Major shift for local nursing homes

Adirondack Health is selling off its Uihlein Living Center nursing home in Lake Placid, it announced last week. It could work out well, especially if the new owner can afford to invest in improvements, but we hope it will be the last of the local health care provider’s big cutbacks.

Adirondack Health, the Park’s biggest private employer, has made it clear that it’s taken some big financial hits, partly in federal funding and partly from reduced patient counts due to better preventative care. It needs to cut costs to survive, and we all need it to survive. While some of those cuts are internal efficiencies that most of us won’t notice, we have to accept that we’re living in a time of service reductions, too.

Bed reductions at Adirondack Health’s nursing homes in Tupper Lake and Lake Placid have required some local people to place their loved ones farther from home, meaning it’s harder to visit them.

Layoffs in 2012 and 2013 put more than 30 people out of work and required more local nursing and radiation tech graduates of North Country Community College to seek work elsewhere.

The overnight closure of the emergency room at Adirondack Medical Center in Lake Placid, which took effect June 16, makes some local ambulance squads and residents travel a little bit farther at night. It’s too soon to tell how smoothly that transition will go.

And now Uihlein Living Center is being sold to a company based in New York City that runs nursing homes statewide. It’s the same kind of thing Essex County did when it sold Horace Nye Nursing Home to the Centers for Specialty Care. In each case, how the nursing home sale goes will depend on the company.

As the trend continues to shift nursing homes from local to non-local owners, one question looms large: Will the new owners listen to what local people want?

What people want is simple; it’s summed up by Adirondack Health’s pithy slogan: “Excellent health care … close to home.”

People often see those those two things, excellence and localness, as being mutually exclusive in rural areas such as this, but we know better. Having both comes with some strain, for sure, but we see opportunities for each to continue.

Centers for Specialty Care is investing capital to modernize the Essex Center, as the Horace Nye Home is now called, with a much-expanded rehabilitation program, electronic record keeping and an improved “no wander” security system, which prevents dementia patients from exiting the building. Those seem like good things. We hope Post Acute Partners makes similar investments in Uihlein.

Meanwhile, it’s important that our nursing homes are being sold rather than closed or consolidated. It’s important for local people to not have to travel too far to visit their loved ones.

More elderly people are now able to stay at home longer, which means our communities may not need so many nursing home beds in the future. Nevertheless, that only goes so far, and we hope our area’s new nursing home companies only cut beds for which there’s no demand.

Our advice to these nursing home specialists coming into our towns is to engage with people here. Set down roots. Become local. Do as much of what people want as you reasonably can, plus a few things that are unreasonable. Don’t just treat people’s medical conditions; address them as whole lives now in your keeping, with hundreds of family members and friends who are also dependent on you.

This is a survival tactic. Up until lately, people no longer fit to live at home generally went to “the local nursing home,” which in the case of the Tri-Lakes area meant Uihlein or Mercy Living Center in Tupper Lake. When the Sisters of Mercy could no longer manage these, Adirondack Health saved the day by buying them – but over the ensuing seven years it’s proved too much of a financial burden. The more the new companies keep these feeling like “the local nursing homes” in people’s minds – and the higher the quality of care – the more loyal and happy their customers will be.