Larry Goodwin

Larry Goodwin

News & Business Reporter, Editor
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A view of the William S. Kelley Park from the Michael A. Spensieri Park in Ballston Spa; and Friends of the Kayaderosseras founder Ruth Dibelius. Photos by Larry Goodwin.

BALLSTON SPA – Village officials approved a preliminary proposal Monday to lease a parcel of land in the Michael A. Spensieri Park to the nonprofit group Friends of the Kayaderosseras.

If formally starts a process through which the Friends of the Kayaderosseras can start raising funds and eventually prepare site plans for construction of a headquarters there. The group has lacked actual meeting and storage spaces since its creation 13 years ago.

“You’ve been a good friend to the Friends of the Kayaderosseras from the beginning,” Ruth Dibelius, the group’s founder, told Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano.

On its website (https://kayadeross.org), the group’s stated mission “is to promote awareness and appreciation of the Kayaderosseras Creek… and to inspire action to preserve and protect the creek, its tributaries and its watershed as habitat for fish and wildlife, and as a recreational and scenic resource for residents and visitors in surrounding communities.”

The Kayaderosseras Creek flows through the Town of Milton before winding through the Village of Ballston Spa and making its way east to Saratoga Lake. The village swimming pool at Spensieri Park and the William S. Kelley Park are popular attractions largely because of their location along the creek’s banks.

Romano indicated that numerous discussions regarding the project have taken place recently among village officials and Friends of the Kayaderosseras members.

After a formal resolution is prepared and approved by the village board, the land could be leased to the group for 99 years at $1 per year, Romano said.

Village Attorney James Fauci said any structure on the site would be built “completely at the expense” of the nonprofit group. The mayor explained that the construction would occur toward the rear of the parking lot at Spensieri Park.

Richard Bashant, the current Friends of the Kayaderosseras president, appeared before the village board to express his appreciation for the political support, calling Spensieri Park “a logistically important place.”

Currently, Bashant reported, the Friends of the Kayaderosseras operates on an annual budget of $10,000 and has about 350 active members. 

The group engages in various activities, he said. It has a fall cleanup of Kayaderosseras Creek scheduled on Saturday, Nov. 4, with a meeting point in Kelley Park. 

Aside from Romano, the other village board members present expressed support for the group’s plans as well.

Trustee Noah Shaw admitted that he and his son have enjoyed several adventures together on the Kayaderosseras Creek.

There are not likely to be “negative” consequences for entering into a lease agreement with the nonprofit group, Shaw said, though he did request that Fauci explore all available leasing options.

Trustee Stuart Hodsoll praised the Friends of the Kayaderosseras, saying its members’ “contributions are immeasurable and they continue to grow.”

In the early days of establishing the group, Dibelius recalled, she received a phone call of encouragement from former New York Gov. George Pataki. That was when Friends of the Kayaderosseras meetings were typically held in her living room with maps strewn about the furniture, she said.

Dibelius opined that there are “many people who deserve credit” for expanding the group’s network of volunteers since its founding in 2004.

Dibelius added, “It seemed the world was waiting for somebody to save the Kayaderosseras Creek.”

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Thursday, 05 October 2017 22:21

‘Know Your Roots’

Photos of Christina Myers and her Old Saratoga Mercantile by www.photoandgraphic.com

SARATOGA – Christina Myers has worked hard all year, only to be comfortable in her apron as she starts her new job: running a humble little store in the countryside that offers fresh meat, fruit, cheese and vegetables to shoppers alongside an assortment of wholesome products. She calls it Old Saratoga Mercantile.  

“I want to be my neighbor’s place to be able to come and get good stuff,” Myers said earlier this week, before her first customers of the day (two young ladies) started browsing the widely varied items displayed on her tables and shelves.   

