Northern New York Newspapers
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Thu., Aug. 27
Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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New lease on life


Leadership from Samaritan Medical Center has enabled the North Country Family Health Center — formerly known as the North Country Children’s Clinic — to regain its viability and embark on a path to long-term sustainability.

The Children’s Clinic previously existed year to year because of annual cash inflows from member items delivered by state Sen. H. Douglas Barclay, John M. McHugh and James W. Wright. Financial challenges slowed the agency periodically, but the Northern New York Community Foundation and its volunteers would intervene and right the ship.

However, when New York state’s finances tanked in 2008, member items disappeared, and no matter how hard the state senator tried there was no source of funds.

That left the clinic scrambling because it had no viable business plan to pay for the services it provided to so many people who were excluded from the health care system.

During the last six years, the clinic leadership changed often. Its board of directors struggled to find a plan that would generate the cash required to support its ambitious goals.

The latest crisis came in October as a complete surprise to the community and the state, which quickly intervened and named Samaritan the temporary operator of the 42-year-old center.

Now three months later, Samaritan working with finance director Kelly Clark and interim executive director Joey Marie Horton, a new path to success lies ahead for the center.

The operation has been streamlined with seven vacant jobs eliminated and five layoffs. Management responsibilities have been redefined.

Management now can take advantage of the federally funded qualified health center status to buy supplies cheaper and to participate in a federal medical malpractice pool. The transitional team has outsourced billing operations and is aggressively pursuing better use of its information technology system.

Now that daily operations have improved, a long overlooked restructuring of the balance sheet is underway. Community Bank has extended its deadline for a $750,000 payment on the mortgage while discussions continue to refinance the building.

At this point, the mortgage payments are being made on a timely basis and the budget going forward includes all the required payments.

The Samaritan-led team has arranged for a loan from the Northern New York Community Foundation of $100,000, arranged for a $32,500 grant from the New York State Health Foundation and is working on another $100,000 grant.

These funds will allow the center to reduce the $180,000 in unpaid vendors who had provided essential supplies.

Medicaid reimbursement rates have increased 10 percent.

All of this hard work provides a platform for success that now hinges on Samaritan’s effort to work with the center’s board to ensure long-term progress. Samaritan, especially its chief executive officer Thomas H. Carman working with Ms. Horton and Ms. Clark, has given an important community asset a new life.

It is now up to the center’s new board to learn from the past and understand the requirements for the future. Success is possible if steady hands and thoughtful leaders do not lose their nerve.

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