River Hospital plans $14m expansion to expand mental health services

ALEXANDRIA BAY — Positioning itself to become a leading provider of mental health services for the region’s military and civilian populations, River Hospital has planned a $14 million project to build a three-story addition to its Fuller Street building.

A $14 million state grant, including a $2 million match to be raised by the hospital, would pay for the 30,000-square-foot addition, according to Ben Moore III, the hospital’s CEO. [Read more…]

More than 100 jump into icy St. Lawrence River to benefit hospital

ALEXANDRIA BAY — It was a great winter day for a swim.

More than 140 thrill-seekers — and many more spectators — gathered outside Bonnie Castle Resort and Marina Saturday afternoon for the 25th annual Polar Bear Dip. [Read more…]

Alexandria Bay developer plans $9m luxury motorcoach resort

 

ALEXANDRIA BAY — An Alexandria Bay developer plans to spend up to $9 million to build a luxury motorcoach resort with 280 RV pad sites and a 100-slip marina along the St. Lawrence River near the Thousand Islands Bridge.

Robert J. Reddick said Thursday that Swan Bay Resort — to be developed off Route 12 adjacent to Price Chopper in the town of Alexandria — will be built over the next three to five years with a total investment of $7 million to $9 million. [Read more…]

Black River Valley Club to close permanently

 

WATERTOWN — Leaders of the Black River Valley Club have decided to shut down the organization after they couldn’t secure a viable financial future for it.

The club’s board of directors voted Wednesday night to dissolve the corporation, according to a news release, and the Washington Street club has closed permanently. [Read more…]

Servers, restaurateurs react to wage hike for tipped workers

WATERTOWN — Servers in New York restaurants will get a raise from $5 to $7.50 an hour at the end of this year — news Shelly A. Dewees, a waitress at Shuler’s Restaurant on Mill Street, has waited on for a long time.

“It will be tough for restaurants, because they cut hours a lot of the time. But it needs to happen because it’s been $5 for a long time,” she said Tuesday.

The tipped-wage increase will take effect Dec. 31. [Read more…]

Community supports Clayton Rotary’s Taste of the Town fundraiser despite snow

CLAYTON — The snowy conditions Saturday did not stop crowds of people from coming out to support the Rotary Club of Clayton’s seventh annual Taste of the Town fundraiser at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel.

At least 200 people filled the ballroom to sample products brought by vendors from all over the region. Visitors had a chance to sample everything from wine and cheese to desserts and more.

“This year all the money we make from this event will go for eradicating polio from the world,” said David H. Neuroth, club president. “They are trying to eliminate it from the world, just like how smallpox was eliminated.”

The proceeds from the event will be donated to Rotary International, Mr. Neuroth said. Every dollar the club makes will be matched two to one by Bill and Melinda Gates from Microsoft.

Mr. Neuroth said the club hoped to raise $2,000 from the event.

“The weather may scare a few, but at this point in the winter people want to get out,” said Leslie T. Henry, Rotary member. “I was hoping for between 400 to 500 tonight.”

On top of the funds being donated to Rotary International, the club held a silent auction to benefit Dodge Pond special-needs camp in Oswegatchie.

Mr. Neuroth said the camp is for people who are disabled and are not able to camp independently without an aide.

“This gives them a chance to go camping,” he said.

Mr. Neuroth thanked the Kinney Drugs Foundation for its generosity and for being a sponsor of the event.

“We are hoping people enjoy it and we are hoping that they will want to see this event continue,” Mr. Neuroth said. “And that they will buy lots of things at the silent auction, so we can give more money to Dodge Pond.”

Lori S. Randazzo, outside-events coordinator with Coyote Moon Vineyards, said the winery has been involved in the event several times.

“As a Clayton business we love coming out to support the community,” Mrs. Randazzo said. “We are happy to be here.”

She said she hoped the winery’s presence would attract additional people to the event.

“Knowing that they can come in and taste all local products and perhaps one of their favorite Coyote Moon wines,” Mrs. Randazzo said. “I think this has always been a great and fun time. The Clayton Rotary does a great job of putting this event together and making sure that their presence is felt in the community.”

The Clayton Distillery has participated in the event since opening a couple of years ago, said Kim Aubertine, distillery representative.

“It is a really nice event,” Mrs. Aubertine said. “Overall, it is a lovely event.”

