Adirondack Health to close dental office in Lake Placid

The facade of Adirondack Health Dental Care is seen here on Friday, Feb. 24. The dental care facility is slated for closure around May 1. (News photo — Lauren Yates)

LAKE PLACID — After 30 years of providing dental services to residents in Lake Placid and surrounding areas, Adirondack Health has announced plans to close its Lake Placid dental care center this spring amid staffing issues and financial “stressors.” With few specifics released about the closure from Adirondack Health, and with the sparse availability of dental practices and jobs in the village, the future of the facility’s five employees and service for around 2,000 active patients they serve remains uncertain.

Matt Scollin, Adirondack Health’s director of external affairs, confirmed in a statement Thursday, Feb. 23 that the hospital plans to close the Adirondack Health Dental Care, located on Barn Road, “sometime this spring.”

“Following several months of careful and objective analysis, Adirondack Health has made the difficult decision to close the dental practice we operate in Lake Placid,” the statement said. “We are in the process of notifying dental patients by mail, with letters that include contact information for other regional dental practices currently accepting new patients. Adirondack Health is proud of the dental practice’s 30-year run.”

He said Adirondack Health submitted a closure plan for the dental practice to the New York State Department of Health, which has to approve the plan before the dentist’s office can close.

Factors for closure

Scollin said that “recruitment challenges and financial stressors have made the service line unsustainable at Adirondack Health Dental Care.” Adirondack Health has been trying to recruit a dental hygienist for almost three years, Scollin said in an email on Friday, Feb. 24.

“In a small practice, that kind of vacancy — for that long — makes it very difficult to achieve productivity and see enough patients to make the numbers work,” he wrote.

The area is experiencing an affordable housing crisis, making it more difficult to hire staff that would need to relocate here.

Scollin also said the reimbursement rate for insured services is “inadequate.” He said it costs between $700,000 and $800,000 every year to run the dental facility, though that cost went down last year after a dentist retired from the practice. Scollin said Adirondack Health’s annual financial loss from the dental care practice alone is approximately $350,000 each year.

It’s no secret that Adirondack Health is experiencing staffing problems and financial losses across its facilities. The hospital this past October filed a closure plan with the state DOH for the emergency room at the Lake Placid Health and Medical Fitness Center, citing low patient volumes, inflation and pandemic-related staffing issues. Later that month, Adirondack Health announced its intentions to sell the Mercy Living Center — a nursing home the hospital operates in Tupper Lake — again citing staffing issues and increasing financial losses at the facility. At the time, Scollin placed Adirondack Health’s total deficit at around $10 million for 2022.

The Lake Placid ER, Mercy Living and Adirondack Health Dental Care contributed to at least $6.9 million of the estimated $10 million deficit last year, according to figures provided by Adirondack Health last year. In October last year, Scollin estimated Mercy’s 2022 losses at around $4.4 million and estimated around $2.2 million in losses from Lake Placid’s ER from January through June 2022. Before that, Adirondack Health suffered multi-million dollar losses during a forced pause in some outpatient and other revenue-producing services throughout the early weeks of the pandemic.

The future of Mercy Living and the Lake Placid ER is also uncertain. The ER closure plan — which is separate from the closure plan for the dental care facility — is still under review, according to Jeffrey Hammond, the deputy director of communications for the state Department of Health. Scollin said on Friday that Adirondack Health is still looking to sell Mercy Living and that “those conversations are ongoing.”

Unknown effects

Though the dental care center’s closure plan still needs to be approved by the state before Adirondack Health can shutter its doors, the imminent closure is already affecting operations at the dental practice and raising questions about where locals will find new dentists.

“Our backs are put against a wall,” an employee of the dental practice, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution as they search for new work, said on Friday.

The dental care staff are fielding calls from patients asking where they can go to the dentist after the closure, the employee said, but the employee believes options for dental treatment around the area are limited. The closest hospital-owned practice is at the Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone, and the dental care employee doesn’t think Alice Hyde is accepting new patients. The employee said the only answer they can give current patients at Adirondack Health Dental Care is to call the 1-800 number on the back of their insurance card and ask which local dentists the insurance company would work with.

Scollin said on Friday that the dental practice saw 1,022 dental patients in the last 12 months. The facility’s employee said they had around 2,000 “active patients” in their system. The employee said staff tried to alert patients of the impending closure as soon as staff received word — around Feb. 1, the employee said — because the dental practice has had to stop offering some treatments, either because they’re long-term, multi-step services or because they require outsourced lab work to be done.

As for the future of employment for the dental staff — which includes a dentist, a dental assistant, a dental hygienist, a receptionist and an office manager — Scollin said in an email Friday that Adirondack Health is working with the staff to “see what they want to do.”

“Those with clinical dental experience will be in high demand almost anywhere,” he wrote. “And with nearly 100 open positions across our organization, it stands to reason that we could identify lateral transfer opportunities for the office staff.”

The employee said on Friday that Dr. Mara Mariani, the dentist at the facility, might have to move out of the area to find work. The employee said staff “haven’t been told anything” about the status of their future employment lately, adding that Adirondack Health initially told the employees that the hospital would help them achieve a “soft landing.” The employee said they weren’t sure what that meant.

The employee said Adirondack Health’s letter to dental patients listed a more specific date for the closure — May 1 — though that depends on whether or not the state DOH approves the closure plan. The employee said the letter also came with a release of records attached so patients could have access to their dental records.

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