One day after Eastern Long Island Hospital’s board of trustees voted to join forces with Stony Brook University Hospital, ELIH president and CEO Paul J. Connor III looked to the future and described what the new partnership will mean.
The affiliation is subject to the successful completion of a definitive agreement and all regulatory and other approvals, a release put out by ELIH stated.
Connor said an immediate collaborative planning effort will commence between ELIH and Stony Brook to develop a long-term strategic plan.
“Now, the real work begins,” he said Friday. “At least we know where we’re going. Uncertainty can drain you.”
The board of trustees, he said, did a “yeoman’s job.” He congratulated board chairman Thomas E. Murray Jr. for “keeping everyone on the same page. It was a herculean task.”
At the end of the day, Connor said while North Shore-LIJ did a wonderful job, and he had “nothing but admiration and respect for their organization,” in the end, Stony Brook “really resonated with our board, which had a singular focus, to be able to ensure the hospital will be able to continue to fulfill our mission to this community.”
The goal, Connor said, is that the hospital will continue to offer the same level of caring its employees are well known for; the hospital has the highest patient satisfaction scores in the state, he said.
The aim is to have the transition to becoming a Stony Brook hospital be one that’s transparent, all the while maintaining ELIH’s own identity and culture, “and to continue to engage our population.”
Once the transition is complete, the current board of trustees will no longer be the governing body, which will be SUNY.
Instead, the board will transition into an advisory board, representing the community and advising Stony Brook leadership on financial issues, patient safety and quality, and any other topics the governing board has traditionally been involved with.
The advisory board will “keep the community in the loop,” Connor said, to ensure residents remain fully involved in what is happening, and allowing them to offer input and engage fully as they have in the past. “Without a community board, you have to find some way to get everyone to still support the hospital and understand what’s going on,” he said.
Patients need not worry about services being cut, Connor said. “They have agreed, at minimum, to maintain the current level and quality and breadth of service,” he said. “That’s a major plus for our community — no reduction of services with Stony Brook being the mother ship.”
Stony Brook is interested in using ELIH as a platform to project their brand of Stony Brook medicine; they hope to build upon their model of care, he said.
For example, Connor said, for the past 20 years, ELIH has had a relationship with Stony Brook’s department of psychiatry, providing psychiatric specialists that has allowed ELIH not only to keep psychiatry but to grow the department.
Last year, Connor added, ELIH benefited from the work of renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Raphael Davis from Stony Brook.
“It’s a win-win,” Connor said, adding that physicians get a broader patient base to choose from and patients get greater access to specialty care for the local population on the North Fork and Shelter Island. “Greater services provided locally for our community, patients, and campus here strengthens our ability to deliver our mission,” Connor said.
Local residents should also not worry that ELIH could close, he said. “We are officially a safety net hospital. That meets we have met criteria, that we’re remote and serve a population in need.” With a growing senior population and Peconic Landing’s expansion, the population of patients ages 85 and older is three to five times higher than in the general population, Connor said.
“We think that along with the general growth of the retirement population out here, there has to be a medical and surgical presence, a hospital presence” to provide specialty care and meet the evolving needs of the geriatric community. Working with San Simeon and Peconic Landing, Connor said the goal is to provide comprehensive care for geriatric needs and illness.
Addressing the question of how the scenario will play out, with ELIH and Southampton Hospital joining forces with Stony Brook, while Peconic Bay Medical Center opted to join the North Shore-LIJ network, he said he believed local residents would have “no problem accessing the services of all three hospitals.”
The main benefits of an alliance with Stony Brook, Connor said, is that with ELIH being the first and oldest hospital in Suffolk County, at 110 years old this year, “Now we have a chance to really be a part of the first totally Suffolk-based integrated health care network being developed through Stony Brook. We think that’s exciting, to join with Stony Brook and work with our partner in Southampton, and maybe others in the future who may come aboard, as well.”
The only remaining two independent hospitals that might consider joining on could be Mather and Brookhaven, Connor said.
