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Glens Falls Hospital closes overnight kids unit

GLENS FALLS — Glens Falls Hospital is no longer staffing an overnight unit for children, which has upset some parents who discovered that when they took a child to the Emergency Department recently.

All children who cannot be treated as outpatients are transferred to Albany Medical Center Hospital.

For one Glens Falls family, this meant that a 15-year-old with pancreatitis had to be transported to Albany Med.

The family ended up not having to pay for the transport, grandfather Mike Mason said. And a relative helped the parents with a car so that they could stay with their daughter during her four-night stay in Albany.

“But the (Glens Falls) hospital was within five blocks of where they lived,” he said. “Pancreatitis is one of those things just about any hospital can handle. For the common problems, Glens Falls should be fully staffed in all departments.”

The family asked that their names not be used to protect the medical privacy of their daughter. The pancreatic attack came at a bad time, while the mother was undergoing regular chemotherapy for breast cancer. Mason was frustrated that the hospital wouldn’t simply treat his granddaughter, considering the logistical problems.

“She was four months short of being 16, which is the age at which she can stay on the adult wing, and they just shipped her to Albany Med,” he said. “It is a community hospital. They should be supporting the community.”

But Glens Falls Hospital had very few child patients who needed overnight care, Vice President Tracy Mills said.

“Volume was so low, in fact, that our staff couldn’t consistently maintain their competencies,” she said, referring to their skills in the pediatric speciality.

The decision to close the wing occurred “several years ago,” she said, although families and doctors said the wing had patients as recently as last year.

Glens Falls Hospital has been advertising its children’s wing with glowing descriptions and photographs on its website. When asked, Mills said that page would be taken down, and it was removed quickly.

The hospital did not announce the closure of the children’s wing in advance, and two pediatricians currently working for the hospital said they had no idea it was closed.

Still, medical officials supported the hospital’s decision to stop offering overnight pediatric care.

Retired pediatrician Dr. Jim Fuchs said Albany Medical Center offers exceptional care for children.

“Transportation has been an issue for some. I have heard complaints about that. But, I have also heard positive feedback about the care their child has received in Albany,” he said.

His main concern is that sick newborns have to be transported now.

Some of them would have been cared for at Glens Falls Hospital in the past, he noted.

“There is inherent, though limited, risk in transferring a sick infant. Being in an ambulance for an hour provides less stability than a nursery in a hospital,” he said. “But that risk must be weighed against the risk of not being at a hospital with a higher-level nursery.”

At Saratoga Hospital, there has never been a children’s wing, said Vice President Dr. Richard Falivena, the chief medical and physician integration officer.

He said it’s simply too much for a small hospital to offer.

Children are not just small adults, pediatricians say. Taking care of children, whose organs are still developing and who respond differently to medication, is its own specialty.

The region is fortunate to have a premier children’s hospital at Albany Medical Center, and it’s the best place for children even though parents may encounter transportation problems during their rare visits there, Falivena said.

At Saratoga Hospital, children are also evaluated carefully before outpatient surgery, to make sure they are unlikely to have complications that would require them to stay overnight. In that case, the child would be transferred to Albany Med, but it has never happened in Saratoga’s history, he said.

At Glens Falls, children can stay overnight after surgery if necessary, Mills said.

Fuks said the fact that few children need overnight hospitalization is a positive trend occurring throughout the country.

He credited immunizations, new medications and “a general improvement in our ability to care for children as outpatients.”

“This is a good thing, but leaves the hospital with fewer overnight patients who can help hospital staff maintain pediatric experience,” he said.

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