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Apr 14, 2015 3:50 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

LaValle Still Pushing For Stony Brook's East End Health Care Network

Apr 14, 2015 3:50 PM

State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle is almost never without his trusty Stony Brook University baseball cap—a display of support for the educational institution in western Suffolk County. They’ve returned the favor, in part, by naming the school’s stadium in his honor.

But while he’s supportive of the Stony Brook Seawolves, it is the university’s hospital that is at the forefront of one of Mr. LaValle’s most passionate endeavors.

He has been a strong proponent of a plan to form a network of East End hospitals that would be anchored by Stony Brook University Hospital. That vision started to become a reality earlier this year when the State University of New York Board of Trustees approved a partnership between Stony Brook and Southampton Hospital.

But the effort may have been jeopardized last month when Peconic Bay Medical Center announced that it would forge a partnership instead with the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. The two institutions still need approvals from the U.S. Justice Department and the State Department of Health to finalize the deal, a process that is expected to take several months.

Although a date has not been set for when it would join the 19 other hospitals under the North Shore-LIJ umbrella, Peconic Bay announced that its board of directors had approved an agreement to become a full member of the health care system. No money will be exchanged, but North Shore-LIJ will provide Peconic Bay with additional resources and help it establish new programs to expand its coverage capacities, North Shore-LIJ spokesman Terry Lynam said.

Peconic Bay, a teaching hospital and nursing/rehabilitation center, boasts 200 beds and annually serves 7,000 inpatients, as well as 168,000 outpatients, according to a press release issued by the hospital. It has a $160 million operating budget this year, according to spokesman Demetrios Kadenas, and was affiliated with North Shore-LIJ from 2000 until 2006, when it teamed up instead with Stony Brook University Hospital—an affiliation that still holds today but, ultimately, will come to an end when the deal with North Shore-LIJ is finalized.

Off the bat, Peconic Bay spokeswoman Mary Thomas said last week, the hospital hopes to create a cardiac catheterization lab, a trauma center, cardiac intervention center and a cancer treatment center with the help of North Shore-LIJ.

Mr. LaValle was quick to vocalize his dismay at Peconic Bay’s decision, noting that the deal does not follow the recommendations of the Long Island Regional Advisory Committee of the State Commission on Health Care Facilities—known less formally as the Berger Commission, for Chairman Stephen Berger. In 2006, the committee determined that all community hospitals in central and eastern Suffolk County should be brought together under the governance of Stony Brook, the sole tertiary care hospital in the county.

According to Mr. LaValle, the state had invested a $20 million grant via the Health Care Efficiency and Affordability Law to move the Berger Commission plan forward. For that reason alone, the senator said, he does not envision the State Health Department signing off on Peconic Bay’s deal with North Shore-LIJ.

“The idea is to provide money for community-based services, creating a healthier population and linking services in the region,” Mr. LaValle said this week. “So I’m hoping that the Health Department will say, ‘Wait a minute—we’ve been involved in this from 2006. This is now 2015. The model seems to be community-based, and we’ve had a Stony Brook presence here, and so we want to use a 2015 model rather than an outdated hospital-centric approach.’

“To some degree, they’re trying to break away from that model,” he added about Peconic Bay’s decision.

Mr. LaValle said there is no way he can sway the state’s decision on the matter, but that he will remind officials of the plan in mind all along to make Stony Brook the sole partner of each East End hospital.

Ever since Mr. LaValle was appointed chairman of the Committee of Higher Education in 1979, he has advocated for the growth of Stony Brook University and its hospital, working to pump millions of dollars into the institution. Stony Brook actually lies just outside his district, which spans east from Port Jefferson to the North and South forks, encompassing the entire East End.

In 2002, the sports stadium at Stony Brook University was named after Mr. LaValle, who was instrumental in securing most of the $22 million to fund its construction. He also played a major role in establishing a burn unit at the university hospital, as well as in creating the Long Island High Technology Incubator at Stony Brook and championing the Stony Brook University Incubator in Calverton.

But the senator stressed that Peconic Bay Medical Center’s decision upsets him not so much because of his allegiance to Stony Brook itself, but because the hospital is the leader in tertiary care in Suffolk County. Had there been a different hospital in that role, he said, he would have advocated for that institution instead.

“I’m a very big supporter of Stony Brook, because it’s an important university in our backyard that provides a lot of jobs, and, in health care, has the largest tertiary care facility in Suffolk,” he said. The senator added that Southside, a North Shore-LIJ facility in Bay Shore, does provide some tertiary care, but not to the degree Stony Brook does.

It wouldn’t matter if it was North Shore or New York-Presbyterian or some other hospital, Mr. LaValle added: “It just would make sense for the community hospitals here to be a feeder [to Stony Brook].”

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who often works side by side with Mr. LaValle in Albany on issues pertaining to the South Fork, said that a network of East End hospitals anchored by Stony Brook has been a vision of the senator for decades in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of Southampton, Peconic Bay and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport. But as much as Mr. LaValle helps Stony Brook out, Mr. Thiele said the issue branches out far beyond Mr. LaValle’s appreciation for the institution.

“Certainly, as the chairman of the Higher Education Committee, Stony Brook has been an important part of his work, but health care has also,” Mr. Thiele said. “Him having his position as the chairman … has given him a lot of ability to shape the future of Stony Brook and the hospital there. Stony Brook, whether you’re talking about the hospital or the university, it really is regional in this scope.

“This is what’s in the best interest of the East End,” the assemblyman added. “I agree with the senator that Stony Brook is our best option.”

All eyes are now on Eastern Long Island Hospital, which has been in partnership discussions with both Stony Brook and North Shore-LIJ as well, with a decision expected to come next month that health care experts have said could go either way.

Mr. LaValle, however, said he is not going to reach out to Eastern Long Island’s Board of Directors, as he is confident that the hospital will do what is best. “I think the hospital boards should make their own decisions, and we may agree or we may disagree,” he said. “I think they probably know that and what I’ve said and what’s been put in print.”

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