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E.J. Noble patients go to three other hospitals

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GOUVERNEUR — Patients of doctors affiliated with E.J. Noble Hospital are being treated at three other facilities, although their physicians do not have admitting privileges at them.

Dr. Donald C. Schuessler Jr., medical director at E.J. Noble, said he and some of the hospital’s other doctors made informal arrangements with Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam, Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg, and Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, to take in their patients in the event they need hospitalization.

The E.J. Noble doctors, however, will not be able to care for their patients in other hospitals, because obtaining credentials for admitting privileges takes time, Dr. Schuessler said.

“Every one of them is 45 minutes to an hour away, so it would hard for us to maintain care for the patients,” he said. “As long as they get good care, it doesn’t matter.”

The state Department of Health shut down E.J. Noble’s laboratory because of deficiencies Friday, prompting the closure of the hospital.

The physicians office building remains open and the number of appointments has increased because the emergency room is closed, Dr. Schuessler said. Patients have had a lot of questions about what happened and about the future.

“We deal with the truth and try to move forward in a positive way,” he said.

Dr. Schuessler said he was hopeful the state will allow the hospital to reopen within a few weeks.

“I’m guardedly optimistic that in the next 10 to 14 days, we will be able to provide acute care for our patients,” he said. “We’re on the same side as the state. There’s a lot of give and take about how we’re going to get there. They have the best interest of the patients at heart.”

The reopening of the hospital is critical because of its 245 employees and the health care it provides.

“It’s hugely important for our region,” Dr. Schuessler said. “There’s a core set of care that should be provided here.”

The lab was deficient, Dr. Schuessler said, but that does not mean other hospital services were inadequate.

Hospital Administrator Charles P. Conole acknowledged that the employee responsible for a patient receiving the wrong blood type continued to work in the lab after the incident and was the same worker who failed a proficiency test Friday that convinced the state the lab should be shut down. The employee, whom Mr. Conole declined to identify, has been reassigned and is not involved in the reopening of the lab.

“You could argue this should have been grounds for immediate dismissal, but she had been there 15 years,” Mr. Conole said. “There had been no errors until the recent flurry. Unless it’s intentional or gross negligence, you don’t assassinate the individual.”

Mr. Conole said he did not want to minimize the problems at the lab but noted that mistakes happen.

“Unfortunately, errors happen every day in health care. They happen in all facilities,” he said. “The issue is taking the appropriate corrective action so it doesn’t happen again.”

Mr. Conole said he and other hospital officials likely will make a determination by Friday morning on whether to proceed with Canton-Potsdam Hospital or Samaritan on a supervisory management arrangement of the lab so it can be forwarded to the Department of Health.

“There also has to be a plan of corrections submitted to Albany,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is a patient care issue. The commissioner of health is going to have the final say.”

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