By Rob Potter
HARRIS January 19, 2001 Jeffersonville resident Joann Madden has driven to Community General Hospital in Harris countless times over the years.
Some trips came as a longtime member of the Jeffersonville Volunteer First Aid Squad, when she and her fellow corps members attended to an injured community member and then transported that person to CGH for advanced medical care. On other occasions, Madden drove a friend or family member to the countys primary medical facility for treatment.
But one aspect of the trip to Harris has always bothered Madden. Specifically, its the fact a driver has to leave eastbound Route 17 the future I-86 at Exit 102 and then drive another mile or so to actually reach the CGH entrance. (The westbound exit is less than half a mile from the hospital.)
After hearing recently that the New York State Department of Transportation is planning to create a new exit ramp at Exit 106 near the Apollo Plaza in Monticello, Madden decided to contact local officials about the lack of an exit closer to CGHs doors.
(According to DOT officials, the eastbound Exit 106 has been delayed. Plans now call for construction to begin on that project this fall and to be completed in the summer of 2002.)
Its essential, Madden said of a potential new exit located closer to CGH than the present ramp. When you have an emergency, you want to be able to get there quickly. Those extra minutes are magic minutes when someone is having a heart attack.
According to CGH spokesperson Selma Field, several inquiries have been made of state and local officials about a more convenient exit since the hospital opened in 1977. But none of those initiatives have led to the construction of an exit.
It would be a good thing, Field said.
One official Madden has spoken to is Sullivan County Legislator Rodney Gaebel.
Gaebel said that county officials meet with New York State DOT representatives occasionally and that concerns about the lack of a better exit to the hospital have been raised before. And he noted that, with the planned I-86 entrance and exit realignments, this is a prime time to talk about it.
Were working on them, Gaebel said. But they [NYSDOT] make the ultimate decision.
And Gaebel has clear feelings about such a proposed exit.
Would I support it? Yes, I would, he commented.
Unfortunately for Gaebel, Madden and others who would welcome a new exit, they may have to be very patient.
Currently, there are no plans for such an exit, said Dean Smith, assistant resident engineer at the NYS DOT office in Monticello. In fact, its not on the 15-year plan.
Smith, who said that he personally would like to see a more convenient exit near CGH, said that more than 10 years ago the county initiated a proposal for one, but it never came to fruition.
Sullivan County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Coordinator Donald Hopkins noted that the countys EMS council promoted the idea for a new ramp about three years ago.
It would be beneficial to all of the countys ambulance services, Hopkins said. I think nearly every ambulance service jumps on the Quickway to get to Harris and the hospital.
Hopkins added that he firmly believes each ambulance squad would endorse such an exit ramp.
There are some rough secondary roads in the county that cause a patient riding in the back of an ambulance to be bounced around a bit, he said. A new ramp would save a minute or two and add to the patients comfort.
Though nothing concrete is on the horizon, Madden is continuing to contact local and state officials about the problem.
The countys ambulance corps and EMS are wonderful, she said. But they can only do so much. A new exit would make a big difference.