After a recent decision to join forces, representatives of both Eastern Long Island Hospital and Stony Brook University Hospital sat down with the Southold Town board at yesterday’s work session to describe plans for the future and answer questions.
The meeting was one of the first as Paul J. Connor, III, CEO and president of ELIH, Reuven Pasternak, MD and CEO of Stony Brook University Hospital and Thomas E. Murray, Jr., chairman of the board of trustees for ELIH, plan to head to Peconic Landing and meetings of local civic organizations to describe what the new alliance will mean for residents.
“It was not an easy decision,” Murray said. “As a board we were working on this for a couple of years.”
With the choice between Stony Brook and North Shore-LIJ, “In the end, Stony Brook prevailed, because of the services they said we could give together to continue the mission of the hospital and to keep the hospital in place,” Murray said. “All of our employees will stay. That was very, very important to us.”
The board signed a letter of intent during a special meeting on July 9, Murray said.
Connor said the next steps involve working out a definitive agreement and putting all the different ingredients together into one legal document.
The biggest change, Connor said, was that for 110 years, ELIH has been governed by the local board of trustees, which represents Southold and Shelter Island; now, the hospital will become part of Stony Brook and governed by a SUNY board.
ELIH’s board will serve in an advisory capacity, working with local leadership and Stony Brook leadership on issues including planning, patient safety and quality of care.
“The vision that sold us on this is the vision that we have been working on for a long time, and that is what we can do to ensure that our mission will stay intact for the forseeable future,” Connor said.
Community hospitals are joining other systems; only two independent hospitals remain on Long Island and it’s likely they will join systems within the coming 18 to 24 months, he said.
Market forces determining how health care is delivered will have a “dramatic effect”, Connor said, “and we needed to be able to participate in the new reimbursement models.”
The face of health care is doing a 180, Connor said. “We’re not going to just bandage you up and send you out.” Instead, health care systems will focus on wellness programs in communities.
Joining forces with Stony Brook will give ELIH patients access to excellence in specialty care that can be provided close to home; some of those Stony Brook physicians and services, such as spinal surgery and psychiatry, already exist at ELIH.
The goal, Connor added, is to improve access to, and strengthen, primary care “up and down the Fork.”
Not only will the partnership create better access to both primary and specialty care, Connor said, but it will add to the creation of jobs.
As it stands, he said, ELIH “is the largest single employer” in the area, providing an economic benefit to the community of between $70 and $80 million annually. Over time, Connor said that number could be enhanced. “We remain intact and arguably growing,” he said.
ELIH, Murray said, “has a tremendous responsibility to the community”, including the populations of both Peconic Landing and San Simeon and the goal was to be able to continue to offer the services ELIH has afforded for 110 years.
‘We hope that we can embellish upon these things and grow. Medicine is changing, and it’s difficult to keep up, but with a strong terciary partner in Stony Brook, we’re confident we’ll be able to do all these things for the good of the community,” Murray said.
Pasternak confirmed both Connor and Murray, as well as the board, are “strong advocates for services here. They held our feet to the fire.”
Stony Brook, he said, is “chock full. Whatever we can have done locally, we want done locally.”
In the next few months, he said, the goal is to send people out to the North Fork and establish a physical presence between Riverhead and Greenport in clinical settings.
With health care rapidly changing and taking place outside of hospitals, the concern is “keeping people out of the hospital as well as caring for them in” hospitals, Pasternak said; wellness programs will be offered with ELIH as the “epicenter.”
In addition, Pasternak said ELIH offers “a great place for people to get an opportunity to learn. Not everyone wants to be at a terciary center.”
Pasternak assured that there would be no change in employment status, salary or benefits for those working at ELIH. “We’re looking for this to be the least disruptive to staff,” he said.
ELIH, Connor said, has long had a “unique culture of community, friends, neighbors and relatives taking care of each other.”
Now, Medicare’s reimbursement methodology is measured by a patient’s experience; ELIH, he said, is highly rated for patient satisfaction, with four out of five stars. Only one hospital in New York State received five stars, he said.
“We will be focused on making sure that culture remains,” Connor said, adding that while some signage might change, the culture and heart of ELIH will not.
What will also remain intact is ELIH’s fundraising structure, with a foundation that will still host events such as next week’s annual gala. All funds raised by the foundation will stay at ELIH, Connor assured.
Although the hospital will now be a state entity, the state will fund only a portion of the hospital’s costs. “We will still need to raise money,” Connor said.
“Those dollars will stay with us. They’re 100 percent protected,” Murray assured.
The foundation decides where funds raised will be allocated, Connor said.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell asked about the impact moving forward on employment at ELIH.
“We think we are going to see a positive impact and add jobs over time,” Connor said. “The future looks pretty good for ELIH.”
Councilwoman Jill Doherty asked what role the town board would have in regard to the changes.
Murray said ELIH would just look for the continued support of the town board.
Connor said one way ELIH and the board have interfaced is during hurricanes or other events when emergency services are needed; with Stony Brook, he said, the thinking is that emergency response will be enhanced with additional rigs available.
Murray reminded that the current board will stay in place until a final determination is received, a process that could take nine months. Some who are currently serving on the board may transfer to the advisory board. “Our intention is to always have that presence on the board to make sure the interests of the community are being served. We need local people to be on this board to make sure Stony Brook is aware of all the different developments in the community,” he said.
Councilman Bill Ruland, who, like Councilman Jim Dinizio, was born at ELIH, said it was good to hear the hospital would be expanding.
“This a unique jewel we have in our midst,” Murray said. “Make no mistake about it. We want to make sure the community understands the support they have given us all these years will stay in the hospital to enhance its services. With Stony Brook giving us additional services, the only thing that will happen is we will continue to grow.”
Councilman Bob Ghosio asked if ELIH would be a teaching hospital. Pasternak said Stony Brook has a number of schools and students would benefit from learning not only in a terciary facility, but also, in a community hospital.
When asked if ELIH could become a trauma center — currently, patients in need of trauma care are flown by helicopter to Stony Brook — Connor said that it would “probably be a bridge too far for us, to be a significant trauma center.” Trauma centers need specialized staff such as neurosurgeons on call 24/7, he said. However, over time, Connor said he believes ELIH will be able to retain a greater number of patients than are sent out.
“Medical economics are challenging,” Connor said, adding that while it’s nice to have small, seasonal population, “that doesn’t always work well for health care.”
However, the area has the “oldest population per capita in the state and that is growing. Our focus is largely on the fact that the folks who need us most are 65 and over.” Over time, the plan is to offer increased specialty services for the elderly, Connor said, with urgent care offices, additional diagnostic and treatment assets and primary care offerings increased for all, from Greenport to Riverhead.
The hospital will affiliate with Stony Brook subject to the successful completion of the definitive agreement and all regulatory and other approvals.
In March, Peconic Bay Medical Center announced it would join the North Shore-LIJ network.
ELIH joins Southampton Hospital, which announced on Oct. 1, 2012 that it had signed a non-binding letter of intent with Stony Brook University Hospital that began 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.
State Sen. Ken LaValle has advocated for the three East End Hospitals to become part of the Stony Brook Health System.