Myers has operated her market just west of Schuylerville for nearly five weeks, and she is planning a formal ribbon cutting and grand opening event on Sunday, Oct. 8, starting at 11:30 a.m. Individual items will be raffled off every hour and, toward the end, one person will be awarded a large care basket prepared by Myers herself.

Myers is a seasoned journalist and an exceptionally talented writer. Yet, in November of last year, she and her husband Tim finalized a real estate transaction for the 5 acres of property at 1120 Route 29 on which she decided to begin this new endeavor. The couple will eventually build a house 350 feet back from the highway.*

In consultation with members of the Pitney Meadows Community Farm in Saratoga Springs, Myers reported that she plans to have a “high tunnel” installed to produce her own fruits and vegetables on site as well. 

“We hope to be growing year-round ourselves,” she said.

Last spring, the Town of Saratoga Planning Board issued a formal approval of the business in a 5-0 vote, according to minutes of its May 24 meeting. The approval was conditioned on the installation of fencing near the parking lot and a “driveway apron” for safer access from Route 29.

Myers said about 30 feet of the gravel driveway is being paved this week, since some rocks are finding their way into the busy roadway. “I obviously want my customers to be safe,” she said, adding that the planning board “gave us a year” to make any necessary improvements.

On her business cards, Myers promotes her simple slogan for Old Saratoga Mercantile: “Know Your Roots.”

In an era of hyper-commercialization, during which most foods take weeks to process and transport before they hit grocery store shelves, Myers is basically offering area residents healthier, fresher alternatives as a means to support the local economy.

Aside from getting her hands on drywall and plumbing, and generally taking on the laborious task of fixing up the main building on her property, Myers spent the early months of the year reaching out to local farmers and other small business owners to gauge their interest in supporting her “Know Your Roots” concept.

She quickly discovered “this could really happen,” she said. “There are so many people who are passionate about what they do.”

So far, Myers has made agreements with 42 area vendors to supply Old Saratoga Mercantile. Her Internet blog (http://oldsaratogamercantile.blogspot.com/) lists such notable names as Cake by Alissa, Noelle Jackson Soaps, Hand Melon Farm, Earthly Remedies by Erin, Argyle Cheese Farmer, Grillo Essentials, Saratoga Spicery, Parvisani and many more.

Old Saratoga Mercantile’s beef products are delivered by a Schoharie County farm, and Myers said she recently contacted a Fort Ann business to supply kombucha tea.

Myers also stays true to her rural roots in Lewis County, New York, near Watertown. Yancey’s Sugarbush, a fifth-generation family of syrup producers, regularly delivers glass jugs of tasty maple syrup adorned with Old Saratoga Mercantile labels.     

“I want people to think of me as their local grocery store,” Myers says. She does carry a number of products from reputable national companies, such as Equal Exchange teas and Dr. Bronner’s hemp soaps, house cleaner and toothpaste.

She also offers healthy snack and beverage items and “touristy” merchandise that may appeal to bicycle riders and passersby on that stretch of Route 29 west of Schuylerville. 

Myers said customers, indicating the potential popularity of her type of stock, already have purchased every different item in the store.

“I know what kind of store I want to go into,” she concluded about the whole concept. “I want you to know the face. You’re buying it from your neighbor.”

* Due to an editing error, a reference to Myers's journalism experience was omitted in a previous version of this article and all print copies of Saratoga TODAY.  

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Thursday, 05 October 2017 22:12

City Boutiques On Guard For Rise in Theft

Gallery photo shows Lifestyles and Caroline and Main owner Heidi West as she demonstrates the ease of committing a larceny. Photos by www.photoandgraphic.com

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Heidi West is quite familiar with the methods used by thieves who target retail business on Broadway, especially boutiques like hers that specialize in designer clothing and accessories.

West, the owner of Lifestyles and Caroline and Main, has dozens of security cameras situated strategically in both shops to record almost every larceny that takes place.

“We see people stealing from us all the time,” she says. “We know who you are. Why do you keep doing it?”

