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CPH dedicates Helen Snell Cheel Medical Campus


POTSDAM - Canton-Potsdam Hospital’s expanded medical office facility located at 49 Lawrence Ave. was formally dedicated in a special gathering of donors, board members, medical and nurse practitioners, and staff Wednesday.

Officials named the facility the Helen Snell Cheel Medical Campus, in memory and honor of the generous philanthropist well known for her strong connections to the north country.

An avid Clarkson Golden Knights men’s hockey fan, Mrs. Cheel spent most of her adult life in New Jersey, where her husband owned a successful residential development company, according to hospital board member Donald R. Dangremond, who spoke about Mrs. Cheel’s love of the north country and her generosity.

Mrs. Cheel was born in Potsdam, the daughter of Congressman (later Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives) Bertrand H. Snell and Sara Merrick Snell, who served as a founding board member of the Potsdam General Hospital in the 1920s.

Mrs. Cheel lived to the age of 100 and prior to her death bequeathed a legacy gift of $5.7 million to the hospital. She had earlier provided other generous gifts to the emergency department and the chemical dependency detoxification program, according to Mr. Dangremond.

“Helen was bright, witty, a great intellect, world traveler, and fiercely independent,” Mr. Dangremond said in his remarks to the crowd.

“She was charming and enjoyed and valued her relationships with others. Helen always knew what she wanted, and never minced words telling you how she felt about things. She epitomized the spirit of philanthropy,” said Mr. Dangremond. “

Helen was generous, and found a deep sense of family in the relationships with the people and the institutions she loved: the Emma Willard School and Clarkson University, Valley Hospital in New Jersey and, of course, Canton Potsdam Hospital.”

Other speakers at the event included Alecia A. VanWagner, DO, family medicine practitioner, who will see patients in the new primary care suite in the facility’s 20,000 square foot addition.

“Primary care can do a lot to improve the health of the population and community. I’m looking forward to helping people with their health needs,” she said. “Having modern practice space means a better environment for care, and a better environment for staff who spend the majority of their time at the office,” she added.

Dr. VanWager will be joined in the primary care space by Vineet Bansal, MD, Alexander Lyapin, MD, Flos C. Piit, MD, Wendy A. Wais, NP, and Dawn M. White, NP. Additional practitioners are being recruited, according to hospital officials.

Spencer F. Thew, CPH board member and a practicing engineer who volunteered many hours to the project, marveled at its speed and quality, calling it an unprecedented act of coordination on the part of all contractors and subcontractors, architects, and CPH staff. He said 11 months from board approval was a tight timeline in the construction and engineering worlds for the scope and scale of the project, especially as it involved the winter months.

“Very early in the project, we heard from hospital President and CEO David B. Acker about the urgency and importance of bringing primary care practitioners to our area, and about our innovative work with Clarkson’s Physician Assistant education program,” he said, noting that the primary care suite alone has 20 examination and two treatment rooms and 17 provider staff offices as well as a special teaching suite for use by students and practitioners.

Mr. Thew also lauded the hospital’s efforts to rely on local vendors when possible, noting the urgent need for primary care practitioners in the area placed tight time pressures on the project.

“The CPH construction management team realized the project could not be completed using traditional design and construction methods,” said Mr. Thew.

“It was decided that design and construction would proceed on a parallel path,” he said, noting that the architects and construction firm were up to the task. He expressed thanks to Brooks Washburn, AIA, and (from the firm of Lavalle-Brensinger of Manchester, N.H.) Barry Brensinger, Keith Davis, and Katherine Robinson, as well as Danko Construction of Massena, Patterson Electric, of Ogdensburg, Empire Northeast, of Gouverneur, Norwood Plumbing, Roll-lock Truss of Waddington, Jeffords Steel of Potsdam; Sedgewick Interiors of Syracuse; and Jackson Woodworks of Brainardsville.

He also expressed thanks to donors, CPH staff, and to Randy VanBrocklin, CPH facilities engineer and team lead.

Margaret Madden, CPH board chair, welcomed guests to the event and encouraged them to tour the facility. She noted that the design of the primary care suite was unique in that it will facilitate a new model of primary care and will also facilitate experiential education of students enrolled in the Physician Assistant program at Clarkson University.

Guests were offered tours of the facility following the formal program. The primary care suite is expected to open for its first patient visits on Monday. An urgent care suite is being completed across the hallway and is expected to open by the end of 2013.

The Helen Snell Cheel Medical Campus began as the former St. Mary’s parochial school. The adaptive re-use project renovated the former school for ophthalmology, cardiology, OB/GYN, orthopedic surgery, and physical rehabilitation services which remain on the campus. A suite for visiting specialists is also being renovated.

In addition to its main campus and the Helen Snell Cheel Medical Campus in Potsdam, CPH provides services in Brasher Falls, Canton, Norwood, and Norfolk. For more information about CPH primary and specialist medical care, interested individuals should visit or

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