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Children’s Clinic closure impacts patients, staff, community

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Thousands of children and adults no longer will receive medical, dental, mental health and other services if the North Country Children’s Clinic cannot be saved.

The agency announced Tuesday that it will shut its doors Friday, which will leave about 130 employees without a job. Patients and staff have been scrambling to find out more about how the closure has affected or will affect them.

Any guidance as to what will happen next with the Women, Infants and Children feeding program is what Jenaveive J. Chapman is looking for. Mother of Dominic M. Maldanado, 1, Miss Chapman has gone to the clinic for the past year and a half, first for WIC, then as a dental patient.

“It’s really frustrating, because this fills the gap,” she said, regarding formula and food for her son. “When I was breast-feeding, they helped me so much here, and they give you nutrition information.”

Although Miss Chapman has insurance through Medicaid, many dentists don’t accept it. She said that means she just won’t go to the dentist.

Many other people are expected to be in Miss Chapman’s shoes.

The clinic has served uninsured and underinsured children since its establishment in 1971, when it was co-founded by Janice L. and the late Richard E. Charles. Calls to Mrs. Charles seeking comment were not returned Tuesday or Wednesday.

The clinic serves 10,000 women, infants and children through WIC in Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, 3,000 pediatric patients, 6,000 dental patients — both children and adults — 850 patients in the adult clinic, and 2,500 children through school-based health centers in the Watertown City and South Jefferson Central school districts. With all of those services combined, the clinic had a total of nearly 80,000 visits throughout 2012.

While it was business as usual Wednesday with dental, medical and WIC patients being seen throughout the day, Children’s Clinic Corporate Compliance Director Jennifer C. Hodge was busy twofold: she has to find a new dental and medical provider for her family, and she also has to connect the clinic’s nearly 130 employees with job readiness beyond Children’s Clinic employment. On Friday, she said, staff from The Workplace may connect clinic employees with other job opportunities, and a representative from the clinic’s insurance company will talk to employees about retaining benefits after Friday.

“We work here because we believe in the mission,” she said. “We’re working on a plan to remain available to (patients), as need be, in the coming weeks. It was tearful and regretful we weren’t able to fulfill the mission.”

Mrs. Hodge said staff was asked last week — and agreed — to take a pay cut or reduction in hours in hopes of saving jobs.

Meanwhile, South Jefferson Central School District Superintendent Jamie A. Moesel said she will remain as supportive to the clinic as she can be, although the district could not provide financial resources to keep the clinic’s school-based health centers within the district open.

“At this point, it’s too premature to say what will unfold,” she said. “In general, we are extremely sad about the Children’s Clinic’s services. We’ll do anything for them as they work through this very difficult time.”

She said 566 students — 28 percent of the district’s population — are enrolled in the school-based health centers in the district’s two elementary schools.

Watertown City School District Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said he was sad to learn of the clinic’s closure and the subsequent closing of the district’s three school-based health centers.

“It’s a very serious matter,” he said. “Obviously we cannot provide financial support to them, but our staff will do their very best to supplement whatever services these kids have had in the past.”

Mr. Fralick said he could not recall the exact number of students who are enrolled in the clinic’s school-based health centers within the district.

Last June, the clinic received a $650,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to transition to a federally qualified health center, and to open another such site in Lewis County. Children’s Clinic Marketing Director Elaine P. Garvey said the agency is in close contact with all state and federal agencies as it works through the closure process.

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