Suffolk County Moves To Merge Southampton, East Hampton Health Clinics

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A proposed merger of two Suffolk County public health clinics, one in Southampton and one in East Hampton, into a new facility that would operate under a federal model on the site of the Southampton Hospital Annex is moving closer to reality.

The Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday afternoon voted to make $2.2 million in capital funds available to renovate the annex building on Meeting House Lane, the site of a former nursing home. Also on Tuesday, a separate bill to merge the clinics was slated to be introduced.

Proponents say the consolidation would save the county money and improve health care for the clinic patients, who skew poor and are often uninsured. The current Southampton clinic is part of Southampton Hospital; the East Hampton clinic is on Accabonac Road.

The new clinic would run as a Federally Qualified Health Centers program under the auspices of Hudson River Health Care, a Peekskill-based not-for-profit. This model would bring about a large federal subsidy, but also higher standards of care than what is currently available at the county clinics. Dental and mental health care, for example, would be available. Also, the new clinic will have expanded hours of operation and accept walk-in patients.

The consolidation would represent a public-private partnership between Suffolk County, Southampton Hospital, Stony Brook University and Hudson River Health Care.

County Executive Steve Bellone’s office estimates the merger would save the county $3.8 million over the next five years. It would be financed through grant money that is set to expire at the end of 2013. The county would fund the renovations at the site of the annex, which currently houses human resources and billing offices, but would be fully reimbursed from the grant. The hospital has committed $700,000 of grant funding for the renovations.

“What I like about it is that this federal model requires a much higher level of health services,” said County Legislator Jay Scheniderman. “You’re getting much more than the county could ever provide. Clinic employees will be transferred, not laid off, he noted.

Southampton Hospital’s ties with area doctors will allow patients in Montauk and East Hampton the ability to visit the new clinic as well as the offices of doctors approved by the hospital. Stony Brook will also provide residency opportunities for medical students at the new clinic.

Southampton Hospital President and CEO Bob Chaloner called an exciting opportunity to expand primary care and to better integrate clinic care into the health care system. The hospital plans to join forces with Stony Brook to use the clinic as a training area for residents.

“Our goal is to move as quickly as possible,” he said. “We’d all love to see it open by the end of the year, January 1.”

Mr. Schneiderman said plans are afoot to improve bus transportation to the new clinic—a source of concern for some.

“I don’t know how some of these people who don’t own cars will be able to get to their doctors’ appointments on a regular basis. That’s my major concern,” said Sheila Rogers, director of the East Hampton Healthcare Foundation.

A public hearing on the consolidation plan will be held on Tuesday, May 21, at 10 a.m. at the legislative auditorium in Riverhead, and on Thursday, May 23, at 5 p.m. at the legislative auditorium in Hauppauge.

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