Four years in the making, the affiliation between Eastern Long Island Hospital and Stony Brook Medicine is now official.
The Greenport hospital will now be known as Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital after clearing the final regulatory hurdle Monday, marking a new beginning for health care on the North Fork and Shelter Island.
Hospital officials said the transition will have few immediate impacts on patients, who will benefit from Stony Brook’s network of doctors, who take coverage from more companies than ELIH could offer.
A primary goal for the hospital, according to ELIH President and CEO Paul Connor, is to make more services available locally and cut down on the distance patients must travel for care.
“[The merger] will allow us to continue our 114-year mission to the community, which was extremely important to our board,” Mr. Connor said in an interview Friday. “They realized that given the changes in health care, and how quickly these changes were happening, that they would not have the resources to continue that mission.”
In an interview Friday, Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, senior vice president of health services and dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, said several changes are afoot for the hospital.
“We’ve already begun to spread our brand of medicine out east,” he said, highlighting several outpatient offices that have opened in Riverhead and Southold towns.
Stony Brook ambulances have been on the North Fork since 2016, allowing patients to be evaluated and stabilized quickly, or transported to Stony Brook in dire circumstances.
Officials are hoping to address health care gaps for East End residents, particularly in specialty areas including neurology, psychiatry, gynecology, pulmonology, hematology/oncology and orthopedic services.
For patients who still need to be treated at Stony Brook University Hospital, Dr. Kaushansky noted that they will benefit from shared medical records and their clinical standard of care.
Dr. Kaushansky also said that ELIH will become a training center for Stony Brook medical students, residents and fellows, a program that will provide experience for trainees and benefit patients, too.
According to Mr. Connor, the new residency programs could help the hospital address a longstanding battle of attracting physicians to Long Island’s easternmost hospital.
“Once people come here and they see who we are and what we do, they mostly want to stay here,” he said.
The partnership will allow for shared services while building upon programs that ELIH successfully runs, such as their acute psychiatric unit.
Cancer patients could also benefit from the new 13,800-square-foot Phillips Family Cancer Center that opened earlier this year in partnership with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. Southampton merged with Stony Brook in 2017.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Dr. Kaushansky said.
The approximately 400 employees were all retained in the merger, he said, which is helping to make the transition “seamless.”
Dr. Margaret McGovern, vice president for health system clinical programs and strategy at Stony Brook Medicine, said Friday that more services and providers will be available in Greenport, most notably a master general surgeon.
“The intent is to enhance services, integrate the hospital with Stony Brook Medicine and provide some telemedicine services to the North Fork for specialties,” she said, especially for ailments such as tick bites or poison ivy. “There’s a lot of work to do, but we’re really excited about it.”
New programs, such as addiction treatment, will also be rolled out.
“It’s a scourge we’re fighting as a nation and locally as well,” Mr. Connor said.
As the changes begin to take shape, Mr. Connor said that the next steps include working with the board and community to develop a strategic plan.
“What we want to do is identify what health care gaps exist out here and begin to fill those gaps,” he said.
That will help identify if future expansion is needed. Currently, the operating suite is undergoing a renovation and the Emergency Department could be next, he said.
“As we go on, there will be more changes that will be visible to the public,” Mr. Connor said.
With the merger complete, only one independently owned hospital, Long Island Community Hospital in Brookhaven, remains on Long Island.
Dr. Kaushansky confirmed that a letter of intent has been signed to perform due diligence and explore an affiliation with Stony Brook. In recent years, smaller hospitals have been increasingly joining wider care networks as they look toward the future.
“It’s a sign of the times,” Mr. Connor said.
A study released earlier this year by Navigant, a health care consulting firm, found that 21% of rural hospitals in the United States are at a high risk of closing, primarily due to their financial status.
While ELIH is not technically classified as a rural hospital, Mr. Connor noted that ELIH has “all the attributes” of a rural hospital.
“We were highly vulnerable to that potential,” he said. “The board understood that. It was one of their motivating factors.”
Photo caption: A view high above the new Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport. (Credit: Courtesy of Stony Brook ELIH)