Administrators at Stony Brook University Hospital and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport are planning to work together to expand access to medical care on the North Fork, after the two hospitals announced in early July that they plan to become affiliated.
The move by ELIH is the last new partnership to form on the East End after the two other East End hospitals, Southampton Hospital and Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, both joined forces with other hospitals, breaking up the East End Health Alliance network that had served as a support network for all three hospitals here.
This past winter, Southampton Hospital and Stony Brook University Hospital announced plans to merge, after which Peconic Bay Medical Center joined the North Shore-LIJ Health System in March.
ELIH President and CEO Paul Connor and Board Chairman Tom Murray and Stony Brook University Hospital CEO Reuven Pasternak are making the rounds of civic organizations explaining what the new partnership will entail.
They visited the Southold Town Board’s work session Tuesday morning to assure board members, some of whom were born in ELIH, that no current staff members will lose their jobs in the transition, and Stony Brook is looking to expand services on the North Fork.
“All of our employees will stay, which was very important to us,” said Mr. Murray, who added that their compensation will also remain the same. He said the two hospitals will now need to go through the state approval process to become a part of the SUNY medical system, which they expect to take about six to nine months.
Mr. Connor said the ELIH board of directors will remain intact, but will become an advisory board, with the hospital governed by the State University of New York trustees in Albany. All local fundraising will continue, including next week’s hospital gala, and the funds raised are required by law to remain at ELIH.
He said that, with this partnership, there are now only two independent hospitals left on Long Island — Mather and Brookhaven Hospital — and he believes they will both join hospital networks within the next two years.
“Market forces will have a dramatic effect on community hospitals,” said Mr. Connor. ” With new reimbursement models and schemes, health care will change 180 degrees. We’ll be out in the community keeping you out of the hospital, providing wellness care and management. This is where health care is going and, for us to participate, we needed to do this.”
“Part of the Stony Brook strategy is to push care out. We’re chock full. We’re not looking to bring volume to Stony Brook,” said Dr. Pasternak, who said Stony Brook is looking into setting up a clinic as part of the partnership somewhere between Greenport and Riverhead.
“We think this fulfills our mission of care, education and research,” he said, adding that he’d like to give Stony Brook doctors a chance to learn how a community hospital operates.
“We don’t want people to get all their training in a tertiary care hospital,” he said.
ELIH also has the only psychiatric ward east of William Floyd Parkway, and Dr. Pasternak said Stony Brook will help boost the hospital’s mental health services as well.
Southold Councilman Bob Ghosio questioned whether fewer people involved in accidents would need to be taken to Stony Brook in helicopters after the partnership.
“It’s probably a bridge too far for us to be a significant trauma center,” said Mr. Connor, pointing out that trauma centers are usually staffed around the clock with surgeons, which might not be economically feasible in an area where the population density doesn’t warrant it.
“More dense populations work well for health care,” he said. “With seasonality, a small population and a large geographic expanse, it’s a challenge for 21st Century health care.”
But, he said, Southold does have the oldest per capita population in the state, making non-trauma related services essential here. In courting Stony Brook, he said, ELIH introduced Dr. Pasternak to administrators at Peconic Landing and the San Simeon nursing home to discuss their medical needs.
With ELIH limited to six acres in the middle of Greenport, most of which are already built out, Dr. Pasternak said he envisions the expansion as involving specialty offices, diagnostic centers and chronic care management offices affiliated with both hospitals, which is in keeping with a nationwide shift in focus toward preventative medicine.
“Health care is rapidly becoming as much something outside the hospital walls as inside,” he said.
“I think we’re going to add jobs over time,” added Mr. Connor.
“We did need a strong tertiary partner,” said Mr. Murray. “The days of being a small, independent hospital are over.”