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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, December 6, 2007


Anna Perkins Center:
Closing its doors

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — As St. Peter’s Hospital announced last Thursday that it will close the Perkins Center in February, residents speculate about their future health care.

Six percent of those who responded to a recent questionnaire said they use the facility, and 80 percent of those surveyed in Berne, East Berne, and Westerlo did not feel the clinic was necessary, according to St. Peter’s. Patient visits have decreased in recent years and the clinic is losing money, said Elmer Streeter, spokesman for the hospital.

The clinic has lost $160,000 in recent years, according to St. Peter’s.

"What we are hoping for...is that St. Peter’s doesn’t close so quickly," said Leonard Laub on Tuesday; he is a patient of the center and a member of Friends of the Perkins Clinic. "I’m hoping that St. Peter’s...can be persuaded to stick around for at least another six months, preferably a year."

The Friends group of 20 to 30 residents formed one month ago, after St. Peter’s mailed the questionnaire. The group wants to attract a new doctor with the patient pool intact. It wants St. Peter’s to run the clinic longer so that the center’s patients are not dispersed throughout the area to other doctors.

The Perkins Center has been run by St. Peter’s Hospital since shortly after Dr. Anna Perkins died in 1993. The building is owned by the Helderberg Medical Building Association, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation that Perkins signed her clinic over to in 1986.

"We have no intentions of selling it at this time," said Bob Dietz, president of the Helderberg Medical Building Association, Inc. Dietz said the association will try to get a doctor to use the facility. There are no other doctors practicing in rural Westerlo or in the nearby towns of Rensselaerville or Knox.

"That’s what it was intended for, and we will still abide by [Perkins’s] wishes," Dietz said of the clinic. The association owns two buildings, and rents space to a tenant, he said.

St. Peter’s will be sending letters to patients, informing them about other doctors who are accepting patients as well as instructions about how to have their medical records transferred.

"This was not a decision that was made easily," said Streeter.

"The numbers of patients had diminished, but the number of patients who were poor and elderly was also diminishing," he said.

All three of the hospital’s charity clinics — in Westerlo, South Albany, and Rensselaer — lose money, said Streeter. Patient visits at the Perkins Center had declined from 4,401 in 2005 to 3,456 in 2006, and this year the center had had 2,341 visits as of the end of September, Streeter said.

Over the next few months, Streeter said, "It will kind of be a wait and see."

If the clinic’s patients transfer to other physicians, Streeter said, "We may not need to have as many hours."

"We really need somebody over there," said Dr. Margery Smith of Berne. Like Dr. Perkins, Smith, now retired, was a rural physician and lives in a house where she also saw patients.

Smith, 81, said this week she is no longer licensed to practice medicine, but that she would help run the office or help in any other way she can. Smith had spoken with a female doctor who lives locally this week, and asked her if she would be interested in practicing in Westerlo. She isn’t.

"Now, kids have thousands of dollars of debt and need a salary," said Smith of recent medical-school graduates.

Members of the Friends of the Perkins Clinic asked town council members Tuesday for a public meeting and for the town to invite St. Peter’s representatives.

"People are interested to have some dialogue, and St. Peter’s could make an effort to come down and talk to the people," said Councilman Ed Rash. "They’ve already published that they’re closing it, prior to its approval. I don’t think it would hurt to make the effort to have them come down."

A public meeting is scheduled to be held at Modern Woodman’s Hall on Route 412 in Westerlo on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 6:30 p.m.

The town’s supervisor, Richard Rapp, is one of the seven members of the Helderberg Medical Building Association, Inc. A representative from St. Peter’s medical board and several members of the association will attend the Tuesday meeting, Dietz said yesterday.

"Not just a Westerlo problem"

The Friends of the Perkins Clinic has discussed measures to keep the Anna Perkins Center open, other locations for a clinic, and finding a physician. Members of the group want "an open dialogue" with St. Peter’s, and they want the hospital to wait six months to one year before closing the facility.