According to an email summary of a Sept. 20 meeting sent by Maddy Zanetti, president of the city’s Downtown Business Association (DBA), a number of DBA members indicated that theft and shoplifting were “up this summer.”

“It definitely seems to be a growing issue,” Zanetti said this week, during a brief break from serving her customers at Impressions of Saratoga. “We’re hoping it’s not something that continues.” 

Zanetti said that DBA members—there are approximately 200—have noticed more seemingly professional thieves make off with merchandise from Broadway boutiques.

West expressed caution about stirring up fears of a larger trend, but knows for sure that theft is affecting hers and many other businesses. “If someone says they don’t have an issue, they just don’t know,” she said.

“The police are very good working with us. They get down here very quickly,” West added.

West said she has filed two separate lawsuits against apparent thieves that are currently making their way through the courts. One involves felony grand larceny charges because a sister and brother team allegedly stole more than $1,000 of merchandise.

“If you catch someone, you need to go through the system,” she advised. “It teaches somebody not to shoplift in Saratoga.”

Laura Farrar-Pileckas, owner of Violet’s in the Collamer Building, said diligent efforts by her employees have ensured that this year was relatively mild theft-wise compared to previous years.

Ultimately, according to both West and Farrar-Pileckas, security cameras are not enough. The employees of Broadway businesses are the owners’ best guard against these types of problems, they indicated.

“We notice if one dress is missing here,” Farrar-Pileckas said. “We have a great staff.”

Farrar-Pileckas recalled an incident in which one woman took full advantage of a busy moment in the store, when every employee was helping other customers. The woman brazenly stole a designer handbag off its shelf holder and stuffed it inside the bag she was carrying, and managed to exit the store before anyone noticed.

In another incident last year, Farrar-Pileckas remembered, one keenly observant employee went to the Saratoga Race Course and spotted a dress that was stolen from Violet’s earlier in the day. She said the alleged thief—whom she described as an attractive brunette in her ‘30s—was seen in the store again not too long afterward, so it became necessary to confront her.

Farrar-Pileckas said a chase ensued on the sidewalks, and that she caught up with the woman to demand payment for the stolen dress. The woman pulled out a wad of cash and did pay the $300 cost.

“I just walked back in with the money,” Farrar-Pileckas said about her return to Violet’s, which elicited smiles of relief among the ladies by her side.  

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Thursday, 05 October 2017 22:11

Malta Leaders Review Town Budget

MALTA – The Malta Town Board will spend the month of October reviewing a $10 million tentative budget plan unveiled this week, which calls for slightly less spending than the current fiscal year.

As the town’s official budget officer, Malta Supervisor Vincent DeLucia wrote in his summary that “a fiscally conservative budget” has been prepared “that funds core town responsibilities for road maintenance, fire protection, ambulance services, local courts, planning and code enforcement while staying below the state 2 percent tax cap and maintaining the town free of general town-wide property taxes.”   

At the Oct. 2 meeting, though, DeLucia praised the efforts of Malta Comptroller Kevin King and his dependable knowledge of the town’s numbers.

“Much of the credit goes to Kevin King,” the supervisor said.

The tentative budget calls for $10,009,215 in spending, less than the current level of $10.1 million. It can be viewed on the town website (http://www.malta-town.org).

The largest expenditures, according to DeLucia’s summary, are $7.4 million for the general costs of operating town government, including the Malta Highway Department and the service it provides for 77 “lane miles” of roadway. The “fire protection district” costs exceed $2 million.

DeLucia further indicated that an expense of $36,000 from “recreation mitigation fees” was necessary to cover debt incurred through development of the Malta Community Center on Route 9, but that the payment would not impact the town’s fund balance.

The tentative 2018 budget represents roughly $243 in property-tax spending per town resident, compared to $253 in 2017. Malta has a "general town tax levy" and additional levies for fire protection and the town library that total more than $420,000, the supervisor's summary states. 

