MINEVILLE - Hudson Headwater Health Network wants to operate the Moriah Health Center for a long time - and it's willing to do whatever it takes to meet the needs of the community.
That was the message delivered by Dr. John Rugge, Hudson Headwaters chief executive officer, at the March 10 Moriah town board meeting.
At the February town board meeting, Supervisor Tom Scozzafava had noted the town's lease with HHHN expires this year and revealed informal discussions with officials from Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt., about operating the local facility.
The Moriah Health Center is a state-of-the-art facility that opened last year.
Rugge and a group of Hudson Headwaters officials attended the March meeting to make their case.
Finding a full-time doctor for Moriah is a top priority, Rugge said.
The local facility has been staffed by a physician's assistant with periodic visits by a doctor. That's changing, though. Rugge said a doctor from the HHHN Ticonderoga facility will be in Moriah on a regular basis until a full-time physician can be recruited.
Physician recruitment is a major problem for rural communities, Rugge explained.
"What's happening in Moriah is an Adirondack-wide crisis, perhaps a national crisis," Rugge said. "Young doctors don't want to go into primary care."
The HHHN CEO explained most young physicians become specialists. He said SUNY-Albany and University of Vermont medical schools only graduated five primary care doctors last year.
He noted Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, who had been at the Moriah Health Center, left to specialize in kidney disease.
Rugge also pointed out HHHN can't match the pay of big-city hospitals, although it offers incentives such as $50,000 a year for five years to repay student loans and payment of malpractice insurance premiums.
"Physician recruitment is a major problem," Rugge said.
He urged Moriah residents and officials to contact him or other Hudson Headwater officials if they have concerns.
"If there's a problem with the health center we want to hear about it," he said. "We have 5,000 visits a year here, so we know there will be some problems."
Rugge said HHHN is working hard to attract a doctor and answer other concerns, but it needs to know the Moriah Health Center is in it's long-term future.
"We depend on your confidence in us and the knowledge we're here for good," Rugge said.
The $1.2 million health center is located at the Moriah Industrial Park on Plank Road in Mineville.
Hudson Headwaters Health Network is a group of community health centers providing care to the residents in 11 North Country towns, including Schroon Lake and Ticonderoga.
Hudson Headwaters took over the Moriah Health Center, formerly the Mineville Health Center, Jan. 1, 2005. At that time the health center was in the Moriah Community Building, the former Republic Steel building in Mineville.
The new health center is a 4,000 square feet building with six exam rooms.
Moriah officials worked to arrange a partnership with Hudson Headwaters Health Network and to find funding for the new building.
The cost of the new health center was covered entirely by grants. Rep. John McHugh secured a $389,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration to go along with $799,000 McHugh previously secured for the project.