New Southampton Health Center Breaks Ground

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Ground was broken last week on a new South Fork health center, to be located in the current Southampton Hospital Annex on Meeting House Lane in Southampton, following renovations.

Stakeholders promised residents expanded health care options regardless of insurance status, and increased overall health with the implementation of more preventive care options.

In May, officials announced a plan to consolidate two Suffolk County health centers, one in East Hampton and the second, the Kraus Family Health Center in Southampton, forming the newly named HRHCare Kraus Family Health Center. It will be run by Hudson River Health Care, a nonprofit provider based in Peekskill, New York, that operates two dozen health centers across the state, including one in Coram and another in Greenport.

To operate the newly consolidated center, Suffolk County is slated to pay HRHCare $3.9 million over five years, beginning in 2014. But by housing the new clinic on Southampton Hospital property, the county eliminates the need to lease space for separate Southampton and East Hampton centers—a move that is projected to save it $3.8 million over the same time.

The annex building will undergo extensive renovations in a “very aggressive time frame,” according to Anne Kauffman Nolon, the president and CEO of HRHCare, in order to meet federal standards. Costing a total of $4.1 million, the work will be financed through federal grants and county funds.

If all goes as planned, the HRHCare Kraus Family Health Center is expected to open its doors in early 2014, and HRHCare representative Jake Mendlinger said the closing of the two current centers, and the opening of the new one, will be seamless.

“What today represents is a significant local step forward toward what is a national priority,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone during the ceremony last Thursday, October 3, adding that current health care costs are simply not sustainable for individuals or municipalities that oversee small public health centers. “People will be healthier because of today, and it’ll be delivered at a lower cost. That must happen.”

Once renovations are finished, the new clinic will feature a dozen all-purpose exam rooms, four dental exam and operating rooms, two OB-GYN exam rooms, a separate walk-in clinic exam room, and two waiting areas for patients, as well as offices and labs. The medical facility will also have staff ready to help people enroll in the new health exchange, according to Mr. Bellone.

A significant concern among residents has been whether the consolidated clinic could adequately serve those living in East Hampton: In 2012, the Southampton clinic saw 2,303 patients on 9,636 visits, while the East Hampton center took in 920 patients on 3,201 visits.

A two-week evaluation by the Suffolk County Department of Health completed months ago showed that more than 70 percent of East Hampton clinic patients arrived there by car, suggesting that more than two-thirds of patients have their own transportation. Nevertheless, HRHCare will provide a van to shuttle patients back and forth between East Hampton and the new clinic. It will also hire a taxi service to transport special or high-need patients. A county bus route already stops at Southampton Hospital as well.

The consolidation represents a public-private partnership between Suffolk County, Southampton Hospital, Stony Brook University and Hudson River Health Care. “This represents a very unique opportunity to bring several partners together to make a major improvement in availability of primary care services and to create a new teaching location to train future physicians for our East End communities,” Southampton Hospital President and CEO Robert Chaloner said.

Those speaking last Thursday touted the fact that Hudson River Health Care is a Federally Qualified Health Center, or FQHC, meaning that it must provide a wide range of federally mandated medical services in order to receive government funding. A 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. Under the agreement approved in June, the new clinic will also provide services for family planning, HIV, TB and sexually transmitted infections, prenatal care and gynecology.

“What I like about it is that this federal model requires a much higher level of health services,” said Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman. “You’re getting much more than the county could ever provide.”

FQHC status also provides several benefits to health care operators, including enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, according to the county.

“We currently aren’t providing what we wish we could, but guess what? Now we can,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “We have a clinic system now here at Southampton Hospital and in East Hampton, but there are financial limitations on those clinics, coupled with high demand. Because of the limitations, the clinics couldn’t qualify for federal funding, which HRH can.”

Stressing that no one visiting the new clinic will be turned away based on their inability to pay, Ms. Nolon said the facility will employ a “sliding fee scale” to charge patients.

HRH literature describes the organization’s utilization of “an innovative organization structure that works to improve the health of communities through a network of partnerships: with businesses, social service organizations, housing cooperatives, food banks, farm workers alliances and community organizations.”

It assisted 85,000 patients on 300,000 visits in 2012, according to the organization. Of those 85,000 patients, HRH estimates that 12.5 percent were migrant workers, 6 percent were homeless, 4 percent lived in public housing, and just over half a percent were veterans. Additionally, HRH notes that 75 percent of their 2012 patients were at or below the federal poverty level, with 36 percent being uninsured.

“Here in Southampton, we are talking about a failing health care model,” said Ms. Nolon, specifically referring to services of OB-GYN and dental care.

She went on to say that a good clinic system, one that meshes residency students from Stony Brook University and Southampton Hospital while offering affordable health care for those who need it, will make the model of a community hospital whole.

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