By Stephen J. Kotz
Leaders of Southampton and Stony Brook University hospitals, speaking at a forum Monday on a pending merger of the two facilities said the new alignment would provide benefits for both institutions — including, most importantly, the long-term survival of Southampton Hospital.
The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons sponsored the discussion at Southampton Hospital’s Parrish Memorial Hall, which featured Southampton Hospital CEO and President Robert Chaloner and Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, the dean of the Stony Brook University School of Medicine and vice president of Stony Brook Health Sciences.
As part of the presentation, a short promotional film, “Transforming Healthcare on the East End,” was screened. In it, staff members from both hospitals as well as the Southampton Hospital board offered enthusiastic endorsements of the partnership.
Dr. Kaushansky said the deal was “a whisker away” from getting the final state approvals it needs to be a reality, but Mr. Chaloner was more cautious, saying he hoped the deal could be finalized within the next couple of months.
Although the crown jewel of a merger would be the construction of a new hospital on a portion of the Stony Brook Southampton campus, that project, which Mr. Chaloner has estimated could cost at least $200 million to complete, is still just an item on the wish list.
But in the meantime, Mr. Chaloner said a merger would bring many benefits to Southampton, from access to more specialists, improved technology residency programs, and a reduction in pharmaceutical costs, to name a few.
“Most people in the community know about the days when Southampton Hospital was struggling,” he said. “We’ve made great strides in the past decade.”
Despite those strides, he told the audience of about 50 people that it will be ever more difficult for small, independent community hospitals like Southampton to survive in an ever more competitive healthcare industry. “Health care is a complicated business,” he said. “It is important to be part of a team.”
“If we weren’t working together, I’d be worried about just keeping the doors open at Southampton Hospital,” he added.
The single biggest mission facing the hospital, he continued, “is to provide access to health care for our community.”
As such, efforts such as the Phillips Family Cancer Center, a 14,000-square-foot, $20 million facility slated for a site on County Road 39 in Southampton, are intended to improve access to health care options for East End residents, he said. Another example of the hospital’s effort to extend its reach is a proposed emergency clinic in East Hampton. The hospital and town are still working on finalizing a site for that facility.
Mr. Chaloner praised Dr. Kaushansky for the role he has taken in trying to expand Stony Brook’s footprint across Suffolk County and even into Nassau County. Before Dr. Kaushansky’s arrival, Mr. Chaloner said Stony Brook existed as “an island unto itself” and was one of medicine’s “best kept secrets” on Long Island. Teaming up with Southampton would help Stony Brook expand its presence.
Dr. Kaushansky noted that hospitals are under increasing pressure to improve services and reduce costs. He offered an example for how that could be done when the merger was complete. Not long ago, a third of the patients who came to the Stony Brook emergency room complaining of chest pains were hospitalized. Now the hospital gives those patients a CT scan immediately after their arrival and the admission rate has been reduce to 10 percent because the medical staff is better able to assess their condition.
In response to a question from the audience about how the hospital was going to handle the care of an aging East End population, Mr. Chaloner said Southampton has already begun preliminary discussions about providing additional geriatrics services to Southampton. He also suggested the hospital’s Southampton Village campus might lend itself into conversion into an assisted living facility.
In their 90-minute presentation touched on numerous other issues, from the notion that the partnership would give Southampton greater access to behavioral health care; that it would be able to possibly work with Stony Brook to offer better services for veterans; and that steps were continually being taken to improve Southampton’s quality of care, even ahead of the merger. As an indication of that improvement, Mr. Chaloner pointed out the hospital had recently been listed as a Level 3 trauma status, which means that doctors and surgeons would be available to treat trauma victims within 30 minutes of their arrival at the hospital.