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Supervision of lab at E.J. Noble Hospital undecided

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GOUVERNEUR — A decision on whether the state Department of Health will allow either Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam, or Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, to supervise the lab at E.J. Noble Hospital did not come Friday.

“We’re working on answers, but it’s not going to be tonight,” state Department of Health spokesman Jeffrey W. Hammond said late Friday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, E.J. Noble’s board split over whether to go with proposals from Samaritan or Canton-Potsdam.

“I think we’re going to be comfortable with either one,” said Dr. Timothy J. Monroe, a veterinarian and board president.

The proposals by Samaritan and Canton-Potsdam were forwarded to the state, along with a corrective-action plan that addresses the 19 deficiencies that caused the state to shut down the E.J. Noble lab Sept. 28, Administrator Charles P. Conole said.

The state asked for more information on several points, he said.

Dr. Monroe said he thought Dr. Gregory A. Threatte, E.J. Noble’s new lab director, was leaning toward Samaritan principally because it was larger than Canton-Potsdam.

“The quality certainly is equal,” Dr. Monroe said. “We’ll be happy with either decision.”

Neither proposal mentioned money.

Canton-Potsdam would provide circulating lab supervisors, while the Samaritan proposal was for a single individual who might supervise the lab for several years, Dr. Monroe said.

“Our involvement could start as early as Monday,” Samaritan spokeswoman Krista A. Kittle said. “But that doesn’t mean the lab will open then.”

The Department of Health will decide if and when the lab reopens and has made no promises to E.J. Noble on a time frame, Dr. Monroe said.

“Everybody wants to get back to work, but you have to address the issues,” he said.

About 15 to 20 members of Service Employees International Union collected signatures on a community petition in the village park Friday to save the hospital. SEIU also will have a booth in the park today, as well during the community’s Oktoberfest.

The petition will be turned over to politicians to show that the continued existence of the hospital has support in the community, SEIU Vice President Kathy M. Tucker said.

“E.J. Noble is not just a place where 1199 represents workers; it is our hometown hospital that our families rely on,” she wrote in a letter. “We can no longer tolerate the incompetence of a management that does not listen to the people who do the work every day, people who provide quality care in this hospital on a day-to-day basis. Part of having good patient care is having respect for all employees, and listening to their concerns.”

The union has advised its members to apply for unemployment insurance despite the hospital’s reluctance to call its reduction in staff a layoff. About 70 of the hospital’s 245 employees were told not to report to work after the lab closed and acute-care services shut down with it.

“People are laid off,” Ms. Tucker said. “I don’t care what the hospital says.”

If furloughed employees are going to have trouble paying their expenses, so will the hospital.

In the short term, the hospital can meet its obligations because the billing cycle for Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance payments have a delay of 30 to 40 days. Cash flow could dry up rapidly without money coming in from in-patient care, surgeries and the emergency room.

“We may be challenged later on,” Mr. Conole said.

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