Melinda J. Bechaz, of Bechaz Riverdale Cheese, said it was an honor to help the Rotary, because it does so many great things in the community. “It brings everyone together,” Mrs. Bechaz said. “It is nice to have that network of people that want to help each other.”

 

 

By Whitney Randolph, Times Staff Writer

Gov. Cuomo comes to Lewis County to ride a sled, push for tourism

LOWVILLE — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo visited Lewis County on Thursday to take advantage of the great snowmobiling the area has to offer and to encourage tourism.

“Snowmobiling on the Tug Hill Plateau is probably one of the best places in the country, if not on the globe, to do it,” Gov. Cuomo said. [Read more…]

Process begins to reshape NNY health care landscape

 

ALBANY — The process that will shape the health care landscape in the north country over the next five years began in Albany on Wednesday.

An 18-member oversight panel approved “performing provider system” applications for Central New York, which includes Lewis County General Hospital of Lowville and the Adirondack Health Institute, which includes Canton-Potsdam Hospital of Potsdam and Massena Memorial Hospital.

Over a three-day period ending Friday, the panel is assigning scores for 25 Performing Provider System applications statewide in the state’s new Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment program.

The review process will determine how much hospital funding each PPS will be tentatively awarded over a five-year period — but they’ll need to achieve annual milestones to earn it.

In March, each PPS will be awarded funding from a $6.42 billion pool for the program. The state Department of Health has set a goal of preventing avoidable hospital visits by 25 percent over the period, urging hospitals to consolidate services and team up with primary-care providers and other agencies.

The panel — whose members were hand-picked by the DOH — is set to review the Samaritan Medical Center PPS application Friday morning. In addition to Samaritan, hospitals in the PPS are Carthage Area Hospital, River Hospital of Alexandria Bay, Clifton-Fine Hospital of Star Lake, Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center of Ogdensburg and Massena Memorial Hospital, which is also affiliated with the Adirondack PPS.

A schedule of the hour-long PPS reviews through Friday, which are webcast live, is available atwdt.me/pSup8E.

PAID BY PERFORMANCE

Panelist William L. Owens, former representative of the 21st Congressional District, told the Times on Wednesday that while some PPS applicants tentatively will be awarded more funding than others, they won’t earn it all unless they achieve milestones established by their plans. He said the scores for applications — decided on by a group of independent assessors — have ranged from the low 80s to mid-90s.

“The dollar amount actually received by the applicant will be determined by their performance against the proposal,” Mr. Owens said.

If a PPS received a score of 95, for example, it would not receive the entire amount of awarded funding if the applicant doesn’t meet milestones to perform at that level, Mr. Owens said. If a PPS received a score of 85 and exceeds expectations in its plan, it would then receive more than the funding initially awarded.

Awarded funding “will be what you can possibly secure over the five-year period,” Mr. Owens said.

Wednesday, the panel had the chance to disagree with scores for each PPS by voting to increase or decrease them, affecting how much funding would be awarded. Scores were already established before the panel review by a group of six independent assessors from Public Consulting Group of Buffalo.

Each PPS was allowed to pursue five to 11 projects, which received a score out of 100 points. If a PPS proposed 11 projects, for example, their overall score would be based on 1,100 points. The panel changed the score established for the Central New York PPS, but it slightly increased the score for the AHI PPS by adding two points to one project. Total scores were not disclosed Wednesday by the panel.

Mr. Owens said changes made to scores by the panel will only have a marginal impact on their overall score.

“As long as the evaluation has not made a change in a gross area and the scoring is within a narrow band, I don’t believe there’s going to be a significant impact,” he said.

Mr. Owens said he recused himself from voting on the PPS application for Adirondack because the hospital is a client of his law firm, McKenna, Long & Aldridge of Washington, D.C.

CHANGES IN LEWIS COUNTY

Mr. Owens said Lewis County General Hospital’s decision to be affiliated with the Central New York PPS makes sense because it will benefit from being served by larger hospitals in the Syracuse area.

“If you’re going to have to transport a patient either to Samaritan or Syracuse, they may have made the decision that they believe their patients would be better off in the Syracuse area because you have larger institutions,” he said. “They may have a greater number of specialty providers, and it could be the population was saying they prefer to go to Syracuse rather than Watertown for their care.”

