To the Editor:
In 2007, when I spoke with Kevin Haughney and Gordonna Blodgett about joining the dental staff at Moses Ludington Hospital, it was to start a new page in my life. I had little knowledge of what that chapter held for me after 25 years in private practice.
I knew that a large part of my job would be to provide care for the under served pool of dental patients with no insurance or Medicaid or Fidelis coverage. What I didn’t realize was that it was such a huge population. Two thousand new patients in one year. Three thousand new patients in two years and a total population of more than 7,000 patients in five years.
Patients from Ticonderoga, Crown Point, Port Henry, Mineville and Schroon Lake. From so far as Lewis, Plattsburgh and Lake Placid. A doctor from Long Island who was on vacation in Lake George, whose son had an emergency and we were the only dentist available on a Saturday. A camper from New Hampshire we saw as an emergency patient. This patient then drove over two hours from home to complete his root canal therapy, and later returned for a check-up visit. A young wife who was too embarrassed to smile because of the appearance of her front teeth; who cried when she saw what we were able to do for her, and is now outspoken and smiles freely. Adult patients who trembled in fear of the dentist and had never gone to one, who are now pain free and willingly schedule and keep recall appointments.
The people who have become our friends. Karen Costello, who realized that I was having a stroke the first day I was working at the hospital and brought me to the emergency room upstairs. Kevin Haughney, who kept my insurance active, despite the fact that I hadn’t seen my first patient. Kevin, who welcomed me back after my three months of speech therapy, who was always thankful of the work our clinic did at the hospital. Wayne and Sue Busby, who let us move into our house, even before we started to pay anything to stay there and has helped us over the last six years. Leslie Bain, a great and helpful neighbor. Mia and Jermy Fuller, who helped us finish our barn. Jim and Noel Mack, who called us at home and consoled us as our puppy suddenly died and Gary and Sharon Cook, also patients, who helped us with our goats. Patients like Dawn and Kent Belden, who have also become friends. Rick Quesnel, who supplies our horses with hay no matter what the weather, who can lift three times whatever I can, and is always ready to tell me everything I am doing wrong around the farm. This is only a small example of the friends who are the substance which has fed our roots and make this our home so quickly.
That is why we were shocked when during a busy day of patients, I, Dentist Larry Cepelak, Dental Hygienist Debbie DeStefano, Dental Assistant Dave Rogers and Receptionist Betty Coley were dismissed and escorted from the hospital with no warning or severance.
This treatment of any loyal employee is unconscionable, but such treatment of patients scheduled from months ahead, for uncompleted procedures begun, for recall patients who have been loyal to the doctor and the hygienist has offended my professional ethics if not the legal ones of the hospital. The hospital may pretend that one staff dentist will be able to treat this patient pool, or even provide all of the procedures which only Dr. Cepelak offered to the patients, but the administration is deluding themselves.
I have always felt that such a large diverse patient pool, including uninsured and insured patients, and government protected patients can certainly pay its bills. It may not make the practitioner rich, but it can, with a dedicated and motivated staff, benefit everyone involved.
I approached Inter-Lakes Health CEO Chip Holmes with the suggestion that I maintain seeing our patients in the same space at the hospital for three months as a separate entity while a new office is readied, or that the hospital at least donate the now unused equipment to us so that we can serve these displaced patients as quickly as possible. I am waiting for a response from his team. Several concerned individuals in the Ticonderoga/Port Henry community have already offered spaces to expedite the process of a clinic being open in 1-3 months.
Our team wants to assure the community that we will be available as soon as possible, and making new appointments as soon as we set up a computer system to schedule our patients. Thank you to all our patient/friends.
Larry Cepelak, DDS