According to King, Malta employs 43 people full time and an additional 27 people on a part time or seasonal basis.

DeLucia explained on Monday that employees in every town department have “really had to tuck it in” by cutting back on spending. Early last year, he said, the town was forced by severe inclement weather to incur extra costs, which in turn necessitated the elimination of several town positions.

Earlier this year, town officials were voicing concerns about the budget outlook in Malta due to an apparent decrease in sales tax revenues, which fund a large part of the town’s expenses. But King reported that, in recent months, “a big change in the allocation” of those revenues from Saratoga County made a noticeable difference.

“The economy is the driver, both locally and countywide,” he said.

King shared figures showing how the sales tax allocation in September alone surpassed $419,000, bringing the total revenue generated this year by purchases in Malta businesses to $2.8 million. In March the allocation was $336,000.    

DeLucia added that town board members will meet several times in the coming weeks with King and other department heads to discuss potential modifications to the tentative 2018 budget. He expects a final budget to be approved in November. 

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Thursday, 05 October 2017 21:49

Milton to Hold Public Hearing on Boyhaven Land

MILTON – On Sept. 26, the Milton Town Board voted to set the public hearing for a pending sale of the former Camp Boyhaven property on Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 6:35 p.m. The town complex is located at 503 Geyser Road.

In the summer, the Boy Scouts of America Twin Rivers Council selected Milton’s $1 million bid to purchase the roughly 300-acre property, which is located off Route 29 near the Town of Greenfield border. 

Milton Planning Board Chairman Larry Woolbright said an anonymous donor has pledged to match $500,000 from the town to make the purchase. It would be subject to a public vote.

Milton officials are considering several options for the land, including selling a portion or all of it to New York State as a means to extend the Middle Grove State Forest.

Woolbright also informed the town board that a developer whose bid placed second, behind Milton, is still expressing interest in the property.  

Thursday, 28 September 2017 22:33

‘Trail to Nowhere’ Heads to Court

In photos: The popular Avenue of the Pines recreational trail; and Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano (standing, at left) addressing the Sept. 25, 2017 meeting. Photos by Larry Goodwin.  

BALLSTON SPA – Ballston Spa officials voted this week to hire the Saratoga Springs law firm Harris Beach, formally initiating a legal case against city leaders to challenge their eminent domain proceedings over the proposed recreational trail on Geyser Road.

“I refer to it as the trail to nowhere,” Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano said before the 4-1 vote was taken. “And for the record, I enthusiastically vote yes.”

The recreational trail, which would be built on the north side of Geyser Road between Route 50 and the Milton town line, was first proposed by city officials more than 10 years ago. But Romano claimed he was rarely consulted through much of that time.

“The high-and-mighty attitude of the city speaks volumes about the city’s—what I call—arrogance in dealing with the village,” the mayor said.

The Southwest Neighborhood Association (SWNA), the largest group of trail supporters, deferred to the city for comment. 

The office of Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, another enthusiastic promoter of the trail, did not return a request for comment.

“No one is ‘against’ a bike trail,” offered Geyser Road resident David Morris, in a previous email. “They are against the safety, cost, environmental and land-grab issues with it, and how it was all handled by the SWNA and the city.”

The village-owned land in dispute is part of Ballston Spa’s watershed, but it falls within the outer district of Saratoga Springs. Romano explained that the village pays the city a total of about $28,000 in property and school taxes annually at present.  

According to Romano, Saratoga Springs officials contacted the village earlier this month to communicate an appraised value of $1,800 for the narrow strip of land that would be affected by the Geyser Road trail project. The village maintains 12-inch water lines there that run from Baker Road to Rowland Street, he explained.

The village has until Oct. 12 to take legal action against the city's effort to seize Ballston Spa’s land and numerous other Geyser Road parcels, as a means to start construction of the trail.