Cathy Rudzinski, a patient at the clinic and spokesperson for the group, asked the town board Tuesday to invite officials from surrounding towns to a public meeting to be held next week.

"It’s not just a Westerlo problem. It affects everybody in the Hilltowns," said a member of the group at its Tuesday meeting.

Streeter said Dr. Edwin Windle, who has worked at the Perkins Center since 1996, will be offered a job with St. Peter’s, and the center’s nurse can transfer to the St. Peter’s facility in Slingerlands.

Westerlo resident Peg Duncan said earlier that the center has fewer patients because it has reduced its hours of operation.

Asked if the center’s hours have been reduced over the past few years, Streeter said, "They were reduced more recently...but the decline in patients was occurring well before that ever happened."

St. Peter’s filed a plan of closure with the state’s Department of Health, said Streeter Tuesday.

When closing a clinic, a hospital is required to notify the Department of Health and provide it with a plan of closure, said Jeffrey Hammond, spokesman for the department. The health department either approves or disapproves the closure plan or suggests amendments to the plan, he said.

"We take each clinic on a case-by-case basis," said Hammond.

Patients who have visited the center in the last six months will receive a letter with the name of a doctor in Greenville, Delmar, Bethlehem, or Slingerlands who is willing to see them, said Streeter.

Those who visited between six months and two years ago will also be sent a letter telling them of the closure with information about how they can have their medical records forwarded to another doctor, he said.

"We have been talking with doctors who would be willing to take those patients," he said.

Streeter said he expects St. Peter’s will also run notices in The Altamont Enterprise and The Greenville Press to inform patients who haven’t been to the clinic in the last two years how they can have their medical records transferred.

"All of the pediatric patients from that facility," Streeter said, "we will offer to take at our Slingerlands pediatric facility."

Area wealth"

Streeter said fewer and fewer poor and elderly patients were using the facility, taking the Perkin’s clinic farther from its mission, and it was also losing money.

Based on visits this year through the end of September, there are 800 active patients at the clinic, said Streeter. Of the 800 patients, fewer than 5 percent are charity patients, fewer than 5 percent are Medicaid patients, and 25 percent are Medicare patients.

At the hospital’s clinic on South Pearl Street in Albany, 85 percent of the patients receive Medicare, Medicaid, or charity care, said Streeter.

St. Peter’s clinic in Rensselaer provides both medical and dental care, Streeter said. Over 60-percent of Rensselaer patients receive Medicare, Medicaid, or charity care, and 100 percent of its dental patients receive Medicaid, he said.

According to Steven Schrade, Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s superintendent, of approximately 1,100 students at BKW, 270 — or about 25 percent — are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Only 143 — or 13 percent — applied for the program.

"This is a little less than last year," said Schrade.

The school’s food service supervisor said that the decrease in the amount of applicants is not due to the community doing better financially, Schrade said. Because the income for eligibility is higher this year, he said, BKW has had to reject a number of applications.

Dr. Margery Smith was for decades a rural physician in the town of Berne.

She said this week, "Yes, I had poor patients. I used to discount them...I took a lower fee, which was fine. At least the costs of the office were met."

She estimated that each year she didn’t collect between $10,000 and $15,000 by discounting or not charging patients.

Smith cited instances when she didn’t charge patients. Once, a woman called her and said Smith hadn’t charged her for a visit to her home. The woman said she wanted Smith to bill her so that she would know that, in the future, she would receive services.

Smith said the woman’s house was on her way back to her office, that the visit only took 10 minutes, and that part of the visit she was "just chatting with her." She said she told the woman, "I would have come whether you paid me or not."

Smith said that, while Dr. Perkins was ill, she saw Perkins’s patients. During Perkins’s illness, if patients of Perkins asked to become her patients, Smith said, she refused to take them as her own.

Survey

Twenty-one percent, or 429, of the 2,000 questionnaires mailed out by St. Peter’s were returned, said Streeter, which he termed "a very good, high response."

