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Adirondack Health will convert its around-the-clock emergency room in Lake Placid to a 15-hour-a-day facility as a cost-cutting move. Photo: Mark Kurtz
Adirondack Health will convert its around-the-clock emergency room in Lake Placid to a 15-hour-a-day facility as a cost-cutting move. Photo: Mark Kurtz

Lake Placid emergency room downshifts to part-time

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The emergency room in Lake Placid, operated by Adirondack Health, will be the first in New York state to operate on a part-time basis, under a new plan approved by the New York State Department of Health.

The change from 24/7 care to a facility that will be staffed 15 hours each day was announced on Monday.

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Chandler Ralph, Adirondack Health President and CEO.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Obviously, if a community can have 24/7 ER care, they'd rather have that. Let's not kid ourselves.
A sometimes rancorous debate

Last May, when Adirondack Health floated the idea that the Lake Placid emergency room might be closed or seriously downsized, it sparked a wave of outrage from local residents like Karen Huttlinger. "You're not talking about Burger King where, oh, we're not selling enough burgers during these hours, so we're going to close," Huttlinger said at a public meeting in May, 2013.

Others, including former North Elba town supervisor Shirley Seney, suggested that the plan to downsize Lake Placid's hospital amounted to a betrayal. In a village with a thriving sports culture and a big tourism economy, local leaders were convinced that emergency room care remains vital.

So on Monday, Adirondack Health president and CEO Chandler Ralph announced a compromise. The ER will stay open, she says, but only part-time.

Full ER service 15 hours a day

"We will open at 8 a.m. and close at 11 p.m. That'll be seven days a week," Ralph said. "It's the first of its kind in New York state. It's an innovative way of addressing the changing nature of healthcare."

Hospitals are facing enormous budget pressure, with stagnant reimbursements from the Federal government and a big push to shift more care to outpatient programs. According to Adirondack Health, their organization lost more than $5.5 million over the last three years alone, in part because of red ink at the Lake Placid ER.

Dr. John Broderick, Adirondack Health's chief medical officer, says he thinks this new plan will help cut costs while also insuring patient safety. "There will be a 9-1-1 direct line phone hardwired into the [Lake Placid] facility, so that anyone who requires an ambulance when they pull up, they'll just pick up the phone and get the dispatch," he said.

Directions will also be provided to the hospital emergency room in Saranac Lake, which will remain open 24 hours a day.

A new model and for some a disappointment

In order to shift the Lake Placid emergency room to part-time, Adirondack Health needed special approval from the state Department of Health. That has now been granted. Chandler Ralph says she coordinated the plan with local elected leaders in Lake Placid and groups like the Olympic training facility and the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates Whiteface Mountain. "Obviously, if a community can have 24/7 ER care, they'd rather have that," Ralph acknowledged. "Let's not kid ourselves." But given budget constraints, she said this plan offered "a great model moving forward."

The change to the Lake Placid emergency room's hours takes place June 16.

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