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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, March 20, 2008

Seniors on the move in Berne

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — Berne now has a minivan for transporting the town’s elderly and disabled residents. 

Last week, the Berne Town Board gave the go-ahead to buy a 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan for $21,757.80.  Berne’s supervisor, Kevin Crosier, said Monday he hopes the van will arrive within the next four weeks. 

The town has partnered with Community Caregivers, a local group of volunteers based in Altamont, who help seniors, people with chronic illnesses, and single and teen parents.  The not-for-profit group also helps people to remain in their homes.  Volunteers with Community Caregivers and volunteers in Berne will transport people to doctors’ appointments, to pick up prescriptions, and to shop for groceries. 

In the program, those who have a request for transportation are to contact Community Caregivers, which will coordinate a driver.  Community Caregivers will then contact the town to reserve the van. Volunteers must take a training course.

“We’re already getting people calling and asking about the van so I think it’s going to be very popular and it’ll get a lot of use,” said Crosier.

Crosier called the program “a start and a template that we all can use,” and said he hopes it will get bigger once it gets started and that other towns will want to get involved.

“I’m really excited about it because this is something that we’ve desperately needed in the Hilltowns — transportation for people who can’t get around — and they need the services that aren’t here,” Crosier said. 

Most trips will be within Albany County, but, if someone’s doctor is in Greenville, a town just south of the county, the town would take them, Crosier said.  He doesn’t foresee anyone having doctor appointments on a Saturday, but, he said, if a group of seniors want to do their grocery shopping on a Saturday afternoon, the town would accommodate them. 

Berne will be reimbursed by Albany County for the gas it uses. 

Jeff Thomas, a local developer, is planning to build a senior-housing complex in Berne. 

“This is a great step because I think it’s just another piece that we’re putting together that will go a long way when we’re looking at our senior housing project,” said Crosier.  “So these pieces are starting to fall into place now.” 

To pay for the van, the town set aside money from its surplus and has asked for state member-item grants from Assemblyman John McEneny and Senator Neil Breslin and worked with County Executive Michael Breslin and the county, he said. 

Last year, the nearby town of Rensselaerville bought a 14-passenger bus that can carry two wheelchairs for the town’s seniors and youth.  While the town approved and paid for the bus, the money is being repaid through private donations.  The bus cost about $57,000, and about $5,000 needs to be raised. 

Crosier said, “I think it’s going to be great.  The seniors are excited about it.  We’ve got people stepping up to the plate to volunteer.  I think it will be a lot of fun, too.”

Other business

In other business, the Berne Town Board:

— Heard from the town’s clerk, Patricia Favreau, that the town has had “as many 18 calls” and eight applications to clean Town Hall and the library.  “Myself, I would feel more comfortable with an independent contractor,” said Councilman Joseph Golden.  The board will meet with applicants for 15-minute interviews on Saturday, March 29, starting at 9 a.m. at Town Hall;

— Heard from Crosier that he will submit an application for a Municipal Waste Reduction and Recycling Capital Project grant with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation for work completed on the town’s transfer station.  Berne had pre-applied for $76,280 in 2003 and, Crosier said, the town is only eligible for $61,280.  The DEC, he said, didn’t consider using recycled oil for its waste-oil furnace to heat the town’s highway garage as recycling. 

“What’s the turn-around on that?” Golden asked.

“Pretty quick,” said Crosier.  “I have to have the application in by April 28”;

— Voted unanimously to buy a 2007 Sterling truck with a wing and plow for the highway department at a cost not to exceed $171,365.66.  Last month, one of the town’s highway trucks, a 2004 International, was totaled;

— Awarded a bid to Cornerstone, a telecommunications company, for phone services.  By changing to Cornerstone, a Verizon provider, the town will save approximately $700 a year, Crosier said;

— Heard from Councilman James Hamilton that the Berne Conservation Board and the town’s planning board have drafted a potential wind-turbine law and will be submitting a draft to the town board for its review;

— Will meet with Nan Stolzenburg of Community Planning & Environmental Associates on March 26 to update the town’s comprehensive plan; and

— Discussed adding bathrooms to the pavilion at the town park.  Joel Willsey, who designed the town’s transfer station, has drawn up plans.  The board discussed making the bathrooms accessible to those with handicaps and volunteers doing some of the work. 

Details revealed
Residents cheer Park Police at Camp Cass

 By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Last Thursday, residents applauded representatives with the Park Police, who updated the town on the agency’s plans.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced last month that it will convert the state’s Office of Children and Family Services’ training facility at Camp Cass into a new state park police academy.  Many residents had objected to its use as a detention center for juveniles in trouble with the law.  In years past, the Park Police had held its 26-week training academy in Utica and had rented space.