The questionnaire was sent to residents of Berne, East Berne, and Westerlo to gauge their use of the Westerlo facility.

Members of the Friends of the Perkins Clinic have questioned the validity of the questionnaire.

Asked, of the 2,000 questionnaires sent out, how many went to Berne, East Berne, and Westerlo, Streeter said, "I don’t have an absolute breakdown of how many went to each town." The number of questionnaires returned due to incorrect addresses, Streeter said, was less than 2 percent.

Originally, he said, St. Peter’s was only going to send the questionnaire to Westerlo residents.

"I felt that wasn’t a wide enough survey, that certainly people came from a wider area," said Streeter.



Sheriff’s still spreading Christmas joy

By Tyler Schuling

HILLTOWNS — An annual Christmas program serving Hilltown families in need is celebrating its 17th year.

"We enjoy doing the program," said Lieutenant Michael Monteleone with the Albany County Sheriff’s Department.

The program is a cooperative effort between the sheriff’s department and the Hilltowns Community Resource Center that provides families in need with donated toys, food, and clothing.

On Wednesday, Dec. 12, the sheriff’s department will host its annual party at the Hilltown Senior Center in Berne. Parents will choose among donated toys while children are entertained by Santa’s helpers.

Monteleone said the program began with seven or eight families and has grown to serve 70 families.

The week of Dec. 17, the sheriff’s department will deliver gifts to about a dozen families in New Scotland.

Non-perishable food items, new unwrapped toys, and money donations may be donated at the sheriff’s department satellite station on Martin Road in New Scotland.

Other drop-box locations are at Westerlo Town Hall, Hannay Reels in Westerlo, Crossgates Mall in Guilderland, Kohl’s Department Store in Colonie, Emma Cleary’s Café in New Scotland, the Hannaford supermarket in Voorheesville, Countryside Mart and Helderberg True Value in East Berne, P & L Deli II in Berne, and The Altamont Enterprise and the library in Altamont.

Donations that are not distributed this year will be kept at the sheriff’s patrol station for the following year, said Monteleone. Monetary donations are used for gift certificates, he said, which can be spent on groceries, not alcohol or tobacco.

Monteleone applauded Kathaleen Taylor with the sheriff’s department, the coordinator of the program. Taylor, he said, devotes a lot of her own time, goes above and beyond, and is the backbone of the program.

He called the Hilltown Christmas Program "worthwhile," and said the sheriff’s department will continue the program into the future.

Donations are to be made by Dec. 21. For more information, contact Kathaleen Taylor at 655-7811 or at ktaylor@albany-county.com.


Friends to put a pretty bow on gifts for the Berne library

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — The art of gift-wrapping — complete with ribbon flowers — is blossoming in Berne.

A handful of women gathered on Saturday to prepare for an upcoming fund-raiser for the Berne library.

On Saturday, Dec. 15, the Friends of the Town of Berne Library will wrap gifts at Town Hall from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Last year, Debra Bajouwa said, people, such as busy housewives and overworked men, dropped their unwrapped gifts off before going to the town’s transfer station and then picked them up on their way back.

Bajouwa, who works part-time as a floral decorator for Price Chopper, held a workshop at her Berne home Saturday to train members of the Friends of the Berne Library to make specialty bows — ribbon flowers.

On the 15th, as library supporters wrap gifts, donations will be suggested, based on a package’s size. Last year, donations of $1 to $5 were recommended.

In recent years, the town has considered moving the free library out of its crowded quarters at Town Hall, its home since 1969. Town Hall also houses the town offices, town court, and a meeting room. The Berne History Museum is located on the top floor.

Two locations — the town park on the west end of the hamlet and the Berne Masonic Lodge next to Town Hall — have been considered by town officials.

In September, the Friends of the Berne Library held a book drive at the Lutheran church in the East Berne hamlet, which was moved to the Masonic Hall in the Berne hamlet in October.