Karl Sleight, the Harris Beach attorney representing Ballston Spa, said multiple separate legal challenges to the city’s eminent domain proceedings are now pending in the state Appellate Division in Albany and Saratoga Supreme Court.

“This will take quite a period of time,” Sleight said this week.  

In late March, the two neighboring municipalities attempted to resolve their differences at a meeting in Ballston Spa, which was attended by Yepsen, Romano and other officials.

But the village board’s action on Sept. 25 effectively ends all such amicable efforts. Romano said he anticipates legal fees of $15,000 in the case.  

Village Trustee Shawn Raymond, a state Department of Transportation employee, cast the only vote in opposition to hiring Harris Beach.

“I’m just looking at the numbers,” Raymond told his fellow board members. “We’ve got a small piece of property that really can’t be developed for anything else, but perhaps a bike trail.”  

“Initially, we’re going to spend—just to file the petition—three times the amount of that value,” he said of the $1,800 appraisal.

“I’m trying to take emotions out of the equation and just look at this as numbers and sense,” Raymond continued, noting how $15,000 could easily be spent to improve sidewalks and other infrastructure in Ballston Spa.

Raymond also faulted the mayor for basing his concerns largely on events that may or may not occur in the future. “I can’t spend, in good conscience, constituents’ money on pure conjecture,” he said.  

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In photo: Hutchins Road homeowner Dorothy Christiansen leaves the podium after her allotted time to speak; Tom Samascott, his son Wayne and Michael Toohey are seated near the podium. Photo by Larry Goodwin. 

MILTON — After its usual pledge to the flag of a republic Tuesday night, the Milton Town Board basically allowed one final exercise of free speech regarding a contested construction project that involves 14 acres off Hutchins Road. 

For the last time, a Malta developer publicly updated the board about his plan to raze one house and build 80-plus apartments behind that property in the quiet, wooded area. The units would be designed specifically for Saratoga County’s aging citizens 

“That is land that is going to be developed. You can’t leave it dormant. It’s not going to become a park,” concluded Saratoga Springs attorney Michael Toohey, who again gave a presentation in favor of the project. Toohey did the same at a similar public hearing in July.

“We think there’s a tremendous benefit to the town,” Toohey added, “for decades to come.” He cites statistics indicating that the county’s population over age 55 will increase to 90,000 by 2030, from the current level of more than 40,000.   

Then board members welcomed a lengthy rebuttal from the woman who, for months, has led the plan’s most vocal opponents. “There are a lot of questions that still need to be addressed,” stated Hutchins Road homeowner Dorothy Christiansen.   

The town board had deemed the exchange necessary in response to a Sept. 19 letter that was sent to residents by Thomas Samascott of Malta Development.

Samascott sent his company letterhead to dozens of residents on Red Oak Lane and White Oak Path in Milton, using capital letters to convey a sense of urgency about the project site less than a mile away. He requested that residents “contact each of the TOWN BOARD MEMBERS listed below and push them to approve my project.”  

“In an effort to gain approval for my Hutchins Road 55+ community I am going to agree to secure a source of water and also run the pipes in the streets of your neighborhood,” Samascott wrote. “The one catch is that if I do not get approval for the 83 senior units on Hutchins then I will simply build single family homes which I already have enough water for and then I will not secure the ADDITIONAL SOURCE OF WATER or run the water line in your neighborhood.”  

According to Toohey, Samascott has committed to spending a total of about $432,000 for water line extensions. Samascott had announced previously that he reached an agreement with Heritage Springs Water Works for his main Hutchins Road supply.

A vote is required to change Milton’s residential zoning code and establish a Planned Development District for Samascott’s project to move forward. It would impact two 50-year-old neighborhoods of single-family homes between Hutchins and Margaret Drive, connecting them with a new roadway. 

Most owners of existing homes in the area signed petitions opposing the apartment complex, but now say they would prefer to see more single-family houses built. 

“Absolutely. I’d love to see houses there. The major issue is where does Milton want to go as a community,” exclaimed Christiansen, before her time at the podium had ended. She was a primary organizer of the petition drive.

