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Lowville hospital plans to add fourth day for Harrisville clinic

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HARRISVILLE — Lewis County General Hospital officials plan to expand operations at their Harrisville clinic in response to the impending closure of another part-time health clinic here.

“If we get an influx and we can’t react, we’ll lose those patients,” CEO Eric R. Burch told the county-owned hospital’s board of managers last week.

Hospital managers unanimously approved increasing the Harrisville Family Health Center from a three-day-per-week operation to a four-day one, although Mr. Burch said the move probably will take about a month to implement.

E.J. Noble Hospital, Gouverneur, has asked the state Health Department for permission to close its satellite health clinic here, possibly this fall, as part of efforts to improve its fiscal condition.

If that is granted, the roughly 600 active patients at the Noble clinic will be sent letters recommending the Lewis Hospital clinic for those who wish to continue going to a family practitioner in Harrisville, Mr. Burch said.

While many are expected to choose other health care options, the Harrisville Family Health Center — now open Monday, Thursday and Friday — is already having difficulty scheduling patients, and adding more would make the delays even more pronounced, he said.

“I’m one of the ones that had a five-day delay for an appointment,” said Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, chairman of the legislative Hospital Committee and member of the board of managers.

While only open three days per week, since its February re-opening the clinic has seen a patient load that exceeds the level initially budgeted for a five-day-per-week operation, said interim Chief Financial Officer Jeffery W. Hellinger.

Carthage Area Hospital last summer relinquished control of the clinic to the Lowville hospital as part of a consolidation effort intended to get the Carthage facility back on solid financial ground.

However, state Department of Health officials required that a number of upgrades be made to the town of Diana-owned building at 14214 Church St. before allowing it to be used again as a health clinic, delaying its reopening.

The clinic is staffed by physician assistant Brittani L. Bickel, along with a licensed professional nurse and a physician office assistant.

Mrs. Bickel, a Harrisville resident, also sees patients on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Lewis County General Hospital’s Beaver River Family Health Center in Beaver Falls.

When asked by board Vice President Michael F. Young about the move’s impact on the Beaver Falls clinic, Mr. Burch said other practitioners and staff there would have to pick up any slack.

Consultants have warned Lewis County officials that the hospital clinics — also including ones in Lyons Falls and Copenhagen — have not been profitable as standalone ventures. However, hospital officials see strategic placement of them near county borders as a way to attract residents in those areas to come to Lowville for ancillary services — like laboratory work, surgeries and other such procedures — rather than going to a neighboring hospital.

Also at last week’s Board of Managers meeting, Dr. David F. Rosner, general surgeon and medical staff president, reported plans to consolidate surgical offices at the Lowville hospital.

Dr. James V. Stillerman, whose office is now in the basement of the hospital’s Medical Arts Building, plans to ultimately move into the first-floor office suite now shared by himself and the facility’s other surgeon, Dr. Vu Dinh, he said.

While no timetable has been established, the pending move should make it easier to coordinate operating room times between the three surgeons and allow them to accept more self-referrals, Dr. Rosner said.

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