Jeannette Miller, the Friends’ president, said paperback books from the drive went to Albany County’s jail, hardcover books went to the Albany Public Library, children’s books went to Families Together in Albany County, and "ancient" books are being sold on eBay.




By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — A public hearing on a plan to renovate the Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools will be held this week in the high school auditorium.

Last month, the school board approved putting the $12.7 million renovation project to vote; administrators said it is driven by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The hearing will be held on Monday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Voters will have their say at the polls on Dec. 18.

Those in the district with a regular STAR (School TAx Relief) exemption who own a home assessed at $100,000 would pay about $6 per year or $90 over 15 years, according to BKW’s superintendent Steven Schrade.

Those with a senior STAR exemption and a home assessed at $100,000 would pay about $2.65 each year — about $39.75 over 15 years.

Renovations for the middle-high school include a new cafeteria and technology room and new bathrooms and locker rooms — all accessible to those with handicaps. Plans also include an expanded auditorium stage and renovations to the gymnasium, art room, and library.

Updates to the elementary school would include: renovated bathrooms, a new loudspeaker system, new fire alarms and smoke detectors, added elevator access on its ground floor, and a new roof.

About 80 percent of the $12.7 million project would be funded by state aid. If approved, district taxpayers will pay about $1 million over 15 years.

About $340,000 would come from EXCEL (EXpanding our Children’s Education and Learning) state aid, designated for building projects, and about $1.3 million would come from BKW’s capital reserve fund.

For more information on the project, the public hearing, and voting, visit www.bkwschools.org.


Salon a perfect destination in East Berne

By Tyler Schuling

EAST BERNE — After opening in October, business at Destination Perfection, a new salon in the hamlet, is picking up, said Melanie Stempel, who owns the salon with her sister, Heather Schwenk.

"It’s such a small town," said Stempel. "We need something up here."

Open Monday through Saturday, the salon offers a variety of services — haircuts for men, women, and children, waxes, tanning, coloring, perms, manicures, and pedicures.

On Wednesday, Dec. 12, Destination Perfection will hold a purse party from 5 to 8 p.m. Throughout the day, haircuts will be half price, all tanning packages and products will be discounted 15 percent, and 10 percent will be taken off all Redken hair products.

While the store currently has Redken products, Stempel said, it will add other brands, such as Matrix, to its product line.

Stempel, 23, and her sister, Heather Schwenk, grew up in South Berne.

Lillian Welsh, 38, rents space at Destination Perfection. She worked for two years at Shear Techniques, a salon in Greenville, and attended the Orlo School of Hair Design in Albany, she said.

Schwenk has been in the business for 10 years, and has worked at Sally Beauty Supply and attended Austin Beauty School in Albany. Stempel, who attended the Board of Cooperative Educational Services Vo-Tech School in Schoharie, has worked at Choices Hair Studio in Delmar, Shear Creations in Ravena, and, for a short time, at Spa Li Vé in Altamont.

Thursday is Senior Citizen Day at Destination Perfection, with customers over the age of 55 receiving a 20-percent discount for all services.

The store has two stations and two hair dryers as well as cable television.

Destination Perfection offers bridal, bridesmaid, and birthday packages that range in price from $99 for a bridal package to $399 for a bride-to-be, her mother, and at least two bridesmaids. The cost for a woman’s cut is $20, a man’s cut is $13, and haircuts for kids are $10.

A single tanning session of up to 10 minutes costs $6, a 10-session tanning package of 11 to 14 minute sessions is $26, and a three-month unlimited package is $90.

Schwenk, Stempel, and Welsh each perform all services offered.

Since opening on Oct. 16, Stempel said, "It’s getting there. It’s picking up."

****

Destination Perfection, located at 67 Main Street in East Berne, is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The salon is closed on Sundays. Gift certificates are available and walk-ins are welcome. The salon accepts checks and most credit cards.


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