SARANAC LAKE - After putting off a decision for two months, the Adirondack Health Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet Thursday night to consider a controversial plan to convert the around-the-clock emergency room at its Lake Placid hospital to a part-time urgent care clinic.
At the board's May 30 meeting, trustees reviewed public input on the proposal from a series of community meetings and decided to delay a decision for 60 days. In an email to employees that night, Adirondack Health CEO Chandler Ralph said the additional time was needed "to factor in additional study, community input and give the process more thought in the context of our broader mission and strategic plan."
"That's exactly what we've been doing," Adirondack Health spokesman Joe Riccio said Tuesday. "It's been a very thoughtful process for the board and very exhaustive."
Adirondack Health officials first announced the plan to convert the Lake Placid ER to an "immediate care center" in March. They've said the volume of patients at the ER doesn't justify keeping it open full-time, that it isn't equipped with modern medical technology and that most seriously ill patients already are taken to the Saranac Lake ER. They've also said the Lake Placid ER lost roughly $500,000 last year, although some have questioned the formula hospital officials used to arrive at that number.
Many Lake Placid residents have been strongly opposed to the plan, saying the loss of 24-hour emergency care would threaten their safety and that of the area's visitors and seasonal residents. The state Olympic Regional Development Authority also opposed the plan, and the Lake Placid village and North Elba town boards urged the Adirondack Health board to delay the decision and commission an independent professional study of the proposal.
What some saw as a potential compromise was floated in the waning days of the state Legislative session in June. Bills were introduced in the Senate and Assembly that would have allowed Adirondack Health to run a part-time, off-site emergency room in Lake Placid as part of a five-year pilot program. The legislation would have addressed some of the concerns that have been raised about converting the ER to an urgent care clinic, such as ambulance squads not being able to bill patients' insurance companies if they take them to an urgent care center.
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.
In late May, Ralph had said additional community input would be gathered during the 60-day delay. Riccio said that's basically been in the form of additional feedback board members and hospital officials have received from area residents. No more public meetings were held.
The New York State Nurses Association, which represents nurses in the Lake Placid and Saranac Lake emergency departments and other Adirondack Health facilities, has been lobbying against the conversion of the ER.
"The Nurses Association strongly urges the board of directors to keep the emergency department open to assure the residents of Lake Placid and the High Peaks region have access to vital, life-saving 24-hour emergency care," the organization said Tuesday in a press release.
Thursday night's meeting, which isn't open to the public, will be held in the Redfield Medical Building at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake. Riccio said he expects it will be a long one.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.