For residents in Riverhead and Southold towns, health care received a major boost in 2015 when both local hospitals, just months apart, announced mergers with two of the largest integrated health care systems in the country.
More than a year has passed since Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead joined North Shore-LIJ, now known as Northwell Health. And Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport will hit the one-year anniversary of its affiliation with Stony Brook University Hospital next month.
During that time, both hospitals have begun to develop plans, made possible by the mergers, that their executives say will improve care for residents across the East End.
“For the first time ever the East End is finally going to have a true regional medical center,” said Andrew Mitchell, president and CEO of PBMC Health.
In April, PBMC announced in April a plan to build a $60 million trauma center, doubling the size of its emergency room and adding a helipad to the roof. Mr. Mitchell said he still hopes to break ground on the project in September.
Already looking beyond that project, Mr. Mitchell said that in 2018 they hope to implement a new obstetrical nursing unit dedicated to helping pregnant women and those who are trying to conceive. He said there are no firm plans yet, as the hospital is still working on the current expansion, but that unit is the next step.
The “critical care tower” plan calls for an expanded emergency room and trauma section on the first floor; an intensive care and cardiac unit on the second floor; and the cardiac catheter center on the third floor.
The third floor will have two full cardiac catheter rooms — where patients with blocked vessels can be treated — and two electrophysiology rooms — for addressing arrhythmias and other electrical dysfunctions of the heart, Mr. Mitchell said.
He added that the cardiac center will be led by a preeminent interventional cardiologist from the Northwell Health system, whose name he declined to reveal at this time.
“It is absolutely unbelievable that he will be here,” Mr. Mitchell said. “[He is] recognized nationally as one of the finest interventional cardiologists in the country.”
He added that Northwell has a wide range of systems, programs and services that are now available to PBMC.
The hospital will soon launch a $20 million capital campaign to help fund the cardiac catheter services. “We anticipate the campaign will go for two years,” Mr. Mitchell said. “It will be the biggest campaign in the history of the medical center.”
The hospital has already received a “generous” lead gift for the campaign, which will be formally announced Monday, June 27, at the PBMC Golf Classic, Mr. Mitchell said.
“The investments Northwell is making here, the new services that they’re bringing here, have actually exceeded all of the expectations we have ever had,” he said.
He pointed to the eICU program used by many Northwell medical centers, which will be incorporated into the second-floor ICU at PBMC. The eICU program allows professionals working at Northwell’s telehealth center in Syosset to monitor patients remotely around the clock. It’s not intended to replace the attention of hospital-based staff nurses, but to provide and added safety net for patients and their families, he said.
The critical care tower is expected to take about a year to complete.
A primary goal for both PBMC and Eastern Long Island Hospital is to make more services available locally and cut down on the distance patients must travel for care.
In early May, ELIH received approval from the SUNY board of trustees, which oversees all SUNY entities, for its affiliation with Stony Brook, and now needs to receive approvals from a few more state agencies, said Paul Connor, CEO and president of ELIH.
Those final approvals should take into early 2017, he said.
“That doesn’t stop various activities between Stony Brook and ELIH,” he added.
Although the affiliation is not yet final, the North Fork has already benefitted from having Stony Brook first-responder cars and one ambulance available seven days a week. The ambulance is on-site at ELIH, which permits patients to be transported to Stony Brook more quickly. The first-responder cars, known as “fly cars,” are mobile and expanded their range on the North Fork back in February. The cars work with the Mattituck and Cutchogue fire departments, and also serve the eastern portion of Riverhead town, to help address more serious emergencies.
“They can get anywhere on the North Fork within five to seven minutes, which is a tremendous benefit for our community.” Mr. Connor said.
As for new advancements, Mr. Connor expects to see a telemedicine agreement between ELIH and Stony Brook finalized within the next 60 to 90 days to help provide stroke screenings and other tests. This will allow patient records, test results, medical data and more to be exchanged electronically and shared quickly between distant locations.
He also noted that even after the affiliation becomes official, the Greenport hospital will remain independent from Stony Brook and will need to continue fundraising. He said any money raised by ELIH will stay local to benefit the hospital.
The most important role Stony Brook will play, Mr. Connor said, is bringing practitioners in high-demand specialty positions to help fill service gaps caused by ELIH’s rural location. Stony Brook will use ELIH as a place to train Stony Brook medical students and bring specialty positions to the North Fork and Shelter Island.
“The hospital has always had a problem recruiting positions and staff,” Mr. Connor said.
Patients often need to travel off the North Fork for procedures like colorectal and endovascular surgery. He said 35 percent of patients will travel outside Suffolk County for these specialized procedures.
“The goal is to be able to develop practice sites populated with these specialty doctors to be able to do these procedures locally,” he said.
Stony Brook is now renovating a practice site for these kinds of doctors at the Winds Way complex on Route 48 in Southold. Mr. Connor said he hopes to see the 3,500-square-foot office space filled with specialty doctors, possibly as early as the fall.
“There are a number of physicians who find this opportunity interesting to them,” he said, adding that Stony Brook has a number of physicians, nurses, physician assistants, dentists and more who would like to use ELIH as a clinical campus.
“We chose Stony Brook because their plan for ELIH really resonated with the board and would allow this hospital to continue our 111-year-old mission of meeting the current and evolving health needs of the communities of the North Fork and Shelter Island.”
Photo Caption: Peconic Bay Medical Center emergency room trauma program manager Mary Jo Stark (from left) with registered nurses Amy Lowe, Kerri Rosavitch and Michelle Dinko. A $60 million project to double the ER’s size and add a helipad to the roof is scheduled for September. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)