medical Center-Lake Placid emergency room to an urgent care center, held at Lake Placid Center for the Arts. Stan Urban, left, is chair of Adirondack Health's Board of Trustees; to the right is Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Broderick. Photo: Chris Knight via <a href="http://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/page/content.detail/id/536726/Crowd-shouts-down-Lake-Placid-ER-plan.html">Adirondack Daily Enterprise</a>
Adirondack Health CEO Chandler Ralph, center, at a public meeting May 1 on the proposed conversion of the Adirondack Medical Center-Lake Placid emergency room to an urgent care center, held at Lake Placid Center for the Arts. Stan Urban, left, is chair of Adirondack Health's Board of Trustees; to the right is Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Broderick. Photo: Chris Knight via Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Plan to close Lake Placid ER faces harsh criticism

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Adirondack Health will host the second of two public meetings tonight on a controversial plan to convert the emergency room at its Lake Placid hospital to an urgent care center.

At the first meeting last week, representatives of the Saranac Lake-based hospital faced a hostile crowd. Many people said the change would leave the community vulnerable and put a strain on the emergency medical service system. Adirondack health officials say a decision could come at the end of the month.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

Last week's meeting at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts was tense, with several heated exchanges.

Hospital officials have said the Lake Placid ER isn't busy enough to justify being open around the clock, that its most serious patients are typically transferred to the ER in nearby Saranac Lake, and that converting it to an "immediate care center" as Adirondack Health is calling it, would save half a million dollars (see NCPR's story on community reactions to the potential ER closure, and job cuts at Adirondack Health.)

Adirondack Health has proposed converting its around-the-clock emergency room in Lake Placid to a 12-hour urgent care center as a cost-cutting move. Photo: Mark Kurtz
Adirondack Health has proposed converting its around-the-clock emergency room in Lake Placid to a 12-hour urgent care center as a cost-cutting move. Photo: Mark Kurtz
But some speakers, like Karen Huttlinger, questioned the rationale behind the change, "You're not talking about Burger King where, 'We're not selling enough burgers during these hours, so we're going to close.' Those five people who come in on any given day from three in the morning to six in the morning, they need an emergency room and they need one quickly. They're people, not burgers, and if you do want to save money, I suggest you look someplace else."

Former town of North Elba Supervisor Shirley Seney said she was worried about the young athletes and future Olympians who compete and train in the area. "We've got to have a medical facility here that is going to be able to offer what's needed to the young people and their followers in getting medical treatment when it's needed quickly, not another 12 miles away in an ambulance or a motor vehicle," she said.

You're not talking about Burger King where, 'We're not selling enough burgers during these hours, so we're going to close.' Those five people who come in ...they need an emergency room and they need one quickly.
Some of the harshest criticism came from members of the Lake Placid ambulance squad. "I've been on this ambulance service for six years, and I know for a fact that [the Lake Placid] ER has saved lives," said Chris, who didn't give his last name. He said ambulances will have to travel more often to the Saranac Lake ER, putting them out of service for longer periods and straining the mutual aid system. "It's going to hurt our ambulance service here in town," he said. "It's not just going to hurt us on the inability to get to you fast enough. It's going to hurt us financially."

Broderick said figuring out "how to make this work" with local EMS agencies is still a work in progress.

No one spoke in favor of the Adirondack Health proposal, although a local doctor, Howard Novick, urged the crowd to put the issue in context, "I don't think you really understand the decimation that's come on to medical care in the last decade," he said. "It's just been a constant decline and decline. No one's doing this out of malicious intent."

During a presentation at the outset of the meeting, Adirondack Health CEO Chandler Ralph said the health care industry faces a "changing landscape" across the country. She said her organization has seen, and is expecting more, financial losses due to the Affordable Care Act, the shift to more home-based and preventative medical care and a transition toward outpatient services.

Ralph said after the meeting that she expected people would speak passionately about the ER issue, "I respect their opinions," she said. "It's our responsibility to listen to those opinions but also to educate on how drastically health care is changing."

Stan Urban, chair of the hospital's board of trustees, said the hospital sustained a $4.5 million operating loss over the last two years, plus another $1 million so far this year. It has to do something, he said, "If it's not this, then what is it?" he asked. "The status quo is not an option. If you shutter the nursing homes, there's no viable option for the people who live there. If you close down the health centers in Tupper Lake or Keene, there's no viable option there. We believe, in our analysis, that if you modify the hours of the ER in Lake Placid, there is a viable option."

The proposal also has the backing of Adirondack Health's medical staff.

Urban said he expects a decision will be made at the board's next meeting, May 30.

Tonight's meeting on the Lake Placid proposal is set for 7 p.m. also at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

Read or listen to Julie Grant's story on the challenges Gouverneur's EJ Noble Hospital is facing as it struggles to come back from a very tough year.

Reporter Chris Knight contributed to today's broadcast, courtesy of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. For more of his reporting, go to AdirondackDailyEnterprise.com.

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