Creating a healthier future

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 providing 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.

That we have such problems is our own damn fault for not planning ahead or be 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 to 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 Ray Brook. 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 as a minor one of them.

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 better yet by living healthier in the first place, 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 on a per capita basis and succeed dong so. What we have done is turn our 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 was quite mad, represents a tremendous investment where health care in Lake Placid is needed most.

What I would not do, however is not just give them to land valued at $10 million unfettered, 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. Further, I would require that part of the interest generated be used to provide lower-income families access to a fitness center, and programs aimed at reducing obesity, diabetes and heart failure.

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. 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 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.