Milton Supervisor Dan Lewza said he was unsure at which board meeting in October—either Oct. 4 or 18—a formal vote on the zoning change would take place. 

Samascott, Toohey and their associates had left the Milton town complex before the public comment section of the meeting. Still, local residents took full advantage of the opportunity to voice their concerns.

“For Mr. Samascott, this is about money,” argued Hutchins Road homeowner Cindi Cox, whose backyard abuts the project site. (Her husband, Ralph, had kindly brought Christiansen a cup of water during her presentation.)

Brian Handley, a resident of Red Oak Lane, spoke favorably about Samascott’s proposal to extend water lines beyond Hutchins Road. He described longstanding issues among his neighbors with poor water quality.

“It would be like a dream come true to have public water,” Handley said.

Saratoga Springs developers Bruce and Tom Boghosian urged the board members to scrutinize the information presented by Toohey and Samascott for accuracy.

“That’s what’s so distasteful in this town,” stated Tom Boghosian, after alleging that a number of “misrepresentations” were made about the Hutchins Road project with no attempts by board members to clarify them.   

Boghosian called it a “threat” for any developer to send a letter to residents suggesting that, without an approval, “you’re going to have crappy water for the rest of your life.”

“It’s patently disgusting,” Boghosian said. 

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Graphic provided by iStock.com. 

WILTON – The Wilton Planning Board has approved a project for 210 kilowatts of electricity production by large fuel cells that will be installed on the property of Home Depot, possibly before the end of the year.

Lucy Harlow, the board’s executive secretary, said the “solid oxide fuel cell facility” proposed by California-based Bloom Energy for use at the Home Depot was “approved with conditions” during the Sept. 20 meeting.  

Those conditions, she said, include sufficiently addressing the concerns of local firefighters who are unfamiliar with the technology, and ensuring that proper amounts of space are allowed near the fuel cells in the event of an emergency.   

Firefighters need to “examine and inspect; and indeed be instructed in how these fuel cells work,” Harlow said. 

Harlow provided a copy of the Bloom Energy informational flyer, which states: “Our unique on-site power generation systems utilize an innovative fuel cell technology with roots in NASA’s Mars program. By leveraging breakthrough advances in materials science, Bloom Energy systems are among the most efficient energy generators, providing for significantly reduced operating costs and dramatically lower greenhouse emissions.”

Other large national corporations use the company’s “energy servers” as well, including Google, Wal-Mart, AT&T and Staples.  

Asim Hussain, vice president of marketing and customer experience for Bloom Energy, said the company has worked with Home Depot on roughly 200 similar projects to supply the electrical needs of stores in California and the Northeast.

“The whole concept is to provide clean, sustainable energy…without any harmful emissions on site,” Hussain said.

Hussain explained that Bloom Energy’s solid oxide fuel cells, which remain fixed on the ground in a specific location, typically generate power for 15 or 20 years. But they can be upgraded as well. 

The upgrades are completed using “whatever is our latest stack technology, which is how we refer to fuel cells,” he said.

Local managers deferred to Home Depot corporate offices in Georgia, but numerous requests for comment there were not returned.

The progress at Home Depot in Wilton is being closely monitored by state agencies.

Bill Opalka, a spokesman for the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA), provided an email this week that explained the details of Bloom Energy’s proposal.

Opalka wrote, “NYSERDA received Bloom Energy’s application for this fuel cell project (210 kilowatts) in February 2016, under NYSERDA’s Renewable Portfolio Standard Customer-sited Tier Fuel Cell Program."

He added, “NYSERDA has a contract with Bloom Energy for $963,837 in incentives with the expectation that the project would be built approximately within a year (end of 2017).

“In order to receive this full pay-out,” Opalka continued, “the fuel cell must be installed in a manner that enables it to run on regular days in conjunction with the utility grid to provide a fraction of the power needed by the store, and also to be able to run during a utility grid outage to provide power to high-priority areas at the store. 

