Announce plans for new hospital

(Enterprise — February 1964)

It was fast work once the General Hospital Board of Directors decided to build a new medical center to replace the old hospital; that hospital now houses the administration building for North Country Community College on Winona Avenue.

Richard E. Basile was president of the hospital board when he announced those plans in February 1964 and the present hospital on state Route 86 in Saranac Lake was dedicated May 7, 1967.

There were many more people than expected who showed up at the dedication — some said 1,000, some said thousands, and the Enterprise story said, “in any event there were a lot more spectators than expected.”

The fund drive for the new facility prompted the erection of a tall pole in Berkeley Square with a colored gauge on it, like a thermometer. What better symbol for a hospital event?

I especially remember the pole because that summer the New York State Conference of Mayors was held in New York City.

Mayor Wagner of New York had buses, with police motorcycle escorts, transport all the conference attendees to the 1964 New York World’s Fair (80 nations) at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens.

Oh yes, the pole … when we arrived at the hotel, the front desk guy says: “Mayor Riley there is a telegram for you” — immediate stress with six kids at home.

The telegram read “we protest the tall pole in Berkeley Square” — signed — “Short Pole Committee.”

Medical Center proposed 1951

This is the history of Saranac Lake that everyone talks about, that no one knows anything about, but son-of-a-gun, here it is in black and white. Page one, the Enterprise, Friday, Jan. 12, 1951. Almost the entire front page was dedicated to the economic and tuberculosis health of Saranac Lake.

“Seventy-five local businessmen met with a group of doctors last night at Hotel Saranac and enthusiastically supported the doctors’ proposal for a Medical Center here.

“Dr. Carl C. Merkel, President of the Saranac Lake Medical Society, appointed a committee to draw up definite plans for such a center.

“On the committee are George LaPan, William F. Stearns, Ferris Hewitt, Thomas P. Ward, Thomas Cantwell, Irving Altman, and Dr. John N. Hayes, Dr. Dan Brumfiel and Dr. Roger S. Mitchell.

“The committee will report back to the group as soon as possible and then, probably, to a Town Meeting of all interested citizens.

“Health in Saranac Lake means health for Saranac Lake.

“That is the conclusion of the report on what the health services in this town means to the town’s economy. The report, ‘Saranac Lake’s Stake in Tuberculosis,’ prepared by members of the Saranac Lake Medical Society, is printed in full in our columns today.

“The report is an exhaustive study of the income Saranac Lake derives from its health services and an examination into causes for the decline in the number of sick who come here.

“It concludes with a number of recommendations, chief among them a plan for the creation of a Medical Center to direct an aggressive campaign of publicity for our health services.

“The members of the Society have approved the report.

“The report shows that even with the continuing decline in the number of people who come to use our health services, the amount of money, conservatively estimated, brought into Saranac Lake by those people is almost $4,000,000 each year. This is almost half of the estimated $9.5 million total retail sales here in 1949.

“Data for the report was collected by a group of physicians through a careful study of all expenditures of various sanatoria and private cottages in the vicinity and through a series of detailed questionnaires sent to a large number of patients. The questionnaires asked in detail about the patients’ expenditures and costs.

“The plan for a Saranac Lake Medical Center emphasizes chiefly at this time only the potential publicity activities of such an organization. Nothing in the plan necessarily limits its activities to pulmonary diseases only. Its eventual relation to various health organizations in town is not defined but there is no intent to absorb or to control them. It is hoped that all of them will join in the Center as autonomous members of one organization devoted to one end — the improvement in the use of health services available in Saranac Lake.

“Few hospitals, particularly ones the size of our hospital, are as efficiently run, as well equipped, and as courteously staffed.

“The General Hospital is not only the keystone of the system of health services here. It is a magnificent example of continuous human service. And it is a solid foundation on which to build a future.”

Ray Brook hospital excluded

“The New York State Hospital at Ray Brook was excluded from these calculations on the assumption that it would remain in full operation even if all private facilities were to close. Nevertheless, in 1949, this institution spent almost $400,000 for goods purchased and salaries paid to employees living in the Saranac Lake area. Furthermore the survey indicates that Ray Brook patients and their visitors spend at least $150,000 in Saranac Lake every year.

[When Trudeau closed in 1954 many of the employees found jobs at Ray Brook Hospital.]

“Other important sources of revenue were also excluded from calculations in the survey: The Trudeau Foundation [separate from Trudeau Sanatorium], The Saranac Lake Study and Craft Guild and salaries to employees of the New York Central Railroad.”


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