Suffolk task force looking into possible long-term pediatric care facility

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine said a long-term care facility for children is needed here.

What was once little more than a dream for Long Island families who desperately need local care for their medically dependent children is now moving closer to reality.

A Suffolk County task force is in the works to look into bringing long-term pediatric care to the area to fill the gap in medical facilities for children in need.

According to a Jan. 12 Riverhead News-Review special report, few local long-term medical care options exist for children with severe medical issues. Since that time, some politicians and hospital administrators have said the issue will not be easy to resolve, while Suffolk County-based nonprofit groups have stepped up their efforts to find a solution.

During a meeting of the county Legislature’s health committee last week, Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) brought up the issue of pediatric care following coverage of the issue by several media outlets. Other legislators like Kate Browning (D-Shirley) have offered suggestions on how to address the lack of care for children in need.

And now, Mr. Romaine’s office said, lawmakers are planning to form a county task force to tackle the problem.

“We’re working with the county executive to establish a task force or a commission to look into the feasibility of bringing a facility to Suffolk County.” said Bill Faulk, legislative aide to Mr. Romaine. “Within the next month or so, there will be something official.”

Karen Serva, whose daughter Caroline suffered a severe brain injury following her premature birth in 2010, spoke at the meeting last Thursday and urged legislators to focus on a solution for Long Island children in need.

“This is a critical issue on Long Island, and it is wrong,” Ms. Serva said during the meeting. “Parents should not be separated from their children, especially sick children like my daughter.”

Ms. Serva and her husband, Rob, travel two hours twice a week from their Sound Beach home to Westchester County to see their daughter, who will turn 2 years old next week, at Blythedale Children’s Hospital.

Other children, like Riverhead teenagers Michael Hubbard and Rashad Jackson who were injured in near-fatal accidents last year, are also at Blythedale for rehabilitation — miles away from their homes.

The proposed task force will look into the necessary permits, licenses, building needs and “all the aspects” of creating a facility for long-term pediatric care within the county, Mr. Faulk said.

“We figure if we put a bunch of experts together in the same room they can figure out what it takes to get it done,” he said.

Mr. Faulk added that a public-private partnership like the East End Veterans Clinic at the County Center in Yaphank would be ideal, since it would not have any financial impact on Suffolk County as the county government wrestles with its looming debt.

Using the county’s Foley Nursing Home is one of the hypothetical scenarios that may work, he said.

“We don’t want to utilize county resources, but we can provide the space,” Mr. Faulk said, adding that the former Capital One office building on Main Road in Mattituck as also been floated as a possible location for a facility.

Ms. Serva said in an interview that she is optimistic about the progress being made to bring a pediatric care facility to Long Island.

“Just the fact that it seems to be snowballing … obviously for us, this is for the better,” she said. “It means everything to me. This offers my family in particular a lot of hope that Caroline will soon be back with our family, on the same island.”

[email protected]