The lead agents of the PPS are Upstate University Hospital of Syracuse, St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, Auburn Community Hospital and Faxton St. Luke’s Health Care. The four hospitals originally planned to establish their own PPS applications, but they reversed course last year and decided to form one PPS. The PPS — called the CNY Care Collaborative — will be governed by a 22-member board of directors. The board will include 11 representatives from hospitals and 11 from community groups, and all decisions will require a two-thirds majority vote, according to Shawna Craigmile, project manager for the collaborative.

“We were challenged by our rural communities saying, ‘We don’t want this to be Syracuse-centric or hospital-centric,” Ms. Craigmile said during a presentation Wednesday morning. “The experience of our Medicaid population varies in regard to access of quality care between an urban and rural setting. Someone in Syracuse may choose to go to an ER for a non-acute condition, but someone in Oswego County or Lewis County might not do that and wait until their condition becomes worse. We want to make sure the diversity across urban and rural populations is very well represented.”

Major challenges health care providers face in the PPS include providing sufficient prenatal care services and transportation for low-income residents, according to Michael Kelleher, an independent assessor. He pointed out that the PPS covers 9,700 square miles — roughly the size of Vermont.

“It goes from a dense, urban population in Syracuse and Utica to rural areas. Lewis County has 27,000 people,” Mr. Kelleher said, adding that Upstate serves a population of about 1.8 million in Syracuse. “It’s a broad area and transportation is a significant problem for access to care … About 32 percent of the population is low-income, about double the regional rate. So lack of employment and transportation are issues.”

After the presentation, Mr. Owens asked how the PPS plans to solve transportation problems in the regions that have restricted access to care.

“If they need the transportation system to bring people for care and return them home, will they get funding in advance to create the transportation system, or is that funding a result of achieving a goal?” he said.

In response, Jason Helgerson, New York state Medicaid director, said that transportation services are already covered by Medicaid and would not be aided by DSRIP funding. But “I think the issue is that in some rural communities there is a lack of providers,” he said, “so I think the issue is to better connect them to that manager so they have better access to transportation.”

Mr. Owens told the Times that transportation issues are especially a concern in rural Lewis and Oswego counties, because people will need to travel long distances to receive care.

“It’s a significant issue in those two counties, just like it would be for large sections of Jefferson County,” he said. “In more urban settings they may well have access to public transportation, and that may mean providing a voucher to someone. But in rural areas you have limited options, and in many cases you don’t have cabs or buses. You have to come up with some form of rural transportation system that delivers people to health care providers.”

TEAMWORK IN ADIRONDACKS

During the panel’s review of the AHI PPS application, Mr. Helgerson praised the region for having already established a strong collaborative network. Based in the eastern half of Northern New York, the 14-hospital region’s management structure includes Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, Hudson Headwaters Health Network and Glens Falls Hospital. The 11,000-square-mile region runs from Malone to Gloversville and it is geographically one of the largest proposed networks in the state.

“They have been actively involved in one of the nation’s most successful patient medical-home pilots that brought together a whole array of providers who have actively participated in the Medicaid program,” he said. “That positions them well, because they have already been collaborating. I would say that Adirondack is one of the furthest and most advanced from an implementation standpoint.”

Mr. Owens said that Massena Memorial’s choice to be affiliated with both the AHI and Samaritan PPS proposals is not uncommon. He said the hospital will be awarded funding based on the number of patients it serves within the boundaries of both districts.

“Massena has people who come to it from the east and the west, so I believe people are going to want to go to Samaritan and the Adirondack Health Institute for care,” he said. “So we want to make sure we have access to both of those areas.”

Of Canton-Potsdam’s decision to affiliate with the AHI PPS, Mr. Owens said, “I think that’s a geographic decision. They’re physically closer to the eastern side of the district and they have a relationship with Fletcher Allen hospital (Fletcher Allen Health Care, now the University of Vermont Medical Center, Burlington, Vt.).”

 

 

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer

In Watertown, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand praises new veteran suicide prevention law

WATERTOWN — A newly passed law intended to prevent suicide among military veterans was described by U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand as a “good first step” in improving their care.

“We just want to make sure that veterans know what the resources are, that it’s more accessible and that they can get the treatment they need, and always have the treatment they’re eligible for be available,” she said Tuesday during a visit to Watertown. “It’s a multi-pronged approach.”

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was signed into law last week by President Obama.

