Big medical transition in Lake Placid

The Lake Placid Health and Medical Fitness Center’s parking lot is mostly full Monday morning, the first day general-practice doctors and nurses are working on the second floor of this facility. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

LAKE PLACID — The red brick building that has served this community’s medical needs since 1951 was quiet Monday morning. All the essentials had been moved to the new health center nearby, which was bustling as doctors and nurses prepared to see patients there for the first time.

This transition was supposed to happen months ago. Adirondack Health opened the rest of its Lake Placid Health and Medical Fitness Center in January, moving its emergency, radiology and physical therapy departments over from the old Adirondack Medical Center-Lake Placid and also debuting a modern fitness facility with a pool and dozens of new exercise machines. The private Lake Placid Sports Medicine practice moved as well. They could do so because all of them are located on the ground floor.

But the second floor, which houses general-practice doctors and nurses for adults and kids, was delayed. After the building was constructed, the state Department of Health decided a third exit was needed in case of an emergency and required a new stairwell to be built onto the back of the structure. With that done, the move followed.

The last service to leave will be the dental office of Dr. Peter Rosenberger, which will move this weekend to a former dentist’s office in the Outpost Plaza, above the Caffe Rustica restaurant. Rosenberger isn’t looking forward to it. Moving is one of his least favorite things, he said Monday.

The transfer seems to have gone pretty smoothly for the others, though. Before the weekend, they were doing their jobs in the old building. Then Adirondack Health staff and hired movers shifted all their stuff in a whirlwind weekend. On Monday morning they were adjusting to the new space before appointments started at noon.

Dr. Woods McCahill and nurse Patricia Gonyea smile Monday morning in their new offices on the second floor of the Lake Placid Health and Medical Fitness Center. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

“It’s a little bittersweet,” said Patricia Gonyea, a licensed practical nurse. In October she will mark 30 years as a nurse, all of that working at the old Church Street hospital under Dr. Woods McCahill.

It was still called Placid Memorial Hospital when she started working there. It was a stand-alone operation that still delivered babies, hosted surgeries and had its own lab. But that would soon change; those functions were consolidated in Saranac Lake after Placid Memorial merged with the larger General Hospital of Saranac Lake to become Adirondack Medical Center, a process that began in 1989, the same year Gonyea began her career.

McCahill has worked here even longer. He started at Placid Memorial in 1980, after the Winter Olympics: first in private practice and since 1988 working directly for the hospital. Despite nearly four decades in that building, he seemed to take the transition in stride.

“We’ll see how it goes after we see patients for a week or two,” he said.

“I think it’s exciting to get a new lift in technology,” Gonyea said. “Medicine is ever-changing.”

The second floor of the new Lake Placid Health and Medical Fitness Center is now open to the public. A conference room is seen in this view from the top of the stairs. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

McCahill said the Church Street facility had gotten pretty tired, from Adirondack Health’s perspective.

“I think it cost a lot to heat; the roof leaked — stuff like that,” he said.

Gonyea added, “It was an old boiler system, so it was like roasting, or it was cold, one or the other. So that will be nice, I hope, over here.”

On the other hand, the old hospital felt like home.

“I’m sure there are plenty of times I’m going to drive in to go to the old building before I realize I’m supposed to be here,” McCahill said.

The front entrance of the old Adirondack Medical Center-Lake Placid is seen Monday morning. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

Meanwhile, in the old building, the halls and rooms looked clean, orderly and mostly empty. A few items were piled neatly in the halls and labeled, such as filing cabinets, chairs, crutches and cases of hand sanitizer.

A handful of Adirondack Health staff were still on duty there. Dan Kilbourne-Hill, who works in the business office, had volunteered to spend the day working on a laptop computer in the lobby, greeting possible walk-in patients who hadn’t heard about the move and directing them to the new health center around the corner.

Dr. Anthony Waickman and Adirondack Health Communications Director Matt Scollin gave this reporter a tour of the building, with Waickman pointing where services had been before the merger: surgery, maternity, cafeteria, morgue, etc. His private practice used to send him to its satellite office here one day a week from 1985 until shortly before the merger. Passing one room, he said, “This was this was the first place where somebody threatened to kill me.”

He explained: “Literally, Grandma had sold the farm, had lots of money, and the grandkids were fighting over it. It was a druggie who came in and basically said, ‘If Grandma dies, you’re dead.'”

The place is full of memories.

Dan Kilbourne-Hill works from the front lobby of the old Adirondack Medical Center-Lake Placid Monday morning as he waits to greet possible walk-in patients and redirect them to the new Lake Placid Health and Medical Fitness Center. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

The small second floor, most recently used as offices, used to be a mini-dormitory where nurses lived. Charlann “Chugs” Duffy, now of Saranac Lake, was one of those from January to November 1955, while she was engaged to her husband Walter “Bud” Duffy. She shared the kitchen, living area and bathroom with two other nurses and another staff member who was the unofficial “dorm mother.”

“All of the ones but me are gone now,” she said Tuesday.

“It was a good place to be, right there at work,” she added. “And we could take our meals down in the basement where the cafeteria was.”

She remembered it being much less busy than her previous job at Buffalo General Hospital, where each nurse might have 30 to 40 patients to care for. In Lake Placid, she was likely to have just three or four.

Waickman showed her around the old hospital recently, too, but she said it seemed unrecognizable after all these years and changes.

Dr. Anthony Waickman points out the window of what was once a room where babies were delivered at Placid Memorial Hospital before it merged with the General Hospital of Saranac Lake and maternity services were consolidated there. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

“I could not get my head around what they had done around there,” she said.

Soon the town of North Elba will take charge of the old hospital. North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi said town officials are working on reuse plans with the U.S. Olympic Committee and the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. The hospital is located right behind the U.S. Olympic Training Center and next to the USA Luge headquarters.

In the short term, he said, the building will probably be used for sports-related office space. Eventually, he said, it will likely be demolished to make way for athlete housing.

This is one of the few piles of items left in the halls of the old Adirondack Medical Center-Lake Placid Monday morning, after the medical offices were moved to a new facility. The former Placid Memorial Hospital was generally clean and tidy the day after the move. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)