Last Thursday, Robert Kuhn, the State Parks’ assistant regional director for the Saratoga/Capital District region, outlined the agency’s immediate and future plans and answered residents’ and officials’ questions.  Kuhn is the assistant director of an 11-county region, which has 20 parks and historic sites. 

Control of the 31.4-acre parcel of land was transferred from OCFS to the Park Police on Feb. 12, said Kuhn. 

“The purpose of the transfer is for State Parks to take over the facility and convert it, primarily, into a training academy for park police recruits,” Kuhn said.  The training facility, he said, will be the primary function of the facility.

In addition to being the agency’s training academy, Camp Cass will also house the Park Police’s office of internal affairs and quartermaster’s office, from where it will issue all of its supplies, uniforms, and other materials to park officers throughout the state.

“Longterm, it’s also the agency’s intention to expand the use of the training facility beyond the Park Police,” Kuhn said. 

The Park Police will use the facility for about six months and Park Rangers will go there for their two-week training every year, he said. 

“But that still leaves a number of months when the facility is available for other training opportunities,” said Kuhn.  “It’s our intention to reach out to other state agencies — perhaps county, municipal agencies — who have a need for a place to train, for a training facility, to enter into a cooperative agreements with those other agencies so the facility is being used fully, to its maximum extent.”

For the first year, the Park Police will focus on getting the place up and running for the first State Park Police training academy, which it hopes to begin in November.

“It’s important to note, at this point in time, that the agency has no potential plans for the use of the property as a public park,” Kuhn said.  “We do not have any intentions, at this point in time, to open it up for recreational purposes or for use by the public as a park.”

Although the Park Police has taken over the facility, OCFS’s staff is still in place at Cass and will be there until mid-May.  The Parks Police is determining which OCFS staff will transfer to State Parks and what jobs it needs to fill. 

Kuhn said the Park Police is about to embark on a major construction project to retrofit the facility and will do major renovations to the inside of the building; the majority of construction will be inside the building except when the agency is expanding and resurfacing parking lots. 

James Warwick, the chief of the Park Police, told the residents, “At the academy, we will train approximately 50 recruits at a time.  There’s not going to be hundreds and hundreds of recruits,” he said.  “And you can be between the ages of 20 and 29 to get on the State Park Police.” 

Residents’ and officials’ questions

“The gymnasium up there — is there any possibility of you letting the town of Rensselaerville use that for the youth and the seniors?” resident Bob Bolte asked. 

“Well, one of the reasons we’re here is because we want to be a good neighbor,” said Kuhn.  “So those are issues that certainly we can explore.”

Kuhn said that, if the town approached his office to use the facility for youth recreation or training, they would be open to having discussions. 

“While the recruits are there, I think it’s unlikely that we would entertain having other groups in,” Kuhn said, “but they’re only there 26 weeks out of the year.”

A resident asked whether a shooting range would be at Cass.

“We’re going to be using a range at Thacher State Park,” Warwick said.  “No intention to build a range at Camp Cass,” Kuhn said. 

Another resident asked if there will be any jobs available to local people or if the Park Police will be bringing its own people.

“Half and half,” Kuhn said. 

He said the Park Police has met with the staff currently at Cass. 

“To a certain extent, where there are employees at Camp Cass now, who we feel fit into the needs of our agency, we are going to try to make a priority to bring those people from OCFS over to our side rather than see them lose their jobs,” Kuhn said. 

He said there will be three or four support staff jobs — a park worker, a keyboard specialist, and a custodian — and that the agency will likely post and advertise for the positions.  “We haven’t received approval through Civil Service to post those positions yet,” Kuhn said.

Warwick said he’s glad the academy is in Rensselaerville. 

“Some of you recognize me,” he said, “because I’m your neighbor.  I live right here in Durham.  I was on the Durham Town Board for 13 years.  I was a Durham town judge for three years.  I’ve got a personal interest in the success of Camp Cass.”

A resident asked if it will still be called Camp Cass.

“That hasn’t been determined yet.  We’ll be putting the sign up out front, probably in the next week or two that says ‘New York State Parks Police Training Academy,’” Kuhn said.  “But we understand that the name ‘Camp Cass’ really has nothing to do with the OCFS facility.  He was a person that donated the land there many years ago so, historically, it seems to me, there’s a value.  And I can’t imagine it won’t continue to be called ‘Camp Cass’ although the official name out on the sign probably won’t say that.”

