Clinic to Be Consolidated

    Suffolk County’s public health clinic on Accabonac Road in East Hampton is slated for consolidation with a Southampton clinic, with both to be housed near Southampton Hospital, according to a plan being promoted by Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone.
    County legislators voted yesterday to hold two hearings on the proposal, at 10 a.m. on May 21 at the county legislative auditorium in Riverhead and on May 23 at the county center in Hauppauge, and to shift a $2.2 million portion of a federal grant toward renovations of the building where the new clinic would be set up, a former nursing home owned by Southampton Hospital, close to the hospital site. The hospital will reportedly add $700,000 from its own federal grant toward the cost of the renovations.
    The two clinics would become one “federally qualified health center,” eligible for federal funding and created through a partnership among the county, Southampton Hospital, Stony Brook University, and Hudson River Health Care, a private not-for-profit that will run the clinic.
    This initiative will save the county $3.8 million over the next five years, according to a release from Mr. Bellone.
    The East Hampton clinic location was hard-fought, with health advocates here working diligently over the years to have the county offer health care within the town in order to serve residents for whom transportation to the Southampton clinic could pose a problem.
    As an enticement, the town spent $600,000 to renovate the Fishelson building at the Accabonac Apartments, a housing complex owned by the East Hampton Housing Authority, for use by the clinic, and provided the space to the county at no fee for 10 years.
    County officials threatened to close the clinic when that period expired several years ago, and the county was asked to enter into a lease with the housing authority for the space. The current lease expires in June, but county officials have inquired about renewing it month to month, Catherine Casey, the East Hampton Housing Authority’s executive director, said at an East Hampton Town Board meeting on Tuesday.
    Ms. Casey asked board members to “communicate with the county” regarding concerns over providing health services in the East Hampton community and keeping the clinic here, noting that the “previous administration fought hard to get it here.”
    County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, a former East Hampton Town supervisor and the East End’s representative, said yesterday that he supports the consolidation plan.
    Though the demand for services for lower-income residents has not decreased, Mr. Schneiderman said, the number of clients at the East Hampton clinic has “declined rapidly,” by about half over just the last few years. That is due in part, he said, to the establishment by the county of an H.M.O. in which clinic users and Medicaid recipients can enroll. The H.M.O. is now operated by a private company that has agreements with local practitioners, allowing patients to go to private doctors’ offices at a minimum cost.
    Many former clinic patients now see doctors such as Gail Schonfeld in East Hampton or Harriet Hellman in Water Mill, Mr. Schneiderman said, “providing a better level of care for the same cost — lower in some cases.” Whereas appointments at the clinic had to be made, perhaps up to three weeks in advance, the doctors’ offices offer same-day appointments, extended hours, and “excellent bilingual services,” said Mr. Schneiderman.
    Another plus, the county legislator said, is that at the new clinic, visits will cost $15 for uninsured patients, versus a minimum payment for a clinic visit that was increased to $75 under former County Executive Steve Levy’s administration.
    Under federal guidelines, in addition to medical services, the clinic will be required to provide mental health and dental services. The county clinic, Mr. Schneiderman said, “often didn’t even have a doctor,” while the new Southampton site, with its affiliation with both Southampton Hospital and Stony Brook University Medical Center, will be served by their staffs.
    “The level of health care is going to go through the roof,” Mr. Schneiderman said. He said he had pressed for the consolidated clinic to be located in Bridgehampton, easier to reach for patients from Montauk and other places in East Hampton Town. However, he said, the transportation issue is being addressed by Hudson River, which is working on a plan to provide rides, perhaps on a shuttle, to the clinic.
    In addition, he said, under an arrangement between the health care provider and doctors, clinic patients will be able to see Dr. George Dempsey at his East Hampton office, and Dr. Anthony Knott at the Montauk Medical Center.
    The county clinic will remain open in East Hampton until the end of the year, Mr. Schneiderman said. The new arrangement, he said, will be “a public-private partnership with multiple entities all working together to greatly improve health care on the East End.”
    “The county lacks the financial resources, I think, to run the clinic at the level it needs to be run,” he said.