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Local
Centers for Occupational Health closure leaves void for companies
About 900 companies will pay more for drug and alcohol screenings and pre-employment physical exams

GLENS FALLS — A popular program for local employers was closed Friday by Glens Falls Hospital.

The hospital was running two Centers for Occupational Health, one in Glens Falls and one in Wilton. They provided random drug and alcohol screening as well as pre-employment physical exams.

With the closure, about 900 companies in the region will have to find services elsewhere.

The city of Glens Falls has already negotiated a new contract with Saratoga Hospital, but at a much higher price. The contracts will be voted on by the Common Council on Tuesday.

Glens Falls Hospital charged $35 for a five-panel urine drug screen and did random tests for no charge.

Saratoga Hospital charges $39 for the same drug screen, plus $50 an hour as a fee for performing the tasks on-site in Glens Falls. The price is for all random drug tests; none is for free.

In addition, the city has negotiated a contract with Standard Medical Services of Queensbury for post-accident testing and after-hours testing. The company would charge a minimum of $240 for taking an after-hours call, unlike Glens Falls Hospital’s $75 charge. Standard Medical Services also charges $5 more for breath tests and $10 more for urine tests.

The hospital did not announce the closure. The Post-Star learned of it when reviewing the agenda for Tuesday’s Glens Falls Common Council meeting.

In response to questions about the closure, the hospital said it was a business decision.

“Glens Falls Hospital has decided to close the Center for Occupational Health, as there are other organizations in this region that can meet the needs for this service. We would not be making this decision unless we were fully confident that the care patients receive elsewhere would be as good as the care they receive today,” said spokeswoman Katelyn Cinzio in an email.

As recently as early 2017, the hospital described the center as thriving.

Officials there said that in 2016, the center served 31,000 individuals and 2,000 companies. But two years later, that appears to have changed significantly. On the webpage for the center, it was described as serving 900 companies.

It listed a team of six, including four doctors.

The hospital did not respond to a question asking how many people lost their jobs when the center closed Friday.


Local
Moreau home destroyed by fire, neighbor alerts sleeping residents

MOREAU — A home in White Birch Estates was destroyed by fire on Monday morning, but residents got out safely thanks to a neighbor who spotted smoke and ran to the home to awaken them.

Kayla Donaldson said she was in the home with her husband, their two kids and two stepchildren when they were awakened by someone yelling and pounding on the front door.

“We were sleeping and I woke up when he was pounding on the door,” she said. “It was smoky and we just ran out. We left the doors open hoping the cats would follow, but I don’t know if they made it.”

The family fled with little but their coats, one child not even having time to grab socks. Keys to their van were in the home as well.

A GoFundMe page was set up on the family’s behalf by a co-worker of Donaldson who works at The Queensbury Hotel, according to a Facebook post.

To donate visit, https://goo.gl/BBddki.

Neighbor Michael Papa said he spotted a column of black smoke from about two blocks away and knew it did not look right. He said he ran to the home and saw smoke billowing as he got closer.

He said he has seen heat tape that is used to keep water pipes from freezing under homes sometimes malfunction during extreme cold, and the fire appeared to start under the Seventh Street home.

Residents who gathered a block over as firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze credited Papa for potentially saving lives, but he brushed aside the praise.

“I’m not a hero,” he said. “I would hope anyone would do the same for me.”

The family was able to get their two dogs out with them, but the fate of the cats, a bird and fish was unknown, Donaldson said.

The fire was reported just after 8 a.m., and the blaze quickly tore through the single-wide mobile home. Firefighters from South Glens Falls, Wilton, Gansevoort, Fort Edward, West Glens Falls and Hudson Falls responded, but there was little they could do to salvage the home as flames jumped from windows.

A warming bus was brought to the scene to help firefighters deal with the cold.

No word on a cause was available later Monday.

It was one of two structure fires area firefighters dealt with early Monday, as the mercury dropped to 10 below in parts of the region. Kingsbury firefighters dealt with a blaze at a home on county Route 41, but no major damage was reported. West Fort Ann firefighters also dealt with a chimney fire on Firehouse Way, while firefighters from western Saratoga County helped put out a fire in Northville on Monday morning.


Washington
For some, safety net in shutdown doesn't feel safe

WASHINGTON — Doris Cochran, a disabled mother of two young boys, is stockpiling canned foods these days, filling her shelves with noodle soup, green beans, peaches and pears — anything that can last for months or even years. Her pantry looks as though she’s preparing for a winter storm. But she’s just trying to make sure her family won’t go hungry if her food stamps run out.

For those like Cochran who rely on federal aid programs, the social safety net no longer feels so safe.

As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history stretches into a fifth week, millions of poor Americans who depend on food and rental assistance are becoming increasingly worried about the future. Most major aid programs haven’t dried up yet. But each day the stalemate in Washington drags on, the U.S. inches closer to what advocates call a looming emergency. Those dependent on the aid are watching closely under a cloud of stress and anxiety.

“I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Cochran said, “and that’s what scares me the most.”

With no indication of an imminent compromise, the Trump administration in recent weeks has scrambled to restore some services across the government. But two agencies crucial to the federal safety net — the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — remain largely shuttered.

The USDA announced earlier this month that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food aid to roughly 40 million Americans, will be fully funded through February. But should the shutdown stretch into March its status is unclear: With just $3 billion in reserves, the USDA won’t be able to cover the roughly $4.8 billion it pays in monthly benefits.

