Skip Navigation
Regional News
Last year, Glens Falls Hospital opened partnership talks with Albany Medical Center. The community's largest employer has experienced "significant strain" as admissions plummeted.
Last year, Glens Falls Hospital opened partnership talks with Albany Medical Center. The community's largest employer has experienced "significant strain" as admissions plummeted.

Will your North Country hospital survive health care reform?

Listen to this story
Yesterday we reported that Lake Placid's emergency room will be the first in New York State to operate on a part-time basis. That experiment is part of a revolution in health care that's sweeping hospitals in the region.

From Ogdensburg to Saranac Lake to Glens Falls, hospitals are seeing far fewer patients and those who come through the door are staying for shorter periods of time. Experts say those changes are positive, meaning better care at a lower cost. But there's a risk that some hospitals won't survive the transition.

See this

Adirondack Health CEO Chandler Ralph Photo via Brim Healthcare

Hear this

Download audio

Share this


Explore this

Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Story location

We lost about 2,500 admissions over the last two years. That's put some significant strain on our organization.
The best of times, the worst of times

Last month, when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand visited Queensbury, she heard from two health care experts who told the story of the rapid-fire changes hitting the North Country's hospital industry.

The first was Howard Nelson, with the Hudson Headwaters Healthcare Network, which is booming. The network has grown from 11 to 16 outpatient clinics and is currently building a $9.5 million health center in Warrensburg.

"Pretty much as quickly as we can get health centers going in the greater Glens Falls region, people are going to them because there's this great for primary care," Nelson said.

But as people flock to those outpatient clinics, the region's hospitals have seen a huge squeeze.

Mitchell Amado is Chief Financial Officer for Glens Falls Hospital. "Glens Falls Hospital is also a jewel of the community, the largest employer and we have been experiencing some challenging times," he said.

These hospitals don't just treat sick people. In many communities, they're also big employers. Glens Falls Hospital has more than 2,500 workers, many of them highly paid.

But Amato says the business model of big hospitals faces historic challenges.

"Health care reform is here," he noted. "The transition has been very rapid [and has meant a] significant decrease in admissions. We lost about 2,500 admissions over the last two years. That's put some significant strain on our organization."

Historic change hitting hospitals across the region

Glens Falls isn't alone. The last few years, those same pressures have meant unprecedented change for North Country hospitals. There have been widespread layoffs and mergers and reorganizations.

· Last year, Glens Falls hospital began talks with Albany Medical Center about possible mergers or partnerships.

· CVPH in Plattsburgh and the Elizabethtown Hospital in Essex County entered a new corporate affiliation with Fletcher Allen in Burlington.

· EJ Noble hospital closed down briefly last year before reopening as Governeur Hospital under a new merger plan with Canton-Potsdam Hospital.

· In Massena, meanwhile, community meetings are underway to decide the future of Massena Memorial Hospital, which faces what local leaders describe as an "imminent financial crisis."

· This week, the operators of Lake Placid's hospital announced that their emergency room would operate on a part-time basis after June.

EJ Noble Hospital in Gouverneur reorganized in 2013 and is now affiliated with Canton-Potsdam Hospital. Photo: Julie Grant
EJ Noble Hospital in Gouverneur reorganized in 2013 and is now affiliated with Canton-Potsdam Hospital. Photo: Julie Grant
"The only hospitals that are going to survive are the ones that can change on a dime. Because that's how quickly things are changing," said Chandler Ralph, head of Adirondack Health, which operates hospitals in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.

Ralph says the revolution hitting hospitals is part of a positive national trend. "It's a transition out of automatically putting patients in a hospital bed and saying how do we better treat them on a team basis in our primary care offices so they don't wind up in the hospital. That's sort of the goal."

Part of the change is being driven by the Affordable Care Act. Far more Americans are insured now than a year ago. But those insurance plans are driving patients toward preventative and outpatient care whenever possible.

Mitchell Amado at Glens Falls Hospital says technology and private sector business models are also changing fast. "A lot of procedures that used to be done on an inpatient basis are being done outpatient and they may be going to large outpatient specialty center."

Some hospitals bouncing back, adapting

Some hospitals are turning the corner. Glens Falls lost more than $6 million last year. Amado says so far this year they're operating in the black.

But he says communities looking to these big institutions as major job engines should prepare for that to change too.

"Probably five to 10 years, you'll start seeing significant changes from where we are today. Hospitals will still be needed," Amado says, but he thinks they'll see only the most ill patients.

Chandler Ralph, with Adirondack Health, says one of the big ideas for the future is that hospitals will join the rush into primary care, opening more clinics, providing more outpatient services.

"I think we're about two thirds of the way down [that road]," she said, noting that Adirondack Health plans to build a new outpatient care facility in Lake Placid. "Our primary care visits have increased exponentially."

The Obama administration and New York state have made funds available to help hospitals transition into the new, hopefully more cost-effective world of healthcare.

But speaking last year, Stephens Mundy with CVPH in Plattsburgh said some North Country hospitals may not be able to reinvent themselves fast enough.

"The ones that scare me are the organizations that are in the very rural areas that are totally unafilliated or loosely affiliated and are struggling. That keeps me up all the time," he said.

Visitor comments

on:

NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.