In 23 years as a member of the New York State Assembly, Fred W. Thiele Jr. cannot remember a more stressful negotiation or scramble before the close of session. Last week, Mr. Thiele and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle fought for, and won, approval in both the Assembly and Senate for the lease of 23 acres at the Stony Brook Southampton campus for a new Stony Book Southampton Hospital.
“It was the most stressful negotiation I have been involved with largely because so much was on the line for my district,” Mr. Thiele said on Tuesday. “For the average person walking down Main Street in Sag Harbor, the benefits are overwhelming — a better healthcare system, growth at the Southampton campus, it’s jobs, it’s economic development. It is a plan that for the South Fork is all benefits, no downsides.”
Despite union opposition, on June 20 — the last day of the legislative session for 2018 —Mr. LaValle and Mr. Thiele were able to bring revised legislation through committees and onto their respective floors. The Senate approved the bill, 50-10, with unanimous approval offered by the 130-member Assembly. According to Mr. Thiele, the reason the legislation was necessary is because it would be considered an “alienation of state land.”
If the bill is signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo — the last government hurdle in the way of a new, $250 million hospital on the Stony Brook Southampton campus — the medical facility would be complimented by graduate medical classes and programs on campus. Southampton Hospital merged with Stony Brook University Medical Center last summer, becoming Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
“I felt the state had made a commitment to Southampton Hospital when the affiliation agreement was reached,” said Mr. Thiele. “They had given up all of their assets, a portion of local control, had committed to raising the entire $250 million for the new hospital on their own and our commitment on the state level needed to be upheld. The fact that was in jeopardy made it stressful and the unions were tough negotiators, but at the end of the night, it all came out well in the end.”
Three unions, the Civil Service Employees Association, the New York State United Teachers and the Public Employees Federation, initially opposed the legislation. Mr. Thiele said there was concern that a private non-profit — the Southampton Hospital Association — leasing state property could impact union jobs. Mr. Thiele credited Mr. LaValle, a chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, and Stony Brook Southampton chief administrative officer Robert Chaloner with crafting the agreement, which was reached after two weeks of “intensive negotiations.”
“Bob was our secret weapon,” said Mr. Thiele. “Locally, we all know what he has meant to Southampton Hospital, but his temperament is also great and he knew every square inch of that affiliation agreement. Both he and Senator LaValle were critical to getting this across the finish line.”
The bill was essentially changed, Mr. Thiele said, to ensure civil service jobs would be protected at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, while jobs held by members of the private union formed at Southampton Hospital can remain as well. “It maintains the status quo, which was always in the spirit of the agreement between the two hospitals,” said Mr. Thiele.
In the end, all three unions withdrew their opposition, according to Mr. Thiele, paving the way for a unanimous vote of support in the Assembly and an overwhelming margin of support in the Senate.
“We are pleased that our elected representatives have passed this transformative ground lease legislation. It is a continuation of our efforts to ensure that there is better healthcare provided on the east end of Long Island,” Mr. Chaloner said in a written statement. “This project will lead to more jobs, better healthcare and the ability to plan for a new 21st century healthcare facility, all of which will greatly benefit our East End communities.”
Mr. Thiele was born at Southampton Hospital and graduated from Southampton College decades before the campus evolved into Stony Brook Southampton. He confessed to a few tears on Tuesday when he was informed the bill would come to a vote.
“A dream of mine, something I have wanted for that campus from the day Long Island University said it was closing, was to see that campus return to fulfilling its true potential, and I can honestly say that now, for the first time, I see a future for that place — with a hospital, a thriving graduate campus for marine sciences, the arts and healthcare, a place that will make our community proud.”