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Adirondack Health's Lake Placid facility. Photo: Mark Kurtz
Adirondack Health's Lake Placid facility. Photo: Mark Kurtz

Lake Placid officials seek ways to provide 24/7 emergency coverage

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Adirondack Health's Board of Trustees ended months of speculation last week when it voted to convert the around-the-clock emergency room at its Lake Placid hospital to part time.

The decision still requires approval of the state Health Department. It comes after hospital officials faced strong opposition over an earlier plan to turn the ER into a part time urgent care center.

Local officials say they're satisfied with the idea of a part-time ER but they'll still looking for ways to ensure the community has around the clock emergency coverage.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

The possible conversion of the ER to an urgent care center has been a bitterly contested issue in Lake Placid and surrounding communities since it was first proposed in March.

Here's a sample of how contentious that debate has been, from a May public meeting hosted by Adirondack Health.

"What has Lake Placid ever done to you that you want to see us lose our emergency room," said former North Elba Supervisor Shirley Seney. "Actually what you should do is hang your head in shame."

"You're not listening," said Dr. Claude Roland, a local surgeon. "You're not listening to the data. You're not listening to the fact that this organization is hemorrhaging money, and in 10 years there may be no hospital."

The direction Adirondack Health's board chose Thursday night – transitioning to a part time emergency room – is the same one it tried unsuccessfully to pursue legislatively last month, after its proposal to shift the Lake Placid ER to an urgent care center drew strong opposition from local residents, the Olympic Regional Development Authority, local elected officials and area ambulance crews.

In June, bills were introduced in the Senate and Assembly that would have let Adirondack Health run a part-time, off-site emergency room in Lake Placid as part of a five-year pilot program under the state Health Department. The legislation was approved by the Senate but failed to make it to the Assembly floor for a vote before the chamber adjourned June 21.

Joe Riccio is a spokesman for Adirondack Health.

"The effort was unsuccessful in the last legislative session, but it did open the door for productive dialogue with the Department of Health to pursue the part-time ER option," Riccio said.

After the bill failed, state Sen. Betty Little said she learned that the Health Department can create such a pilot program on its own.

"We don't need the legislation any longer," she said Friday. "We've talked to the Department of Health, and they've agreed they can do this program administratively."

For now, the Lake Placid ER will continue to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If Adirondack Health's plan is approved by the state, Riccio said the part-time Lake Placid ER would operate a minimum of 12 hours per day.

A part-time ER is seen as a better option because state law requires emergency rooms to have more staff on duty than urgent care clinics and because an ER is required to accept all patients, regardless of their ability to pay. Ambulance squads can also bill patients' insurance companies if they take them to emergency rooms, but not if they go to an urgent care center.

Betty Little called a part-time ER a "good resolution" and a valuable demonstration project for the rest of the state.

"This will help," she said. "During the day is when they have all the busy calls (from) Whiteface Mountain and the luge, bobsled and ski area. They'll be able to take care of them and have an emergency room. In the evening hours when it's not utilized as much and there's a lot less traffic, they'll use the ambulance to take people to Saranac Lake."

Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall called the decision "a good development" that opens the door to more dialogue with Adirondack Health.

"I think we have a great opportunity here. That does not mean to say for one minute that we're not looking to have some kind of 24/7 access for people that need to be seen beyond the hours they might be willing to operate an emergency room, but I think those discussions are ahead of us," Randall said.

There was no immediate comment on the decision from New York State Nurses Association which had opposed the idea of a part-time ER when it was pursued legislatively, saying it would limit life-saving, emergency care to the residents and visitors of Lake Placid and put increased pressure on EMS services in the area.

Riccio said Adirondack Health will convene an ad hoc team of community members to provide advice and assistance during the transition to a part-time ER.

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

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