Featured Story

Push to expand telehealth services in Suffolk County

The Suffolk County Supervisors Association is urging county officials to use funding received through the CARES Act to expand telehealth services for all county residents.

“This funding should have the greatest positive impact on the lives of Suffolk County residents in light of the harrowing ordeal they have been through in the last few months,” members of the association wrote to county officials in a letter dated July 14. The county has received $257 million in federal funding through the coronavirus aid package .

The town supervisors said that expanding telehealth services can help reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by reducing crowds in waiting rooms.

“[The service] would allow consultation by a doctor so that you do not have to put yourself or others at risk by going to these facilities,” Supervisor Scott Russell said, explaining the program to Town Board members during a work session Tuesday. “You can do it right from the safety of your own home.”

A quote provided by MeMD, the company that currently provides telemed services to the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, notes that it stands ready to provide treatment for “common illnesses and injuries that inundate urgent care clinics and the costly ER,” including the flu, allergies, strains and sprains.

They are also able to provide mental health treatment for anxiety and depression.

A pricing model included in the document estimates that each resident’s enrollment would cost approximately $1.15 per month for medical care and $0.30 for behavioral health. Suffolk’s estimated 1.3 million residents would be limited to three virtual medical visits per month at no charge. A fourth visit would cost the resident $67, according to MeMD’s plan.

A one-year plan would cost the county approximately $18 million, officials said.

The program would also cover an estimated 500,000 Suffolk residents who do not have any health insurance, which the supervisors described as a “sigh of relief” for the uninsured.

“This would give them free access to medical care. It would close the gap between a lack of medical coverage for many people,” Mr. Russell said.

Fishers Island Justice Louisa Evans, who is also a board member, said for the program to be effective in Southold the town should communicate with Karen McLaughlin, who oversees the senior center. “[Ms. McLaughlin] could do some outreach to seniors who don’t go online much and might need help connecting with such a service … I think we need to think about access for people” throughout the entire community, she said. 

Derek Poppe, spokesperson for County Executive Steve Bellone, said Tuesday that while the proposal by the supervisor’s association is worth exploring, a majority of the CARES funding Suffolk County received has already been spent.

According to an Aug. 2 report in Newsday, a report released by the U.S. Treasury Department shows Suffolk had spent $188.4 million of its allotted $257.7 million by June 30.

Mr. Poppe said those funds were largely used to cover payroll expenses for essential health and emergency workers and costs directly associated with the response to COVID-19.

He noted that the county executive continues to advocate for more federal disaster funding as a result.