The law requires independent reviews of Pentagon and Veterans Affairs Department suicide-prevention programs and for the government to make information on suicide prevention more easily available to veterans. It also offers financial incentives to psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who agree to work for the VA and assist military members as they transition from active duty to veteran status.

The new law is named for a Texas infantryman and Purple Heart recipient who committed suicide in Houston in 2011 after fighting to get governmental help for his combat-related mental-health issues. The passage of the bill comes as the Veterans Administration says more than 8,000 veterans commit suicide per year, the majority of them under age 50.

“One is too many,” Sen. Gillibrand said.

The senator spoke about the bill’s passage during an appearance Tuesday morning at the Watertown Vet Center on Court Street.

Ellen E. Dougherty, a Behavioral Health Care Line Manager at the Syracuse VA Medical Center, said she believed the resources made available in the new law would help find new veterans to serve and to improve the services they offer.

Also praising the bill’s passage was Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, according to a news release from Sen. Gillibrand.

Though the law comes with positive intentions, some veterans questioned its potential impact. Robert E. Bowen, programs coordinator for the VETS Peer-to-Peer Outreach Center on State Street, said a larger challenge he’s heard about from his volunteers and clients is breaking the stigma veterans face in getting support, particularly from people without a military background.

“We’re trained to not need help,” he said. “It feels even harder to reach out for help.”

The center serves about 125 veterans monthly, he said, and he and other volunteers help direct veterans with suicidal thoughts to targeted care on a monthly basis.

Following her remarks, Sen. Gillibrand said she would reintroduce legislation to take military sexual assault cases out of the hands of soldiers’ superiors to independent prosecutors.

“We need a blind justice system that is worthy of the sacrifices our veterans make,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

 

By Gordon Block, Times Staff Writer

New Fort Drum security rules hurt some cab companies, but others are thriving

WATERTOWN — Stricter entry policies on Fort Drum have caused some taxi companies to lose business, while others have gained.

Since Jan. 15, any non-military guest arriving at the base has been required to have a sponsor — a soldier, family member, retiree, or anyone else with a Department of Defense ID card — to gain entry.

This has hurt some local taxi companies, says Merritt M. Makuch, office manager and dispatcher at Big Man’s Cab in Watertown.

“We don’t even go out there now,” he said. “We don’t go on Fort Drum because they want to tag the car, which you have to pay extra for, and they want to tag each driver too.”

The tagging system Mr. Makuch refers to is called RapidGate. It is used by Fort Drum to screen all companies and employees who wish to enter the base.

RapidGate passes are not cheap. Businesses have to pay an initial $199 to sign up for the program, and an additional $179 per year for each employee needing access to the base.

For Big Man’s Cab, which has three taxis and multiple drivers, this means around $1,000 per year, an expense the business does not want to incur, Mr. Makuch said.

Big Man’s Cab has been serving the Watertown area for nearly seven years. Mr. Makuch said the company made regular trips to Fort Drum before the new entry policies went into effect.

“From city to base, we had about five jobs a day,” he said. “That’s not counting the bar runs on Friday and Saturday.”

Other Watertown cabs have signed up for the RapidPass program, accepting it as cost of doing business.

“I signed up for it,” said Scott D. Massey, owner of Watertown Cab. “It’s quite a lengthy process, but most of my business is on Fort Drum to begin with.”

Mr. Massey is the sole driver for his business. He only needed to secure one RapidGate pass, making the process cheaper for Watertown Cab than for its competitors.

He applied for the pass even before Fort Drum policies changed last month, and he said he does not understand why some cabs have decided against joining RapidGate.

“I could make up the price of the pass within a half day or a day,” he said.

Mr. Massey estimates he makes between 25 to 30 trips to Fort Drum in a single day.

Jason D. Hall, dispatcher for Yellow Cab, agrees that paying for RapidGate has been a worthwhile investment.

“I’ve actually been more busy,” he said.

Mr. Hall said that 20 Yellow Cab drivers are already registered in Fort Drum’s new security system, and business has been picking up as a result.

“We have anywhere from 10 to 20 jobs a day driving people I have not heard of before,” he said.

Signing up for the RapidGate program has also saved time for Yellow Cab drivers, Mr. Hall said.

“It’s quicker,” he said. “We don’t have to get searched like a criminal. Now we just pull up to the gate, show them our ID, open our doors and we’re gone. I’d say it saves 10 or 15 minutes per trip.”

 

 

By Eli Anderson, Times Staff Writer