Roxbury residents outraged over clinic closing

Margaretville Hospital representatives face several dozen irate Roxbury residents at a town meeting about the closing of the Roxbury Family Health Center on Sept. 30. Seated at table, left to right: Edmond Morache, executive director of Margaretville Hospital; Carey Wagner, chair of the hospital's board of directors; and Charles Flinn, COO of the Health Alliance of the Hudson Valley. Photo by Simona David.

During a special meeting held on September 30 at the Town Hall in Roxbury, Roxbury Town Board members and approximately 60 angry residents and medical personnel were told that the Roxbury Family Health Center will close on November 14.

The announcement was made by Carey Wagner, the chair of the Margaretville Hospital’s Board of Directors, and Charles “Chip” Flinn, the COO of the Health Alliance of the Hudson Valley, which owns and operates the Margaretville Hospital.

Wagner said that the Roxbury clinic was losing money, and that the Hospital’s Board of Directors decided to close it and use the money thus saved for hospital improvements in Margaretville.

The Health Alliance has sold the Margaretville Family Health Center, a clinic that operates out of the Margaretville Hospital, to Dr. Paul Llobet, a private-practice physician coming up from New York City, he said. However, the Roxbury clinic, which is also operated by the Health Alliance, was left out of the sale. (For more background, see our September 30 story on the closing of the Roxbury clinic.)

Flinn said that all the resources have to be brought together for the hospital consolidation, to fund improvements and bring in more specialists. In addition, Flinn said, not only was the Roxbury clinic not making enough money, but the building it is housed in is also deficient.

“Our idea is to bring all resources together, and all the employees are going to be brought into the Margaretville Hospital or the Mountainside Residential Care,” Flinn said. “We’re getting out of the clinic business.”

“It is not enough utilization to have two separate sides,” Wagner said. Instead, “we will have one very busy clinic.”

“And maybe at one point in the future the clinic in Roxbury will re-open,” he said.

A speaker who identified herself as one of the nurses at the Roxbury clinic said that she had lost many patients when the doctors kept leaving Roxbury after short periods of time, and the doctors left because they weren’t employed by the hospital. She said that the same thing happened at the Margaretville clinic, and that both Roxbury and Margaretville clinics have lost money.

Dr. Susan Fiore, the doctor currently staffing the Roxbury clinic who will be leaving in November, was present at the meeting.

“I would like to stay in this community,” Fiori said. “I bought a house up here two years ago; I have been renting all along. However, at this stage of my game, I do not want to go in the private practice, and the hospital said that they will no longer have employed positions, so in good faith Dr. Llobet and I tried to negotiate for several months, and we could not come to an agreement. And that is why I’m leaving.”

Dr. Fiore also said that the Margaretville clinic was marketable to be sold, whereas the Roxbury one wasn’t. She wanted to know if Roxbury had a buyer or not, and why the Margaretville clinic was marketable while the Roxbury one wasn’t.

“We were never looking for a buyer for one unsustainable clinic,” Wagner said.

To that, Ed Fersch, the president of the Board of Education of Roxbury Central School, said, “That it’s not for you to decide. Maybe there was an interested buyer.”

Wagner said that there was no interest from private practitioners about buying the clinic.

Wagner also said that people from Roxbury go to Margaretville to shop anyway, so they can very well go there for health care as well.

Pastor Peg Van Siclen of the United Methodist Church in Roxbury said that what mattered for the people gathered at the meeting was their loved ones’ health. That is a matter of “life and death,” she said, which is not the same as going grocery shopping.

Thomas O’Brien, Roxbury Central School Superintendent and a member of the hospital’s Board of Directors, said that he appreciated the effort put into having this meeting. He asked the hospital’s board members to listen to the community needs and support the health care in the Roxbury area.

Another question raised during the meeting was how a single physician, Dr. Llobet, could handle all the patients.

Dr. Llobet, who was present, answered, “One patient at the time.”

He said that he is a private practice physician who had worked in New York City for eight years and had an opportunity to leave the city and move his family up here. He had the opportunity to buy Margaretville Health Center, which he did, and wants to practice up here. He said he didn’t know much about the hospital’s administration because he is a physician.

“If I happened to be the only physician, that’s a burden that I’ll have to absorb,” Llobet said. “As a private physician, what I can do is to recruit and attract doctors.”

Fersch said that the community would like to have both the Margaretville Hospital and the Roxbury clinic. “We’re worried,” he said, “because we don’t want to lose our health care right here.”

In response, Wagner said that he understood.

“You can’t have both, not at this point in time,” he said. “I don’t like it myself. I live in Roxbury. But the financial bottom line is that when you’re losing hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, you are threatening the viability of the hospital.”

Fersch said that the viability of the hospital could be threatened by the closing of the Roxbury clinic, too, because people who are upset over the closing can choose to go somewhere else rather than going to Margaretville.