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E.J. Noble moves ahead on reopening plan amid fears it will close for good

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GOUVERNEUR — How quickly E. J. Noble Hospital is able to reopen could determine whether it survives.

The hospital learned it has hope after a conference call Monday with state Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah and deputiy commissioners and staff.

Administrator Charles P. Conole committed to having an agreement in place by Friday with either Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam, or Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, for supervisory oversight of the lab.

“We’re working very diligently on restoring the lab’s functions,” said Dr. Timothy J. Monroe, veterinarian and hospital board president.

Dr. Monroe said an affilitation with either hospital could allow E.J. Noble to reopen quickly.

“Logistically, we could be up and running by Friday,” he said. “If it’s a month, I don’t think there’ll be much left here. We would have no revenue. We were tight to start with.”

The hospital ended 2011 with a loss of $690,000 and its affiliated nursing home lost $115,000.

Administrator Charles P. Conole said an extended closure would create financial problems difficult to overcome.

“I would definitely hope it’s less than a month,” he said. “If it’s more, it gets real dicey with continued viability. It’s an ongoing concern. We’d have a whole set of other issues.”

The state shut down the hospital’s lab Friday because of a number of deficiencies that the hospital had been working to rectify since August. The closure meant the hospital could not operate an emergency room, conduct surgeries or offer acute care. Eighteen patients were transferred Friday to neighboring hospitals.

Mr. Conole blamed himself for not recognizing the extent of the lab’s deficiencies before the Health Department intervened in August.

“We had recognized the problem but we weren’t working on it yet,” he said. “I should have moved a lot quicker.”

In addition to once giving a patient the wrong blood type, the Health Department identified a series of deficiencies at the lab, including inadquate staff, outdated reagents for chemical tests, a quality assurance manual that needed updating, and missteps in protocol.

“There were proficiency test failures and they didn’t have faith in the lab,” Mr. Conole said.

The final blow came Friday morning when the lab failed a third proficiency test, he said.

Kinney Nursing Home continues to operate as does radiology, magnetic resonance imaging, physical therapy and respiratory therapy. Physician offices are also open.

The medical staff met informally Monday night with physicians at Canton-Potsdam Hospital about admitting patients there.

At least 70 E.J. Noble employees were told not to report to work Monday but administrators could not give them a time frame on when they might return to work.

“We weren’t able to provide much information as to whether they were laid off or could apply for unemployment,” Dr. Monroe said.

For now, the employees must use personal or vacation time or go unpaid.

The hospital has hired Dr. Gregory A. Threatte, a pathologist recently retired from Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, to serve as its lab director. Dr. Threatte will mostly work off-site in an oversight capacity. The hospital’s affiliation with a local hospital would provide an on-site supervisor to oversee the performance of the lab technicians and handle proficiency testing, Dr. Monroe said.

The hospital has until Oct. 10 to file a corrective plan with the state, which it must review and accept, but hospital officials hope the state approves an early reopening so long as it is safe for patients.

Mr. Conole made no predictions.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It would be conjecture on my part.”

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