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River Hospital’s dock is ready for any emergency

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ALEXANDRIA BAY — You might not even know it exists, but the dock at River Hospital is here in case you need it.

Emergency medical service providers and people on boats or personal watercraft can drop off those with medical emergencies at the critical-access hospital.

“How many cases do you need to justify the dock? Just one,” said Dr. Troy R. Johnson, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

He cited a July 1 incident in which a 19-month-old child fell out of a boat into the St. Lawrence River. Dr. Johnson said he believes the direct five-minute boat ride to the dock helped save the toddler’s life, as it could have taken an extra 40 minutes to get to the hospital by land.

People have used the 50-foot wooden dock to drop off patients needing things as simple as vitamin B12 shots, bloodwork and treatment for a bee sting if they are allergic, on up to mangled limbs from getting tangled in propellers. Serious trauma patients often are sent to River Hospital for stabilization before emergency medical service providers transport them to Syracuse, which has the nearest Level 1 trauma care center.

Robert Kernehan, Alexandria Bay Fire Department boat captain, said River Hospital’s dock is crucial because “it saves time” during medical emergencies.

“We don’t want to run anymore than we absolutely have to,” he said. “Last year, we were really busy.”

During the peak of summer, Dr. Johnson said, the hospital will get two to six patients from the dock per weekend. Only a handful of cases, if any, arrive during the week. As people pull up to the dock they see a call button, which connects to the hospital’s emergency room.

When he is not busy treating people in the emergency room, Dr. Johnson has a perfect view of the St. Lawrence River from his tiny office in a back corner of the hospital.

“I love it because I can see the dock,” he said. “I can get a team down there. Two things cue me: anything close to our frontage or anything coming across here flying.”

While the hospital welcomes those surprise guests, he said, a 911 call also is beneficial so dispatch can alert the hospital that they’re coming. That way, EMS providers can meet them there if the patients need to be taken to another hospital for trauma treatment.

Dr. Johnson said EMS providers can go onto boats if patients need immediate medical assistance, but hospital staff cannot go onboard for liability reasons.

Hospital spokeswoman Andrea C. Bates said patients can be dropped off at the dock, but boats cannot dock there. The village dock is a short distance from the hospital.

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