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Northern Lights sees patients

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Northern Lights, a certified home health agency in St. Lawrence County, began seeing patients Monday.

“We’re excited to get to this point,” said Brian D. Gardam, interim chairman of the board. “We did get the approval of the state to start seeing the first 10 patients.”

Northern Lights is a partnership of Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam; Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg; United Helpers Management Co.; and Hospice and Palliative Care of St. Lawrence Valley. Mr. Gardam is the executive director of Hospice.

Northern Lights was issued a certificate of need last year by the state Department of Health to operate in the county. Two other agencies also filed applications with the state to operate CHHAs in the county, but neither has been approved yet.

Northern Lights’s decision to enter the field led to the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators’s decision to close the county’s CHHA, which resulted in more than 30 layoffs.

Health Services of Northern New York, Potsdam, the county’s other CHHA, has picked up what were the county’s CHHA patients. The state Health Department has approved Health Services to take over the county’s long-term health care patients pending its receipt of a Medicaid number for billing purposes.

“It should be soon. The heavy lifting has been approved,” said Health Services Administrator Matthew D. O’Bryan. “We’re still waiting for the last piece to the puzzle. We’ll see, but I think it’s imminent.”

Once that is in place, the county will be able to shut down its Long-Term Health Care Agency, which is operating with a minimal staff.

Health Services hired about half a dozen nurses who had been county employees to deal with the additional patient load from the closure of the CHHA.

“We’ve been very busy,” Mr. O’Bryan said.

Northern Lights is allowed to see 10 patients — for whom it cannot bill — after which the Department of Health will conduct a survey to ensure the agency is in compliance.

“Then we’ll be authorized to see patients and start billing,” Mr. Gardam said. “Right now, we’ve hired enough to start serving people. We’re waiting to ramp up.”

Mr. O’Bryan said the relationship between Health Services and Northern Lights will evolve over time.

“The county was our competitor, but it seemed we worked as partners. I think it will be different. It’s a different organization from the county,” he said. “It’s important for the public to have some choice. We will have a new competitor and ultimately a new partner. We’re all health-care providers.”

Competition is nothing to fear, Mr. O’Bryan said.

“We’ve been doing this 25 years. This is what we do. The caregivers themselves give us our reputation,” he said. “We’ve touched a lot of lives in the past 25 years. I think the people in the county will continue to ask for our help.”

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