The department was able to stretch the program for another month based on a loophole in a spending bill. But as a result of congressional rules, food stamp benefits allotted for February are being given out early, before Jan. 20. There is no guarantee recipients will get food stamps for March, but if even if the program continues without a lapse recipients would have to stretch their current allotment for at least six weeks, rather than four.

The impact of any lapse in these programs would be dramatic and unprecedented: The USDA says there has never before been a break in food stamp benefits since the program was made permanent in 1964.

Food banks are already stretched thin thanks to a notable spike in demand from furloughed federal employees, contractors and others out of work due to the shutdown, said Carrie Calvert, the managing director for government relations at Feeding America, a hunger relief organization. For every meal Feeding America’s network of food pantries serves, federal food aid provides 12.

“This is a potentially catastrophic situation,” Calvert said. “This could be an immediate emergency that grows exponentially.”

Since the shutdown began, HUD has been unable to renew hundreds of contracts with private building owners who receive significant federal subsidies to provide housing to low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities. Under these contracts, tenants pay a portion of the rent and the federal government covers the rest. But between December and the end of February, roughly 1,700 contracts are slated to expire, meaning that HUD won’t be able to make their payments. The agency has asked landlords to dip into their reserves to cover rental costs until the government reopens, with a promise of reimbursement.

Similarly, come February, 700 rental assistance contracts administered through a USDA program that offers aid to low-income people in rural areas also will expire. A spokesman said the office “is exploring all options to mitigate any potential negative impact” to tenants.

Those unknowns are causing anxiety and anguish among America’s most vulnerable.

Eneaqua Lewis, 36, lives in a HUD-subsidized apartment on Roosevelt Island in New York City. She said she found out earlier this month her building’s HUD contract expired Jan. 9. Lewis, a single mother raising a 10-year-old, was laid off from a construction job in December. Without an income or any significant savings, Lewis said she’d be forced to drain her meager retirement fund to cover the full amount due with no rental assistance subsidy offsetting the expense.

“People are really afraid right now and just don’t know what to do,” Lewis said. “I can’t afford market rate rent here. Where would I go? Where would everyone go? One side of the building is all elderly or handicapped. The other side is all families. Where would we all go?”


Local
Lawyers for Glens Falls murder suspect pursue 'intoxication' defense

Lawyers for the Glens Falls man accused of stabbing a man to death during a purported drug deal last June have notified a judge they plan to claim he was too intoxicated by drugs to intend to kill the victim.

Counsel for Skylar C. Phillips filed a notice last week in Warren County Court, indicating they plan to present evidence “that the defendant had diminished mental capacity/mental disease or defect in that defendant Phillips suffered from intoxication” from prescription drugs and illegal narcotics, according to documents filed last week in Warren County Court. If successful, the defense could result in his acquittal, as prosecutors must prove he intended to commit the crimes he was charged with.

Phillips’ lead counsel, Greg Teresi, said a review of the evidence, which includes police body camera videos and a video of Phillips being questioned for hours by police, made it clear to the defense he was significantly under the influence of drugs moments after the stabbing.

That led to questions from Teresi and co-counsel Fred Rench about whether he can be held criminally culpable for what occurred.

“There is certainly evidence of intoxication that has given us some questions about his state when this happened,” Teresi said.

Warren County District Attorney Jason Carusone said he had no comment as of Monday on the defense effort to pursue an intoxication defense.

“We are reviewing their papers and working on a response,” he said.

Phillips, 19, of Glens Falls, faces counts of second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter and lesser charges for the killing last June 8 of 31-year-old Glens Falls resident Charles Werner IV. Police believe Werner met Phillips and a co-defendant, Nicholas Hamel, 19, to buy prescription Xanax pills, but Werner tried to steal the drugs and a fight ensued on Union Street in which Werner was stabbed in the chest. He died minutes later.

Hamel, who was Phillips’ roommate, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter and lesser counts. Authorities believe Hamel was fighting with Werner when Phillips stabbed Werner with a large hunting knife.

Court records show the men gave police a variety of stories about what happened, including blaming a black man who was riding by on a bicycle and saying that Werner “rolled” onto the knife during the fight.

Both men have pleaded not guilty and are being held in Warren County Jail.

Warren County Judge John Hall has ruled that Phillips and Hamel will be tried separately, based on a motion filed by Teresi, to which Carusone’s office did not object. So Phillips was scheduled to stand trial Feb. 19, and Hamel starting March 18.

Teresi said it was initially believed by defense lawyers that it would be best to try the cases separately, but he said a recent review made them believe it should be tried as one case. He said that aspect of the case was still being explored and a new request to consolidate the cases was likely.

“There are a lot of moving parts to this case,” he said.

The Warren County District Attorney’s Office last week filed additional evidence in the case, including reports from DNA testing of evidence that was found at the scene. Tests showed DNA, of which Werner was a “major contributor,” was found on a shirt that witnesses said Phillips wore, and jeans that Hamel wore. A plaid shirt that was found on the sidewalk had DNA that was from Werner and Hamel.

DNA tests of the knife appeared to still be pending. Phillips is accused of wiping the knife after Werner was stabbed, and he faces a charge of tampering with physical evidence. (corrected)


Phillips