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Friday, August 29, 2014
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Health commission moving toward making recommendations to state

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With only weeks before making its recommendations to the state, the North Country Health Systems Redesign Commission is pressing along in its search for new efficiencies for the region’s providers.

The commission is charged with improving health care in the nine-county region stretching from Jefferson to Washington counties.

Commission Chairman Daniel Sisto told the Times on March 3 that he and the group’s members have approached the challenges facing the area with an open mind.

He acknowledged the group’s work was one part of a long-term transition for the region.

“We have to ensure value at the end of the day, and that’s going to take several years of transformations,” Mr. Sisto said. “This isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight.”

Most encouraging, he said, was that some providers have already started moving toward making changes to improve care for patients and their own finances.

He said he was encouraged the commission could evaluate the wide range of data and submit recommendations to the state by the end of March.

The research and analysis done for the commission, Mr. Sisto said, will “serve us well for years ahead.”

That research will be critical, as the region’s healthcare industry has seen a large amount of change recently.

Gouverneur Hospital took over the fiscally insolvent E.J. Noble Hospital in Gouverneur on Jan. 1, and the state Health Department is reviewing a closure plan for Kinney Nursing Home, an affiliated 40-bed facility.

With large financial losses in the horizon, officials at Massena Memorial Hospital are currently considering converting from a municipally owned hospital to a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Lewis County General Hospital is currently looking to affiliate with other area healthcare providers to improve its finances, while keeping its county ownership.

After nearly closing in October, the North Country Family Health Center has seen a turnaround since then with support from Samaritan Medical Center and multiple infusions of state aid money.

Among those interested in the changes is U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, who has closely followed the group’s proceedings.

One of the biggest challenges for the commisssion, Mr. Owens said, is ensuring that the level of care is at a similar level across the region. However, that can prove difficult due to the disparate needs for the region, and in some areas the long drives necessary to receive care.

“I want to make sure we don’t diminish that level of care in small communities,” Mr. Owens said.

Mr. Owens said another challenge is allocating the correct resources that are both affordable to the state and practical for patients.

“That will be difficult to do, but I think if we put the right resources to it, we can be successful.

Though no plans had been finalized when Mr. Owens spoke to the Times in mid-February, he said that telemedicine and cooperation between providers could play a role in the final product.

The group, which met for the final time on Thursday and Friday in Plattsburgh, must submit its recommendations to New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah by March 31.

More information about the commission, and its meeting schedule can be found at http://wdt.me/gaauvh.

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