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Elder care services With new facilities, state must deal with Mercy

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The open house at Meadowbrook Terrace in the town of Champion together with the scheduled opening of Samaritan Summit Village in March nears the conclusion of a two-year collaborative effort to provide Jefferson County’s senior citizens with wonderful new facilities suitable to a range of needs.

Community members and future residents had a look at the assisted-living Meadowbrook Terrace with 48 studio rooms and 12 single-bedroom units on the Cole Road just outside West Carthage that is awaiting state Health Department approval to open. The four wings of the $9.5 million complex built by Carthage Area Hospital will open onto a communal setting for residents who can walk “State Street” to get their mail, shop at a convenience store or stop at the ice cream parlor.

In Watertown, Samaritan Medical Center is nearing completion of its $64 million, 288-bed Samaritan Summit Village, a combination of assisted-living and skilled nursing home services in two buildings on outer Washington Street. The assisted-living wing will have studio apartments and one-bedroom suites with kitchens for use by supervised residents.

The modern facilities reflect the shift in elder care away from an institutional approach to a less clinical, more home-like atmosphere. Residents will have greater independence in assisted-living facilities for those who require some help with daily living facilities but not the more intense levels of care in a nursing home or skill nursing facility. Summit Village features common living space with a fireplace between separate nursing home and assisted- living wings.

Private and semi-private rooms will be available while spacious dining areas and lounges at the two complexes will also bring residents together. Other features at the complexes include gift shops, mailboxes for assisted-living residents, chapels, physician offices and large multipurpose rooms for family gatherings or community events.

Samaritan Summit Village and Meadowbrook are a tremendous improvement in elder care in Jefferson County, but it did not happen without support and cooperation of a broad coalition of hospital officials, community leaders and local and state lawmakers working together to meet a long-standing need. The project is the realization of a comprehensive plan precipitated by the Health Department’s decision to close Mercy Care Center of Northern New York. That caused the entire community to examine elder care services in a broad-based approach that also took into consideration the much discussed future of Whispering Pines, which had outlived its purpose.

Samaritan Medical Center took the lead in obtaining a $34 million state Health Care Efficiency and Affordability Law grant that also came with a receivership agreement for Mercy with provision to close Mercy along with Whispering Pines, which Samaritan was already operating under contract with the county. It brought a sense of finality and relief for both residents and employees never sure when they might be out of a home or job. It paved the way for a smooth transition with minimal disruption that will take place over the next few weeks.

Samaritan was required to clean up the carnage of the failed management of Mercy over the years and its multiple bankruptcies. When they took over, Samaritan had simple problems to fix, like a broken plumbing system gushing hot water through the basement and more intractable issues about how to convince suppliers of medical goods and services to resume service to the facility so patients could be cared for. Samaritan had to divert millions of dollars from its system to meet these requirements. That is money that cannot be invested in this community to improve the Samaritan health care system.

Samaritan has done its job and deserves reimbursement for its extraordinary investments to provide a platform for state-of-the-art elder care options for Jefferson County. When Mercy’s doors are locked for the last time, the deteriorating hulk of a worthless building becomes a state problem, not the city of Watertown’s.

New York needs to accept its responsibility for failing to force Mercy’s various owners to provide the level of care that state law requires. Instead politics ruled for 20 years, and nothing happened until the colossal failure two years ago. The state needs to reimburse Samaritan for all the cash required to pay off Mercy’s creditors and to provide the community with adequate resources to prepare the site for reuse.

It is time to put that same state and local dynamic to work and create a clear path for the future of the Mercy Care property.

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