Officials concerned with Lake Placid ER closure plan

Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 11:49 PM EDT
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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (WCAX) - The future of Lake Placid’s emergency services is unclear. Public officials demanding answers about its likely closure say the Adirondack Health System isn’t being straightforward about what’s going on. Adirondack Health submitted its closure plan to the New York Department of Health in October 2022. For now, the department is still operating part time.

The next closest emergency department to Lake Placid will be 11 miles away at Saranac Lake. While that doesn’t sound far, people in the area are concerned the extra minutes it takes to get care could mean life or death.

Known for its top-notch athletic facilities and winter recreation, Lake Placid is a global destination. Recently, the state invested approximately half-a-billion dollars in the community to keep it that way.

“They are on the world stage, so we need to meet those emergency resource expectations for visitors and athletes that are coming,” said Assemblyman Matthew Simpson, R-Essex County. “We need to be prepared for the future.”

He and other public officials say it doesn’t make sense for the community’s only emergency department to be closing its doors.

“I just feel no matter what happens, there needs to be more of a community discussion,” said Wilmington Town Supervisor Roy Holzer, who says he’s had a hard time getting answers about why this is happening. “Even on the meeting that we had, every slide they had said it had proprietary information, therefore could not be disclosed.”

WCAX News contacted Adirondack Health several times to ask about the process and why more information isn’t being shared with the public. They responded to my inquiry with a letter that went to community members last October. The letter outlines some of the financial struggles and staffing challenges. It says 2022 saw a loss of approximately $10 million. This loss comes from a lack of patients and the need to hire travel nurses and physicians. It also outlines emergency department use. Adirondack Health says they average fewer than eight visits per day in Lake Placid, with only 2% being true emergencies.

Sara Bollinger with the New York State Association of Rural Health says other rural health care facilities are struggling with many of the same things.

“They lost a lot of money in the 2021 period and it’s been challenging to recover,” Bollinger said. “The communities are often older people, so there’s a dependence on government insurance, which doesn’t pay as well.”

As a result, many have had to reduce services. However, there are several risks when patients have to go further for urgent care.

“If you’re very ill or have been hurt that extra time makes a difference,” Bollinger continued. “For ambulance services, many are volunteer in the North Country and that’s a burden, it’s a longer drive. There’s also a longer wait when you get to the hospital.”

Bollinger says Lake Placid is unique to be closing its ED entirely.

Holzer says, before doing that, Adirondack Health should be getting outside expert opinions and taking community feedback like they did when they considered closing it in 2013.

“Let’s get the public involved. Let’s have an exchange of ideas,” Holzer said. “Let’s realize we’re all in this together.”

Adirondack Health has not laid out a public timeline for when they plan to close the ED permanently.