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Physician Assistant Brittani Bickel, and patient Nancy McIntosh.  Photo: Julie Grant
Physician Assistant Brittani Bickel, and patient Nancy McIntosh. Photo: Julie Grant

Care continues in Harrisville despite clinic closure

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E.J. Noble Hospital is trying to get its financial footing after a tough year. The Gouverneur-based hospital was forced to shut down last fall by the state health department, because of safety problems in the lab. The troubles stemmed from a lack of resources.

Now EJ Noble has a new hospital board, and a new CEO, and it's making decisions to improve the bottom line, including closing two rural clinics.

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Reported by

Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

The Harrisville Family Health Center.  Photo: Julie Grant
The Harrisville Family Health Center. Photo: Julie Grant
Newly-appointed EJ Noble CEO Marlinda LaValley says the hospital is closing the clinic in Harrisville, as well as one in Russell, because it needs to save money.

"Keeping open two rural remote clinics is a wonderful concept, but when they are part of the issue that is losing substantial money for the organization, we had to make choices that seemed to make sense."

Harrisville is a tiny Adirondack village along the Oswegatchie River about 20 miles southeast of Gouverneur. It's home to only 650 people.

LaValley says the number of patients at EJ Noble's clinic there has been declining. She says they're not staying away because of safety concerns last fall at the Gouverneur hospital.

"I don't think that that was an issue."

But people in Harrisville say safety problems at EJ Noble give patients pause. I met 58-year old seamstress Laurie Watson at the Stewart's shop.

"Well, I was born in EJ Noble, I won't go back there. I took my stepson over there, and the help said, 'If you want something done, don't come here.' So I said, when the help says that, I don't."

Physician Assistant Brittani Bickel recently returned to Harrisville, to work at the Family Health Center.  Photo: Julie Grant
Physician Assistant Brittani Bickel recently returned to Harrisville, to work at the Family Health Center. Photo: Julie Grant
Seeking care elsewhere

Brittani Bickel is a physician assistant at a different clinic, called the Harrisville Family Health Center, which opened in February. It's owned by Lewis County General Hospital. Bickel sees patients three days a week.

She says there has been a buzz for months about EJ Noble closing its clinic soon.

"So I think that that was more of the question. Not so much of 'Is our lives in danger?', or that kind of thing. It was more of 'What's going to happen tomorrow? Is the office going to shut down or whatnot?' And I think that was more of the frustration or fear of the unknown."

Bickel says the impending closure of EJ Noble's clinic is probably bringing people to her place.

She wanted to come back, and that made everyone happy.
The Harrisville Family Health Center is on a residential street in a rundown little building, with peeling paint, and a grassy gravel parking area.

Inside, it looks like any small doctor's office. Four people are in the waiting room.

Nancy McIntosh has gotten care at the hospital in Carthage and at a clinic in Beaver Falls. Those facilities are in better condition, but she likes this place better.

"It's more personal, I think. The doctor is nice here."

Brittani Bickel has a boisterous, easy manner with patients. Giving high-fives, and posing for pictures with them.

The 32-year-old has a black eye today from last night's hockey game.

She's surprised how many people are seeking care here.

"And I can't keep up. And that says a lot, because, I can keep up. I'm quite an ambitious one. I'm a go-go gadget. For that to be said, it's busy here."

Still, some residents don't go to Bickel's clinic because she's a physician's assistant, and they want a full-fledged doctor.

But patient Nancy McIntosh appreciates Bickel's commitment to Harrisville.

This area has been a thoroughfare for health providers. They usually come for a couple of years, and then move on. A few years ago, Bickel did that too. McIntosh says, "But she wanted to come back, and that made everyone happy."

Bickel, a Watertown native, recently bought a house in Harrisville.

"It's my second home. I mean it's my new home, actually, because I'm now a resident. I've moved here. I've never felt so a part, I've never become such a family."

Bickel says she'll stay in Harrisville, as long as Lewis County General maintains a clinic here. Consultants have warned the hospital that rural clinics usually aren't profitable. But they've just announced the Harrisville Family Health Center will add hours, and start see patients four days per week.

 

 

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