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St. Lawrence County Public Health trying to transition services

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators approved a short-term training program Monday to transition Public Health employees from home health care to operating clinics.

The shift is because the county Board of Legislators eliminated the Certified Home Health Agency, along with more than 30 positions. The CHHA’s sister service, the Long-Term Health Care Agency, has transferred its last patient and recently closed.

Registered nurses with the most seniority who were left after the layoffs were those with experience in home health care, not in the department’s other services, among them clinics, such as for vaccinations.

“What we’re doing now is attempt to shift to what we’re going to be doing,” interim Public Health Director Lorraine B. Kourofsky said.

At the same time, the department is expecting the March 31 retirement of Kathy Bell, the registered nurse with the most experience in clinics, she said.

Legislators agreed with some protest to allow Mrs. Bell to go to part-time status after her retirement.

The department gave nearly 4,000 vaccines last year, a number which could grow because of regulatory changes that could cause some physicians to stop providing shots, Ms. Kourofsky said.

“Our clinics are quite intense,” she said. “We have had a big turnover in staff. You really need a seasoned nurse to give the training. It’s not just giving a shot. It’s all the things that lead up to the shot.”

Training will help the department reorganize, Ms. Kourofsky said.

The department should rethink how it does business, Legislator Daniel F. Parker, R-Potsdam, said.

“Are we looking at cross-training some of these people so we’re not in this position again?” he said. “I would encourage that.”

Ms. Kourofsky had requested Mrs. Bell stay on part-time for six months but legislators settled on three months.

Some legislators thought registered nurses should not need that much time to ramp up their skills and some did not like the personnel methodology.

“We do have a full-time position on the books, and we’re creating a part-time position,” Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon, said. “I see a whole array of problems with this.”

Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, who joined in voting against the part-time plan along with Mr. Akins, Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, and Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, was also critical.

“When we bring back a retiree, this is double-dipping,” Mr. Morrill said.

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