“Furthermore, in order to receive this full pay-out, the fuel cell must also demonstrate reliable operation for its first three years of operation,” Opalka said.

In conclusion, Opalka wrote: “Bloom Energy has shared with NYSERDA this project is expected to become operational by end-of-December 2017.”

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In photos: Joe Ruff (at left), Dr. Jonathan Gainor and Paul Chartrand enjoying the moment at Brookhaven Golf Course on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017; and scenes from the greens. Photos by www.photoandgraphic.com

GREENFIELD – On Wednesday, nearly 70 people attended the 17th annual “Best Foot Forward Golf Tournament” at Brookhaven Golf Course organized by the staff and doctors of OrthoNY.

The company has offices throughout the Capital Region that connect patients with physicians who specialize in hip, knee and joint replacements; the treatment of foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow and back injuries; plus general orthopedic and sports medicine. Its website is https://orthony.com/

“The idea is to celebrate the patients’ return to physical activity,” explained Regina Colaes, the OrthoNY site operations manager. “Over the years it’s built a lot of camaraderie. There’s no pressure about being a good golfer.”

A $10,000 prize was offered to anyone in the tournament who managed to get a hole-in-one, but Colaes said it did not happen this year. There were other awards handed out, and most attendees were grateful for the abundant warmth this late in September. 

Colaes said about 80 people attended the luncheon at the tournament, which included a presentation given by Dr. Jonathan Gainor.

Dr. Gainor shared his experiences from a recent volunteer trip he made to the South American country of Bolivia, organized by a group called Operation Walk Virginia. According to Colaes, the doctor spent days performing “non-stop knee replacements and hip replacements” in Bolivia. Earlier this year, she added, Gainor joined Dr. Lawrence Fein in another trip to the African country of Rwanda to teach medical students.  

Thursday, 21 September 2017 19:35

Hospital Creates New Addiction Team

Front photo shows the Saratoga Community Health Center on Hamilton Street. Photo by Larry Goodwin. In gallery photos (from left): Dr. Ginger Simor; Dr. Joshua Zamer; and Dr. Renee Rodriguez-Goodemote of the Saratoga Hospital Medical Group. Photos provided. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS – For months, three doctors in the Saratoga Hospital Medical Group have been leading a team of medical professionals who are determined to offer solutions for the problem of drug addiction in local communities.  

The team operates a new program out of the Saratoga Community Health Center offices at 24 Hamilton Street, where more than 100 individuals struggling with addiction are currently being offered a comprehensive treatment regime that includes long-term primary care and behavioral health.

The new program is intended to serve as a local complement to the St. Peter’s Addiction Recovery Center (SPARC) and its affiliate offices. 

Drug addiction “is an equal-opportunity disease” affecting people of all age groups and backgrounds, says Saratoga Hospital spokesman Peter Hopper.

Earlier this week, Hopper arranged an interview with the trio of physicians leading the effort: Dr. Renee Rodriguez-Goodemote, director of the Community Health Center; Dr. Ginger Simor, a psychiatrist; and Dr. Joshua Zamer, the addiction medicine specialist who has been treating patients in the program since April.  

Case and social workers as well as health center employees provide crucial daily support and assistance, the doctors said.

The three doctors were asked to discuss the widely publicized growth in opioid addiction and the overall purpose of the new program.

“The definition of addiction is compulsive, out-of-control use that essentially takes over your life,” explained Dr. Zamer. “All you do is spend your time thinking about obtaining or using the drug…people lose their job, their spouse, their family, their money, their house, their car.”

Zamer talked about the “hijacked brain hypothesis” in the addiction field, which stipulates that people lose control of their normal cognitive functions by allowing the pleasure-seeking limbic system of the human brain to take control.   

