The Secret to this Hospital's Success? Innovation and Community Spirit

December 21, 2019

“I don’t know what this community would do without this hospital,” said Chelsea Snyder-Dennis, Director of Nursing Services at the Clifton-Fine Hospital, an affiliate of Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown. It is at least one hour in any direction from this Star Lake facility to the nearest full-service hospital, making the emergency services it offers especially critical. “It can mean the difference between life and death,” Chelsea emphasized – especially in an emergency.

In addition to emergency care, this small hospital in St. Lawrence County offers primary care, imaging, lab services, and physical therapy, among other services. Its staff of nearly 100 serves 5,000 residents from nearby communities like Cranberry Lake, Wanakena, Newton Falls, and a handful of towns further away. During the height of summer, the population in the area nearly doubles. 

During a recent event, Chief Executive Officer Dierdra Sorrell attributed their success in large part to partnerships. The spirit of partnership and a collective sense of pride were both apparent that day while board members, staff, community members, donors, and residents celebrated the completion of a dramatically improved bathing facility – a priority project for the Wilderness Health Care Foundation, which supports the hospital’s most important needs.

The upgrade is one example of how this rural hospital strives to provide quality healthcare close to home. Another is through state-of-the-art telemedicine. For instance, a stroke victim in the Emergency Room can be evaluated by a neurologist at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, which is three hours away. The neurologist can also oversee treatment that can be carried out by local personnel without losing a critical window of opportunity to improve the outcome.

With 20 beds, Clifton-Fine Hospital also provides acute care for patients recovering from illness or surgery as well as long-term assisted living care for elderly residents. Beatrice Bebee, age 93, has been living there for 11 years. She and her husband lived in Newton Falls during their 30 years of marriage. The corkboard in her room is decorated with mementos – a black and white image of her parents, along with dreamcatchers, and needlepoint affirmations. For Beatrice and other residents, this facility offers health, safety, comfort, and dignity –  a way to age in a place without having to move to an unfamiliar community.

The hospital is one of four local nonprofits in the Cranberry Lake area to receive unrestricted funding annually through the Damoth Fund at Adirondack Foundation. Robert Damoth, the caring individual who established this fund through a bequest, was a quiet man with a strong attachment to his community. Since his death in 2012, the fund has awarded more than $525,000 – and it will keep giving back year after year to help the hospital and other anchor institutions continue to thrive.

For more information about establishing a fund with Adirondack Foundation, contact Janine Scherline at or 518.523.9904. 

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