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GUEST COMMENTARY: Creating a healthier future

June 3, 2013

If the Lake Placid Memorial Hospital were to close the most prudent use of the land would be for the Town of North Elba to give it to the Adirondack Medical Center, which would maintain the initial bequest of using the land to provide medical services to the residents of North Elba.

An increasing number of communities the size of Lake Placid across the United States do not have a medical center as well equipped as Adirondack Health 10 miles down the road. Throughout rural America the distance to medical centers is increasing and will continue to increase as the financial challenges in health care continue to mount, thus anything we can do to keep AMC economically viable is in our best interest even though the drive for emergency service may end up being a bit longer.

That we have such problems is our own fault for not planning ahead or being willing to address tough challenges. As an example, when the Social Security System was established 16 people paid in for every person receiving benefits, and now the ratio is three for one. Further people are living longer, yet we remain unwilling to raise the minimum year we can start receiving benefits plus we have greatly expanded our retirement benefits to include Medicaid and Medicare. Thus the system is going bankrupt and consuming more and more of our tax dollars leaving less and less available to help institutions like Adirondack Health.

Several decades back our community had the opportunity to partner with Saranac Lake and have not only the medical center, but a shared high school built in Raybrook. Our parochial attitudes kept us from now having an ER just 5 miles down the road and a centralized educational system that would have saved us millions of dollars since then that could have been better used to address a host of thorny problems such as installing a parking garage on Main Street to name but one.

A fiscal reality across the United States is that ER's (aka ED's) are bleeding hospital resources as so many entering their doors show up for non-medical emergencies that could have been treated in a clinic or are used by people without insurance knowing they cannot be refused.

In Keene we no longer have a hospital. People have to travel some distance in emergencies. While we do not have people crashing in bobsleds, plenty fall off mountains to maintain our share of damaged humans seeking emergency medical care. What is different now than when the Lake Placid Memorial was built is that emergency care begins with the arrival of the ambulance, which is outfitted with an array of equipment not available in the past.

In the interim Keene has turned its medical center into a top-notch home for the elderly that has become a valued asset as our society ages. Adirondack Health's investment in Uilhein, while from a business standpoint quite mad, represents a tremendous investment where health care in Lake Placid is needed most.

What I would not do however is just give Adirondack Health the land valued at $700,000 unfettered (a certified appraisal received by AMC in contrast to the higher tax roll listing). Rather I would require that any funds derived from its sale should go into the medical center's endowment to help protect its long-term viability. A quick infusion of cash would be too tempting to spend leaving them no better off than they are now in a few short years.

If we truly want to reduce our health care costs and maintain access to good medical care years into the future we need to shift our actions and behaviors from disease management to health improvement. Further we should demand of AMC that it outline its vision for enhancing the health and wellbeing of the Tri-Lakes residents and visitors. Yes they have taken a couple hard hits from the federal government, haven't we all, but within that reality what's the plan for meeting our health challenges. How can we provide lower-income families access to a fitness center, reduce obesity, diabetes and heart failure rates, and instill healthier living habits in our kids?

Yes, I will miss the old hospital, but in reality not that much. The building no longer meets even the most basic requirements and is increasingly expensive to heat and operate. Better is to raise a glass of milk to the grand old lady for its many years of great service, and start planning for a healthier future.

Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley and writes a weekly column for the Lake Placid News



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