Councilwoman Sherri Pine asked about public trails near the facility and about raising a communications tower at Cass. 

Kuhn said he suspects most of the trails are on DEC land.  With trails that may cross into the Park Police property, he said, “I can’t imagine anybody’s going to object to hikers or joggers or what have you.  We do have a State Park policy against four-wheel vehicles, and we would not permit that.”

Kuhn said a communications tower is not on the agency’s agenda but that, if the town pursues a tower, there’s no reason why it couldn’t approach the agency, which would review it and consider it.  

“You’re, obviously, surrounded by about 2,600 acres of forest.  So what would you be doing with that?” Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg asked. 

“All of the focus between now and November is just: Get this construction project done, get staffed up, get prepared, buy all the equipment, desks, chairs, and everything we need to be open in November,” Kuhn said.

Bolte said, “We welcome you and we’re glad to see you.”  The residents in the crowded hall applauded. 

“We’re excited to be here.  The State Park Police has never had its own permanent training facility, so each year they’ve had to go out and find some place to rent to train in, and that’s never an optimum situation because it’s a facility that’s not really geared towards what they do,” Kuhn said.   Having a permanent home is something that the agency has wanted for years and years, he said.

Other business

In other business, the Rensselaerville Town Board:

— Heard from the town’s attorney, Joseph Catalano, that on Friday he will give final arguments on an Article 78 petition filed against the town by Rensselaerville Farmland Protection. [See Archives for Feb. 28 at altamontenterprise.com.] Arguments will either be in open court or in the judge’s chambers.  Catalano charges $150 per hour.  He told The Enterprise this week that final arguments are scheduled for 11 a.m. in Albany at the county courthouse;

— Voted unanimously to hire Paychex on Washington Avenue Extension in Albany to do the town’s payroll.  Currently, Rensselaerville has no bookkeeper.  Sarah Packard, who was appointed on New Year’s Day, resigned last month, and Brian Fitzgerald, who was appointed as the accountant to the town, did not accept the position. 

Last Thursday, G. Jon Chase, the town’s highway superintendent, asked the board if the town’s employees will be getting paid. 

Richard Tollner, the town’s deputy supervisor, agreed to pick up the checks on Friday morning at Paychex and sign them, and Chase agreed to meet Tollner in Albany.  Paychex is charging the town $46.75 each week;

— Heard from Catalano that he has drafted a procurement policy taken from the state’s Association of Towns.  Last year, the Republicans, who then held a majority on the board, adopted a policy that requires officials to seek three bids when making purchases of $200 or greater. 

“It’s a change in policy so you have to adopt it by local law,” Catalano said.  If any significant changes are made to the bill after a public hearing is held, Catalano said, the town would then have to hold a second public hearing.

The town board voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on April 10 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall before its next regular town board meeting. 

— Heard from Bob Bolte that he still has the town’s credit cards and the keys to Town Hall. 

“Who’s accountable for that?” resident Erika Wernhammer asked. 

Bolte, K.B. Cooke, and Randy Bates were hired by the town last year as part-time employees to complete projects at Town Hall. (See related letter to the editor.) On Jan. 1, the Democrats, who won a majority on the board, appointed Chris Heath and Steve Pfleging as foremen to town building maintenance. 

“Are we done?” Bolte asked.  “Are we fired?” and

— Heard from Kathy Hallenbeck, the town’s clerk, that a car-seat program for families with low incomes will be held at 10 a.m. on April 22.  In the program, attendees complete a two-hour class on car-seat safety and, after completing the class, car seats are given to those who need them.

Will start micro practice
Westerlo to welcome Dr. Emeny

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — This summer, a new doctor will be coming to rural Westerlo. 

Dr. Myria Emeny, who currently practices at the Whitney Young Health Center in Albany, will open a micro practice in the building where St. Peter’s Hospital recently closed its charity clinic in the Westerlo hamlet. 

“I went into medicine to serve underserved populations, and rural areas are underserved,” said Emeny.  “Coming here stays within my own ethics of giving back.”

Emeny, 50, got her medical degree from Albany Medical College and completed her residency at St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady.

In micro practices, doctors lower overhead costs by also performing the roles of secretary, cashier, nurse, groundskeeper, and janitor.  Patients make appointments through the Internet.  Emeny first heard of micro practices, developed by Gordon Moore of Rochester, while in her residency.  Micro practices emphasize a healing relationship as opposed to an office visit, and doctors spend more time with patients. 

“I feel micro practice is committed to the patient rather than the doctor’s convenience — finding that collaborative care,” said Emeny.  “How do I meet your needs?  How do I respect your beliefs?”

