‘It’s just a tough deal’
Officials continue push for answers on Lake Placid ER closure
LAKE PLACID — A second private meeting about the fate of Lake Placid’s emergency room this week — attended by local and state officials and ER-operator Adirondack Health — produced few new answers to lingering questions about the ER’s proposed closure.
Adirondack Health announced this past October that it had filed a closure plan with the state Department of Health and was seeking authorization to close its emergency room at the Lake Placid Health and Fitness Center on Old Military Road in Lake Placid. Local officials met with the state Department of Health earlier this month about the plan, and the state deemed it necessary to include Adirondack Health in a conversation after local officials aired complaints about what they describe as Adirondack Health’s tight-lipped approach to the closure plan, as well as their concerns about consequences on local EMS squads and the community if the ER were to close.
North Elba town Supervisor Derek Doty said several hospital officials — including Adirondack Health CEO Aaron Kramer — attended Monday’s meeting with local and state officials. Much of the information Doty recalled from the meeting is already public knowledge, including the hospital’s more than $10 million deficit in 2022, which the hospital cited as one of the reasons for its decision to close the ER in an open letter to the community published in the Enterprise this past October.
Doty said he has a feeling that Adirondack Health is doing a lot of “internal searching” about which hospital services to cut in an effort to save money, but Doty is hoping Kramer understood the “public outcry” for more information to be released about the possible closure.
Wilmington town Supervisor Roy Holzer has been a vocal opponent of the plan since it was publicized this past October. He’s not just concerned about the ER closing — he’s also “frustrated” with what he sees as Adirondack Health’s lack of communication about the closure with the community and elected officials.
Supervisors learned about the proposed ER closure in Adirondack Health’s open letter to the community about the closure, released in October — at the same time as the broader community. Since this past October, in addition to announcing its plan to close the Lake Placid ER, the health network also announced its intention to sell the Mercy Living Center — a nursing home the hospital operates in Tupper Lake — and shared that it intends to close the hospital’s dental care facility in Lake Placid.
If the public and elected officials knew about the proposed closures and sales before the plans were publicized, Holzer believes that something might have been done to save the hospital’s facilities. That’s why he’s suggesting the state Department of Health and Adirondack Health hold at least one public hearing for the ER closure plan, much like the hospital did in 2013 when the ER closure was proposed back then.
Steve Bradley, Adirondack Health’s marketing manager, declined to comment on Monday’s meeting and whether or not the hospital is planning to hold any public meetings about the proposed closure.
The closure plan is still under review by the state Department of Health. The Enterprise’s Freedom of Information Law request for the closure plan was denied by the state Department of Health earlier this month. The department’s denial letter said that, because the closure plan has yet to be “accepted and finalized” by the department, the department couldn’t release the plan. The department said the plan contains “trade secrets or information” that, if released, could “cause substantial injury to the competitive position of the subject enterprise” and that “disclosure could endanger the life or safety of any person” — reasoning taken directly from state legislation about access to agency records. Monica Pomeroy, a public information officer for the state Department of Health, said on Friday that the Enterprise could obtain the plan via FOIL request once the department finishes reviewing the plan.
Local officials still haven’t seen the closure plan themselves, according to Doty.
This week was the first time Doty and Holzer expressed a level of defeat in their effort to save the ER from closing.
“In the end, I don’t know if anything is going to change, to be quite honest,” Holzer said on Friday.
Doty showed similar sentiment on Wednesday.
“Personally, I don’t expect the ER to survive here in Lake Placid,” he said.
Doty said a closure could lead to “tremendous losses” for the Lake Placid and Wilmington ambulance squads. In Lake Placid, ambulance service workers are already struggling to meet demands — Doty said the town contributed an additional $52,000 to the Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service in this year’s budget, an increase from the usual $15,000 per year, to address inflation and the cost of employee wages. That was before the ER closure plan was announced.
“It’s just a tough deal,” Doty said.
While Lake Placid’s ambulance squad used to be made up of volunteers, most people who work for the ambulance service here are now paid. Doty is afraid the squad might have to hire an extra crew to make up for the added time it will take to transport patients to the next-closest ER at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, 11 miles away.