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Temporary operator agreement signed for health center

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Samaritan Medical Center has been appointed temporary operator of the North Country Family Health Center, formalizing an agreement worked out last week to continue serving patients of the troubled North Country Children’s Clinic.

The renamed organization will operate under the management of Samaritan for up to 180 days, or longer if the state Department of Health determines an extension is necessary.

The clinic announced Oct. 8 it would shut down for lack of operating funds, but Samaritan agreed to serve as temporary operator and lent the agency $200,000 to stay afloat. The agency is $1.5 million in debt.

The temporary operator agreement was signed last week by the hospital, health center and state Health Department, according to a Samaritan news release Monday. All involved parties are working toward a long-term plan to ensure the health center remains open.

Medical, dental, mental health and other services continue to be offered at the health center, 238 Arsenal St., and its sites throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

“Everything seems to be going very well,” said Krista A. Kittle, Samaritan spokeswoman. “The programs have been running as is, without interruption, since the Department of Health and Samaritan have stepped in.”

The operating agreement had been in the works for the past few weeks. Still to be figured out are the terms of Samaritan’s loan and the long-term viability of the health center.

A work plan will be prepared and submitted by Samaritan within the first 30 days, “which identifies and offers solutions to NCFHC deficiencies, financial difficulties and a time line for implementing the plan to DOH for approval,” according to the news release.

Ms. Kittle said she was unsure whether the health center had yet been paid the $275,000 in federal grant money it is owed. That will be a part of the work plan, which seeks “to identify any existing and new funding sources,” she said.

The overall goal, Ms. Kittle said, is for Samaritan to step down from the overseeing role and have the clinic “run under a self-sustaining model.”

While the health center continues to receive new patient calls, the recent events that have unfolded at the clinic have left some people hesitant to turn to the agency, Ms. Kittle said.

“Sometimes temporary operator makes people think it’s a temporary situation,” she said.

A temporary operator does not mean the health center will be open only temporarily before closing again. Samaritan is just acting as a manager throughout the transition process.

“Whatever resources we have in house and are able to provide to them, we are,” Ms. Kittle said. “Any type of opportunity to share services or learn from our in-house experts so they can develop a sustainable plan is something we’ve offered in moving forward.”

Under the temporary operator agreement, Samaritan will manage day-to-day operations at the health center. Samaritan has named Joey Marie Horton, deputy director of the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, as interim executive director of the health center. Daniel A. Wasneechak resigned from the health center’s top position Oct. 25, after just two months on the job.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call the health center at 782-9450, or visit its website at www.childrens-clinic.org.

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