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Doctor’s arrest leaves gaping hole in budget, already lacking other areas

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County General Hospital faces a significant shortfall in expected revenue after Tuesday’s arrest and suspension of orthopedic surgeon Jeffrey C. Gundel. Affiliation negotiations with St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, Syracuse, however, may hasten a replacement.

He was arrested Tuesday for allegedly selling four 240-count, 30-milligram oxycodone prescriptions to an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent.

“St. Joe’s is doing everything they can to help us,” said Eric R. Burch, Lewis County General Hospital CEO. “They do not employ an orthopedic staff,” he said, though orthopedic surgeries are conducted by a private group at the Syracuse facility.

Dr. Gundel was hired in December after a 20-month vacancy at the hospital following Dr. Dwight D. Campbell’s April 2012 retirement.

Jeffery W. Hellinger, Lewis County General Hospital’s interim chief financial officer, said at the April 30 board of managers meeting, “The estimated revenue for orthopedic services has exceeded our initial budget predictions.”

Christina L. Flint, hospital spokeswoman, said, “The budget revenue net impact for orthopedic services is $1.2 million.”

As of April 11, the county-owned facility owed the county $11 million.

“It’s too early to predict how this temporary lapse of service may impact our annual revenue,” Mr. Burch said. “We expect to restore the needed orthopedic services in our community as soon as possible. Our first priority is to meet the needs of our patients, and we remain focused on that.”

The interruption in service and income adds to lower anticipated revenue in other departments.

At the April 22 hospital finance committee meeting, Mr. Hellinger reported that clinic volumes were still running below budget projections. Dr. Daniel P. Pisaniello, Lewis County General Hospital’s clinic medical director, is expected to deliver a plan for improvement at the May meeting.

Dermatology services are set to begin in August. Revenue from that department was not included in the 2014 budget.

Critical access hospital designation, projected in the budget to bring in $3 million, took effect March 5. Whether it will provide the budgeted revenue is not clear.

The state Department of Health is accepting applications for the Interim Access Assurance Fund, a grant program to assist hospitals in severe financial distress. The temporary funding available through the fund will enable hospitals to work toward sustainable operations and maintain critical services. It would help a facility meet monthly operational costs through May 2015.

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