Making the transition from a one hundred year old community hospital nearing obsolescence to a state-wide model of sustainable health care is not only a lengthy and expensive process but a courageous one, says John Remillard, the president of Elizabethtown Community Hospital and its renovated Moses Ludington campus in Ticonderoga.
“The members of Moses Ludington’s Board of Directors deserve to be commended,” said Remillard. “When you make the decision to change an organization that’s been in existence for more than one hundred years, that’s a big deal. But these individuals realized it had to be done if this community is to continue to have access to health care services.”
On the occasion, more or less, of the first anniversary of the formal incorporation of Moses Ludington into the University of Vermont Health Network and its merger with the network’s Elizabethtown Community Hospital, its leaders held a “Community Breakfast” at the Best Western in Ticonderoga.
“A partner in this transition was the New York State Department of Health,” said Remillard. “With struggling rural hospitals scattered across New York State, it has sought to develop a new model for rural medicine.”
A $9.1 state grant funded the renovation of Moses Ludington and its transformation from an in-patient hospital into a modern facility with out-patient departments and a new emergency unit, one that is four times as large as the old space with more spacious patient bays, a four-bed observation unit and its own waiting area.
This past spring, New York State announced that it would contribute $5.67 million toward the construction of a new 10,300 sq. ft. primary health care center on the campus, to be operated by the Hudson Headwaters Health Network.
“In the view of the state’s Department of Health, this transition toward out-patient care was absolutely essential for the delivery of health care in this area. And because we could not make every service and speciality available, it was also the view that it was essential that we be affiliated with a network. So we entered into discussions with the University of Vermont Health Network,” said Remillard.
According to Dr. John Brumsted, president and CEO of the University of Vermont Health Network, affiliation with the UVM Network provides local patients with access to specialists and the same quality of care available to residents of urban areas.
“You can’t do it alone,” he said. “We’ve shown how you can bring people together around the concept that everyone should have access to high quality health care.”
Dr. David Clauss, the Chief Medical Officer of the Elizabethtown Community Hospital and director of its emergency departments, said the ERs will be staffed in part by physicians rotating through facilities throughout the UVM network.
“This not only allows for a certain cultural cross pollination; it gives everyone the benefit of continuing education,” said Clauss.
Graduates of the medical school at UVM will also be working in the network’s emergency rooms, said Clauss.
Treating those suffering from opioid addiction is among the challenges faced by emergency rooms in rural areas, said Clauss.
“We’re improving access to treatment, we ‘re developing a protocol to identify people who could benefit from medical treatment in the emergency room and initiating rapid referrals to addiction specialists.,” said Clauss. “And we’re limiting initial exposure to opioids.”
Hudson Headwaters Health Network, which operates 18 health centers throughout the Adirondacks and the North Country, is enthusiastic about its partnership with the UVM Network, said Dominick Bizzaro, its President and Chief Administrative Officer.
“We’re proud to be a part of this initiative because it helps to ensure that our communities will have access to primary care for many years to come,” said Bizzaro.
The new model for delivering health care can withstand whatever changes or challenges may arise in the future, said Brumsted. “We have the capacity to respond to whatever unintended consequences may arise from the actions of regulators or the insurance industry,” said Brumsted. “Our resiliency comes from the people drawn to this field. We’re trained to deal with acute situations on the basis of too-little-information. We’re 13,000 people working together in one network, with so many resources available to us as we respond to any difficulty that may arise.”