By Kathryn G. Menu
The East Hampton Town Board approved the use of a Pantigo Place parcel for the site of a new emergency room Thursday night, giving the Southampton Hospital Association a long-term lease on the property which could be transformed into a new healthcare facility as soon as 2021.
The approval followed a public hearing on the project, which includes a building that has been scaled down from 54,000 square feet to 27,700 square feet on the four-acre property, which is now home to two Little League ballfields, which will have to be replaced.
According to Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, while the town has not selected a site to build two new ballfields, the lease agreement requires the hospital association to develop new fields before it will be allowed to move forward with its own project.
“We are immediately going to start to look at sites we can build new fields on,” he said during Thursday’s public hearing. Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez is the board’s liaison on the project, and said on Thursday the town could look at land it already owns for the new ballfields, or could use Community Preservation Funds to purchase a new property for that development. As a part of the lease agreement, the Southampton Hospital Association will be responsible for the estimated $1.75 million it will cost to construct two new lighted fields and dugouts.
According to the agreement, the lease is for a maximum of 99 years, which includes two extensions.
“I think most of you are aware that the hospital’s long-range strategic plan is to develop a new facility on the campus of Stony Brook Southampton,” said Robert Chaloner, the chief administrative officer of Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, on Thursday. Mr. Chaloner noted some of the current hospital facility, located on Meetinghouse Lane in Southampton Village, is approaching 80 years old. “We have known for some time that at some point we are going to have to build a new facility,” said Mr. Chaloner. “The only way for us to do that is to relocate and we have struck a deal with Stony Brook that we will be able to build a new hospital on the campus.”
Of concern, as the hospital plans to eventually move further west, is the impact on residents of East Hampton. “Accessibility to the hospital is a challenge, especially in the busier times of the year, and the busier times of the year seem to be extending far into the fall and winter months,” said Mr. Chaloner. “We do not see the traffic situation getting better any time soon and we believe the best solution to that is to create a more robust health system with facilities that are able to care for people closer to home.”
New York State encouraged hospital officials to pursue a satellite facility in East Hampton, and were informed the facility would be eligible for a $10 million grant. According to Mr. Chaloner, it will cost roughly $35 million to build the satellite emergency room, and the hospital would fundraise for the remaining portion rather than seek taxpayer support.
“The goal would be to put a freestanding emergency room in East Hampton so people can access all the services of emergency care much faster and consistently than they do today,” said Mr. Chaloner. “We hear not only from our residents, but we hear from our first responders, our ambulances about the onerous time they spend traveling from Montauk, East Hampton to Southampton. Again, that is not only an issue for healthcare but is an issue recruiting ambulance volunteers as well.”
The satellite emergency room would need ambulance bays, treatment rooms and a pharmacy. Instead of building private offices for doctors, Mr. Chaloner said the hospital would take advantage of offices in the adjacent East Hampton Healthcare Foundation facility. The new building would also have radiology facilities, not just for emergency room patients, but also for residents who do not want to travel to Southampton for CAT scans or other kinds of diagnostic testing. All tests and medical charts would be linked electronically to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and Stony Brook University Medical Center.
“Access to health means better health because it means people will get healthcare sooner,” said Mr. Chaloner. “It is always better to get healthcare sooner rather than wait until later when it can become more serious.”
Resident Martin Drew said he was concerned that the board would offer its approval of the lease, without knowing where the ballfields would be.
“It is important to know that the ballfields will not be disturbed at the Pantigo site until other ballfields are constructed,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc.
Henry Murray, chairman of the East Hampton Healthcare Foundation, said the foundation has always hoped there would be a facility offering around the clock medical care, year-round.
“It really has to be this site because it is adjacent to the current healthcare center, where we have a lot of doctor officers, and also it is so centrally located,” Mr. Murray said.
Jay Levine, a Montauk resident who serves on the board of directors for the Southampton Hospital Foundation, and had a 40-year career in healthcare, also supported the plan. “We can improve healthcare outcomes for patients if we have good, quality EMTs, good quality ambulance services, and short transport times,” he said.
East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach said the facility was “critical” for residents. “In 2017, our East Hampton Village Ambulance made 12,025 trips to Southampton Hospital,” he said. “By creating new emergency room facilities in East Hampton, demand on our EMT staff should be lessened,” noting that means that emergency service providers can return to rotation more quickly.
“The time is now to bring our community hospital to East Hampton,” continued Mayor Rickenbach. “Not later, today.”