Options for Health Center discussed

The Lewis County General Hospital. Julie Abbass/Watertown Daily Times

COPENHAGEN — May was a big month for Lewis County General Hospital’s Copenhagen Health Center, hospital Chief Executive Officer Gerald R. Cayer said in his presentation to the village board at a special meeting on July 18.

The state Department of Health notified the hospital that the clinic had not been properly licensed since 2006 and that it would have to be licensed at a higher, primary health care provider level rather than as a part-time clinic; the nurse practitioner hired to take over from Dr. Norman B. Scott after his retirement had to back out and return to her family for an emergency; and, on May 22, the Health Center was closed until further notice.

“It goes to show you that even with computers and digital everything, things can still get lost,” Mr. Cayer said in an interview on July 22. “I’ve never experienced anything that fell through the cracks for 13 years, but it is what it is, so we are focusing on what we can do to change it.”

The hospital is dedicated to reopening the Health Care Center and based on its data, Mr. Cayer said the hospital believes the facility could go from operating two days weekly to four, although staffing will continue to be a challenge.

Mr. Cayer said although primary care can be a financial drain on a hospital it can also provide patients for services that generate income for the hospital.

“If it all comes together well, it is a financial commitment [to do primary health care] not a subsidy,” Mr. Cayer said, “The focus on health and wellness is the reason for an investment commitment.”

The biggest decision to be made now is about the facility itself. The clinic building is a modular structure built in the 1960s that would need extensive renovations estimated to cost $712,000 by BCA Architects and Engineers, Watertown.

Because of the building’s age, it isn’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and doesn’t meet current coding standards.

The cost to build a new clinic to code would be $800,000, Mr. Cayer said.

Other options discussed included removing the existing building to construct a new structure on the site, finding a different location to build a new clinic and returning the existing building and property to the village or repurposing another building in the village to be a clinic.

Another option may be available after a meeting later this week with the health department that would involve getting a waiver on some of the renovations that may be required to help minimize costs and keep the clinic going, Mr. Cayer said.

The lapse in 2006 happened, according to Mr. Cayer, because the clinic doctor also had a private practice in the location which was not allowed by the Department of Health.

Over the years, the space went back and forth between private practice doctors and public clinic doctors which is why, he reasoned, the gaffe had gone unnoticed for so long.

The building and property were donated to the village by the Civic Club expressly for the purpose of housing some sort of health service.

In March, the hospital paid the last of 100 payments of $500 each and became full owners of the building.

“I just hope they decide to keep the clinic going no matter which option they chose,” said Trustee Kim Vogt.

Within the next four to six months, Mr. Cayer said he hopes they will be able to complete planning and paperwork to begin the bidding process.

Both the renovations and a new building will both take about two years, Mr. Cayer said, give or take a few months.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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