St. Peter’s had run the Perkins center, one of its charity clinics, since shortly after Dr. Anna Perkins died in 1993.  St. Peter’s closed the clinic last month.  According to the hospital, the center was losing money and the number of patients had been dwindling.  There is now only one doctor practicing in the Helderberg Hilltowns. 

Emeny is not deterred by St. Peter’s findings.

“Their numbers were dwindling in terms of their goal was 25 patients per day,” Emeny said.  “They were only getting 11 to 15.  My goal is no more than 12 per day.”

Because the clinic had a full-time nurse and secretary, it needed bigger numbers to pay for overhead, Emeny said. 

When she starts her practice, she will see no more than six patients a day as she gets used to being a “jack of all trades.”

“When you start combining all of those jobs into one, you can’t see patients every 15 minutes,” Emeny said.  “You see patients every half hour.  So, what their numbers dwindled to is my max.”

“A good fit”

Last month, Emeny met with members of the community.  On Sunday, she spoke of fitting in.

“The first thing you have to do for good medical care is make sure the doctor and the community fit,” said Emeny.  “If you don’t have a good fit, you’re not going to have healthy people.” 

Emeny said one of the big questions in the community is: Do I have to go to St. Peter’s?

“No,” she said.  “You pick your hospital.  Make sure the hospital knows my phone number because, when you get into the hospital, I want them to call me.  I don’t want them to wait till Monday morning.  That’s part of the reason why the phone is on 24/7.” 

At her current job at Whitney Young, she doesn’t have to keep her phone on all the time, but she does, she said, because, if her colleagues have a problem with one of her patients, they need to be able to reach her.  “Not hunt me down,” Emeny said, “reach me.”

Emeny had been looking to open her own practice.  Within one week, she had been told of Westerlo by four people. 

She then contacted Westerlo’s supervisor, and, shortly after, spoke with Gaye McCafferty, a nurse who lives in Westerlo.  The two talked about the people’s needs and what people were looking for — urgent, chronic, or long-term care.

“I’m looking to provide long-term care,” Emeny said.  “I think that medicine needs to be not only an office visit, but a healing relationship.”

Emeny said she is a strong proponent of family medicine.

“When someone comes in with a headache and you know that his grandma died two weeks ago,” she said, “you know that grief is playing into the headache and so you don’t go looking into a neurological cause right off the bat. 

“You start treating the pain, but you also treat the emotional pain because you know the whole family,” she said.  One of her greatest joys was taking care of a four-generation family.  “I had a great-grandma, grandma, mom, and the kids.  And it makes it easier to provide that total care because it’s not fragmented,” said Emeny.  “And that’s something that the community is looking for.”

Doctor-patient relationship

Doctors, Emeny said, are the only workers who send out bills for their services with the recipient deciding how much they will pay. 

“If I send a bill for $139 to the insurance company and they decide to pay me $57, I can’t squawk,” Emeny said.  “If I did that to NiMo, or National Grid, how long would I have my lights?”

Emeny said micro practice doctors need patients on board to help get the momentum going.  She said the system is broken. 

“We have a system that pays specialists for doing procedures, but it does not pay primary care well,” she said. 

The only way doctors are going to do medicine their way — being there for their patients all the time, not just for an office visit — is to get rid of overhead, Emeny said.

By doing more themselves, doctors can decrease the overhead.  With the medical system as it now stands, she said, you have to be “on a hamster wheel.”  

“They’re talking about cutting visits from 15 minutes to 10 because the overhead continues to climb,” Emeny said.  “Everything from paying for employees salaries, which are higher, to workmen’s comp. for employees, plus benefits, takes 70 percent of your cost of running an office,” she said.  “Medicare, right now, is threatening a 10 percent cut in what they pay, but we can’t cut our staff’s pay by 10 percent.”

Emeny spoke of her experiences with a number of patients — their differences in beliefs and education.

Some patients, she said, will never talk about end-of-life care.  She cited Native Americans, some of whom believe that if they prepare for a do-not-resuscitate order, they will bring about their own death.

“And you have to respect those kinds of differences,” Emeny said.  “At the same time, primary care needs to be very alert for: Is there child abuse?  Is there spouse abuse?  And is that contributing to the office visits that I’m seeing here?

“I can’t tell you the number of patients who are embarrassed because they can’t read,” Emeny said.  “Then, I need to be able to say, ‘OK, let’s find another way for you to know your pills.  Bring your pills in.’” 

She has labeled medicines with small yellow and red dots so that her patients know which ones they should take in the morning and which ones they should take at night. 