Describing the timeline, Connor said next, a definitive agreement and associated documentation goes to the SUNY board for approval, and then to the office of the state comptroller and attorney general. Finally, the governor needs to sign off, before ELIH is officially part of Stony Brook.
That process, Connor said, will take the better part of a year, and until then, “We will continue to act as ELIH, with the board in place. But we will be working with Stony Brook in planning and rolling out services with Stony Brook during that time frame.”
As for fundraising, Connor said ELIH’s foundation will become an independent entity with a charter whose sole focus will be to raise capital dollars for the ELIH campus of Stony Brook. “Our volunteers will play a greater role; since there is no governing board, they will have their own board, providing input and giving messages to the community, the hospital and Stony Brook leadership.”
Job security is assured, Connor said, with the current bargaining unit staying in place and all benefits for union and non-union employees in place. The new agreement, he said, “is not disruptive of any of what we have in place. We feel if anything, there will be a growth in jobs around the hospital and up and down the Forks.”
Connor said he wanted to thank Senator Ken LaValle for his role in the process. “Besides being our cheerleader, he’s been the person to work with us, Stony Brook, SUNY leadership, and the health department to make sure all the planets were aligned to make this happen today, and that we will be able to go through the regulatory process as smoothly as possible. He’s been an essential part of the whole process,” Connor said.
“I could not be more pleased with Eastern Long Island Hospital’s decision to move forward with Stony Brook Medicine,” LaValle said in a release. “Throughout my tenure, I have worked hard to make certain that quality, affordable medical services are accessible to residents throughout my district. This unanimous decision ensures that people on the North Fork and Shelter Island will continue to receive expert medical care close to home. ”
LaValle added that there has been “tremendous support from SUNY leadership and the SUNY Board of Trustees and I look forward to working together to successfully build the first wholly integrated Suffolk County hospital network. I think it is indeed fitting that ELIH — the first hospital in Suffolk County at 110 years old — has shown its continued dedication to the community by ensuring its mission and future are guided by decisions made at the local level.”
Added New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele: “Eastern Long Island Hospital’s decision to partner with Stony Brook University Hospital is another step forward towards creating a stronger Suffolk health care system on the East End. Combined with the planned partnership of Southampton Hospital and Stony Brook University Hospital, the face of health care in eastern Suffolk is about to change in a very good way.”
Currently, ELIH, Southampton Hospital and PBMC are members of the East End Health Alliance, which was formed to give the three community hospitals bargaining power in negotiating with health insurance companies.
Southampton Hospital, announced on Oct. 1, 2012 that it had signed a letter of intent with Stony Brook University Hospital, beginning the process of becoming part of the Stony Brook health system. In January, the State University of New York trustees approved the affiliation between Stony Brook and Southampton.
PBMC announced in March it had negotiated an agreement to become part of the North Shore-LIJ health system.
LaValle has advocated for the three East End hospitals to become part of the Stony Brook Health System. He calls the idea “a regional plan that I have made a priority throughout my career.”
At the Oct. 1, 2012 press conference where Southampton and Stony Brook announced their letter of intent, LaValle said he expected both Eastern Long Island Hospital and PBMC to agree to enter the Stony Brook system within a year. He said both North Fork hospitals had already begun discussions with Stony Brook.
A Stony Brook-led health system, taking in the three East End hospitals as well as Brookhaven Memorial Hospital in Patchogue was the recommendation of the NYS Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century — commonly referred to as the Berger Commission — in its 2006 final report.
“The decision made … by Eastern Long Island’s board to pursue an affiliation with Stony Brook is an important first step towards advancing our collaboration to ensure that residents of the North Fork of Suffolk County and beyond, have continued access to high-quality coordinated care close to home,” said Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, senior vice president for health sciences and dean of the Stony Brook University School of Medicine.
“We are grateful to SUNY’s visionary leadership in its support of our continued work to establish agreements with community hospitals in Suffolk County for the care of Long Island residents,” added Reuven Pasternak, MD, chief executive officer, Stony Brook University Hospital, and vice president for health systems, Stony Brook Medicine.