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Conole’s resignation could help E.J. Noble

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GOUVERNEUR — Community and union leaders welcomed the departure of Charles P. Conole as administrator of beleaguered E.J. Noble Hospital as a fresh start to solving the hospital’s problems.

The hospital board accepted Mr. Conole’s resignation Monday. His retirement after 21 years as administrator came after months of upheaval at the hospital, which temporarily shut down most of its operations Sept. 28 when the state Department of Health ordered the lab closed because of deficiencies. The Health Department allowed a partial reopening of the lab a month later under the supervision of Samaritan Health Center, Watertown, but its blood bank remains closed, limiting services.

Mr. Conole acknowledged in October that he should have moved faster to address issues in the lab before the Health Department intervened. In addition to the hospital once giving a patient the wrong blood type, the Health Department identified a series of missteps at the lab, including inadequate staff, outdated reagents for chemical tests, an inadequate quality assurance manual and failures in protocol.

“We all know there were issues at the hospital. It was important that these be remedied,” state Senator Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said. “I know there were a number of steps that needed to be put in place and it was taking longer than the Department of Health expected. If we needed new leadership to get it done, then that’s what needed to happen. I think this gives the hospital a clean start.”

Mrs. Ritchie said she has been in daily contact with various parts of the community and the Department of Health.

“It’s vitally important to the community to have access to health care,” she said. “I believe the hospital will be up and running as soon as feasible.”

Many hospital employees questioned why Mr. Conole remained on the job as long as he did, said Mary L. Wilsie, administrative organizer with Service Employees International Union Local 1199, which represents more than 100 service, maintenance and clerical workers, licensed practical nurses and medical technicians at E.J. Noble.

“Everywhere you go, people were asking, ‘Why is he still there?’ Everybody I’ve talked to in the last 24 hours has been very positive,” she said. “I think it gives employees hope the hospital will get up and running. Mr. Conole had issues with everybody. It’s time for a change.”

Registered nurses at the hospital also believe a clean slate in administration will help the hospital move forward.

“The nurses have felt a change in direction has been needed,” said Mark A. Genovese, spokesman for New York State Nurses Association. “We look forward to working with the new administration to rebuild E.J. Noble and expand its services to our community.”

Mayor Ronald P. McDougall said he was not surprised by Mr. Conole’s decision it was time to leave.

“Was it something that was going to happen so we would continue on? I would guess so,” he said. “If this helps and it’s a necessary process, I’m certainly for it. I certainly wish him well in his retirement. Nevertheless, it’s time to move on.”

Mr. McDougall said he is waiting for the Health Department to announce plans that will allow the hospital to become fully functional.

“I’m told people are working on it,” he said. “There’s still much to be done, and we’ll see what comes next.”

Part of the rebuilding of the hospital will be to return to work many of those who lost their jobs when the lab closed.

“There’s still many people laid off through no fault of their own,” Mr. McDougall said. “Hopefully, when the hospital returns to full services, we’ll get a majority of those back.”

Of 58 SEIU members laid off, no more than 20 have been called back, Ms. Wilsie said.

“A lot of them still aren’t getting full-time work,” she said.

Approximately a dozen registered nurses were called back but others remain off the job, Mr. Genovese said.

Whether Mr. Conole was to blame for all of the hospital’s woes, many residents thought it was time for him to leave, Deputy Mayor Charles W. Newvine said.

“I know a lot of people in the village wanted to see it happen,” Mr. Newvine said. “People thought it would be a fix to the problem.”

Mr. Conole’s leadership benefited the community for many years, but shifts are sometimes necessary such as what happened at Carthage Area Hospital when CEO Walter S. Becker was forced to resign, Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, said.

“I feel now new leadership can come in and give a new perspective,” he said. “It worked out well for Carthage.”

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