County: East Hampton, Southampton Health Clinics To Close, Consolidate

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Two public health clinics, one in East Hampton and one in Southampton Village, will be shuttered and replaced with a new, consolidated health center to operate under a federal model on the Southampton Hospital campus, the Suffolk County Legislature decided on Tuesday.

Approved in a 13-0 vote, with five abstentions, the legislation will close the Suffolk County Health Center on Accabonac Road in East Hampton and the Kraus Family Health Center at Southampton Hospital, a move that proponents say will save the county $3.8 million over five years while expanding health services to the poor and uninsured to include dental and mental health care.

The new clinic will be run by Hudson River HealthCare (HRHCare), a not-for-profit Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), in a public-private partnership with the county, hospital and Stony Brook University Medical Center. An FQHC is a type of provider that offers preventative and primary health care services for all age groups regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Services it must provide include dental, mental health and substance abuse treatment, transportation, and hospital and specialty care. FQHC status also provides several benefits to health care operators, including enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, according to the county.

Under the agreement approved Tuesday, the new clinic will also provide services for family planning, HIV, TB and sexually transmitted infections, prenatal care, and gynecology.

The merger is to be financed through grant money set to expire at the end of 2013. The county is to pay HRHCare $3.9 million over five years beginning in 2014. The county’s estimated net savings over this period is $3.8 million.

Placing the new clinic on Southampton Hospital property, the agreement states, will eliminate the costs to the county of the Southampton and East Hampton leases.

This location is also considered ideal by the county because of the easy access to specialty services at the hospital, and because it is located on a public bus route.

The hospital has committed to use $700,000 in grant funds to partially fund the capital improvements to retrofit its annex on Meeting House Lane to create the new health center, and HRHCare is to provide a plan to accommodate transportation for patients traveling from East Hampton, under the agreement.

The new center, expected to open by the end of this year or early next year, is to become a residency training site for primary care physicians through Stony Brook University Medical Center and Southampton Hospital. Such programs, the county says, have shown to be a “proven strategy in retaining physicians in under-served communities.”

Once renovated, the new clinic is to accommodate nine to 12 exam rooms and four dental “operatories,” among other areas.

In 2012, the Southampton clinic saw 2,303 patients and 9,636 visits, while the East Hampton center saw 920 patients and 3,201 visits. They are expected to close in the coming months.

“This is a major step forward toward expanded access to medical care for the poor,” Legislator Jay Schneiderman said after the vote. “I think the public is going to largely agree that it’s a great thing for rural health care in the region.”

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