Powerful drugs such as heroin raise the dopamine levels in the brain “a thousand times more” than “a piece of chocolate cake,” Zamer said, and the downward spiral begins.

That means addiction must be seen as a physical disease much like cancer and diabetes, according to Zamer.

“Addicts get a bad rap,” he said. “A lot of them want to be clean, they really do. This has ruined their life. They’re not choosing this like it’s such a great lifestyle.”

In four out of five cases, Zamer reported, serious drug addiction starts with prescription opioids. He referred to studies showing how 25 percent of all people hospitalized in the United States go home with an opioid prescription. Of those individuals, he added, more than half are still using opioids 90 days later. 

“The new push is for a three- or seven-day prescription,” Zamer continued, pointing to recent changes in both federal and state laws.

In the month of September alone, Zamer is projecting more than 170 total patient visits in the Community Health Center as part of the drug-treatment program. On a busy day he may see 15 patients. He said he is actively “carrying” 107 patients.

Hopper indicated that the program is open to individuals struggling with any type of addiction, including alcohol and sedative benzodiazepines. 

Zamer commonly prescribes for treatment a milder opioid called Suboxone, which he said has a “ceiling effect” and negates the consumption of heroin. It is available in both pill and sublingual strip.

He also faulted doctors who are “preying” on opioid addicts by offering Suboxone—but only if the addicts can pay $500 up front and $200 or $300 for each follow-up visit.

“As I’m finding out, it’s rampant,” Zamer said. “Those docs are everywhere.” 

“You can’t really overdose” on Suboxone, Zamer explained, noting how the Community Health Center team members are very strict about requiring patients not to feed any addictions while they are in treatment.   

The federal government also strictly limits Suboxone prescribers like Zamer, who said current regulations cap his allowable patient number at 275.

“The team approach, by far, works the best,” offered Dr. Simor. “We try to treat the whole patient together. Their physical health, mental health and their addiction. It’s the best way to tackle this type of disorder.”

Simor added that part of the solution is helping patients figure out “how they got where they are today.”

She said treatment drugs such as Suboxone can “regulate neurotransmitters” in the brain, but ultimately conquering addiction involves each patient being “engaged” in the entire process.

Patients “can slowly start rebuilding their lives” when they realize that “living a sober life is bringing more enjoyment,” Simor said. The drug gets replaced with “happiness and health and goals, and that becomes what’s important.”

Dr. Rodriguez-Goodemote explained that the “integrated, longitudinal program” at the Community Health Center has been designed with each patient’s “wellness” in mind.

In addition to active drug treatment, information is shared with patients about the topics of nutrition, yoga and meditation. The goal, she said, is to assist patients in dealing with “painful experiences,” whether they are physical, emotional or mental. 

“This should be a set of providers that are with you for as long as you need us,” Rodriguez-Goodemote said. 

In a subsequent email, Rodriguez-Goodemote added: “We saw families and patients struggling with addiction. Access issues. Frustrations with relapse. I was the voice early on, but hospital leadership quickly recognized we had the expertise and the responsibility to commit resources to address this addiction epidemic head-on. And we took on the challenge.” 

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  • BALLSTON SPA 1443 Route 50, $600,000. New York Development Group Kensington LLC sold property to Kensington Court Apartments LLC. 70 Lake Rd., $498,000. Bretton and Erica Adams sold property to Wei Huang. TOWN OF BALLSTON  6 Van Vorst Dr., $209,000. Mary Nixon sold property to Charles Fernandez and Kim Vo.  3 Kaleen Dr., $360,000. David and Danielle Donnelly sold property to Andrea Stankovic.  936 State Route 67, $221,500. Jason Serra sold property to Jason and Stephanie Savaria.  CHARLTON 1403 Cosgrove Dr., $481,452. Bordeau Builders Inc. sold property to Daniel and Vikki Mazzone. CLIFTON PARK 92 Balsam Way, $460,190. Heritage Builders…
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