LAKE PLACID - The state Department of Health has approved Adirondack Health's plan to convert its around-the-clock Lake Placid emergency room to a 15-hour-a-day operation.
Starting June 16, the ER at Adirondack Medical Center in Lake Placid will be open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week as part of a first-of-its-kind project with the state, Adirondack Health officials announced in a press release this morning. The ER at the larger AMC hospital in Saranac Lake will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"The idea of change can be scary, but this innovative decision positions us - and the entire Lake Placid region - as a leader in adapting to the changing healthcare landscape," Adirondack Health President and CEO Chandler M. Ralph said in the release. "Our process to reach this point was very comprehensive. It included a thorough analysis of our financials and quality of services offered. But more important, this was a result of Adirondack Health working closely with our community to achieve a creative and sustainable long-term vision for healthcare in our region."
Adirondack Medical Center in Lake Placid
(File photo — Richard Rosentreter)
The announcement comes nearly a year after Adirondack Health's Board of Trustees voted to transition to a part-time ER. At that time, hospital officials said it would operate at least 12 hours a day.
The organization initially planned to convert the Lake Placid ER to an urgent care clinic. They said the Lake Placid ER doesn't have modern medical technology and that most seriously ill patients already bypass it and are taken to the ER at in Saranac Lake. They also said the low volume of patients at the Lake Placid ER, especially at night, doesn't justify keeping it open around the clock.
Adirondack Health officials have also said the change would cut costs at a time when the hospital has seen big operating losses due to state and federal budget cuts. The number of patients served at the Lake Placid ER has declined by 22 percent since 2009, which hospital officials say has resulted in a loss of nearly $588,192 in 2012 and $896,325 in 2013.
But the urgent care proposal drew strong opposition from people in Lake Placid who said the loss of around-the-clock emergency room care would leave the community's residents and visitors vulnerable. Local ambulance squads worried about losing revenue and the extra time it would take to get patients to Saranac Lake. The New York State Nurses Association, the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, and the Lake Placid village and North Elba town boards also lined up against the urgent care concept.
The idea of a part-time ER was then developed. It was 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.
Adirondack Health initially pursued legislation in Albany that would have allowed the Lake Placid ER to go part-time and still remain a certified ER. The bill was approved in the Senate but failed to make it to the Assembly floor for a vote before the chamber adjourned in June. Supporters of the part-time ER concept, including state Sen. Betty Little, later learned that the Health Department can create such a pilot program on its own, without legislative approval.
In today's press release, Little said Adirondack Health's leadership has explored multiple options to ensure high-quality care while also ensuring the organization's long-term viability.
"I am hopeful that the best balance possible has been reached and, moving forward together, the hospital and the communities it serves will see the benefit in having done so," Little said.
"The board has listened to the community, our physicians and elected officials and feels this decision is consistent with our commitment to excellent care, visionary leadership and sound financial management," said Stan Urban, chair of Adirondack Health's Board of Trustees.
As part of the transition, Adirondack Health said it and a Transition Task Force comprised of Lake Placid-area residents, local elected officials and emergency medical service agencies "are working together to ensure the community is properly informed and that every family and potential patient continues to receive access to quality healthcare."
The doctors' offices at AMC-Lake Placid will continue to be open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.