“Now, their meds are right.  Now, all of a sudden I have somebody who has mild mental retardation but…they can still live on their own.  But they can’t read,” Emeny said.  “And their sugar’s dropped from 600 to 200 because now they know what to do with their medicines.”

Is it overwhelming to keep up with so many kinds of patients and their needs?

Emeny said it’s not. 

“I changed careers from a special-ed. teacher/sign language interpreter, so I have always been aware of differences,” she said.  “And, then, my experience at Whitney Young has really honed my ability to be aware of ethnic differences.” 

She knows of patients who place suction cups along their backs to try to draw out illnesses and of patients who don’t take their medicines regularly because their ethnic beliefs permit them to only take them when they need them. 

She uses a metaphor to teach diabetes patients about how taking their medicine is like shoveling the sidewalk to prevent someone from slipping. 

“Now,” Emeny said, “when they hear about shoveling the sidewalk before they fall down, they’re like, ‘Oh, so my medicine is like shoveling the sidewalk?’”

For some patients, she may need to look at alternatives — changing daily doses to weekly doses, and using patches rather than pills.

Some patients cannot remember to take their blood pressure pill but will remember to put a patch on every week.

Technology and scheduling

For her new Westerlo practice, Emeny said she’s “pretty well settled” on office hours being from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays.  She hopes Saturdays she’ll see kids in school and people who work, and Tuesday through Friday she’ll see those who are retired.

On June 1, she will open her website to take patients. 

“There’s only two weeks a year that I’m anticipating I won’t be available to answer phone calls myself,” Emeny said.  “And that will be vacation.  And we’ve already talked to some local docs who are going to help me out with that.”

For those who do not have a computer, she’s working to find out whether a voice-activated system is available in which patients speak into their phone and a computer makes the appointment.  If a system is not available, she will open the phone lines for patients to leave messages and then she will schedule them.  She will have a mixture of pre-booked appointments and open-access scheduling, with half of her appointment slots open each day.

“This allows people who don’t know when they’re going to be off work or when they’re going to have time to get there,” Emeny said.  “They can call and say, ‘I’m off today, do you have any openings?’”

All of her medical records will be electronic. 

“Electronic medical records means that, when you call me at home, I’m going to have your record in front of me,” Emeny said.  “Then I’ll know exactly what you’re on.  I’ll know exactly how to help you over the phone.”

Emeny lives in Albany. 

“One of the big concerns is the doctor is going to be so far away,” she said.  “But I won’t be because it will be a phone call, and I can turn on the computer and there’s your record and I can help.”

Emeny said “one of the big things” she has patients do is call her every three to five days when she changes their insulin medicines because she doesn’t need to drag patients into the office all the time. 

Emeny on Perkins

Asked if she has heard stories of the revered Dr. Perkins and whether she feels she lines up with Perkins’s philosophies, Emeny said, “Amazingly so.  I mean, the whole fact that I’m going to handle my own call.  The fact that…I want to be a part of the community, not a doctor who travels in and leaves.”

Emeny said she will attend town meetings, go to some baseball games, and perform physical exams of students at schools. 

“Because that’s part of being part of the community,” she said.  “I don’t think somebody coming in and just treating this as just a job is going to be as effective as being part of the community.”

Emeny said it has been interesting to read newspaper articles about Perkins and spoke of possibly framing the articles and getting them back up on the wall.

“Because those are just amazing stories of her commitment.  And my commitment to people and caring for people is the same,” Emeny said.  “Will I be able to match the things that she did in terms of four-, five-, and six-dollar office visits?  No.  The reality is that insurance makes it difficult for doctors to make a living.”

Transition to Westerlo

Eight months ago, Emeny bought a house in Albany. 

“If I’d known about this opportunity,” she said, “I’m not sure I would have bought the house.”

Emeny said she wants to make the doctor’s building more teacher-friendly, insulate the walls, and get rid of some shelving. 

A kitchen will be added and Emeny will hold classes after-hours on diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and hypertension. 

Her daughter is a special-needs young adult, Emeny said, and the blessing of working at Whitney Young was that she was seven minutes away. 

If her daughter needed any kind of assistance, she said, she could run home, help her, and return to work.  A 45-minute drive won’t allow that, Emeny said, so her daughter will, at times, stay in the apartment behind the medical building. 

“One of major things was: I wanted to see how people treat her because if people aren’t going to accept that she comes with the doc, the doc’s not coming,” Emeny said. 

People have been very warm and very supportive of her, she said, and talked to her about NASCAR, which is her biggest thing. 

“And,” she concluded, “it has worked out very, very well.”

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