Two East End public health clinics will be privatized under a bill approved Tuesday by the Suffolk County Legislature.
Lawmakers voted 13-0, with five abstentions, to transfer operations of the East Hampton and Southampton clinics to Hudson River Healthcare, a Peekskill nonprofit that last year took over a county health center in Coram. With $2.2 million in state grant funding, the county will help build a facility at Southampton Hospital for Hudson River to run the clinics.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has said the privatization will save Suffolk -- facing a $250-million budget hole through 2014 -- $3.8 million over five years, while adding dental and mental health services for patients. The administration says about 16 county employees now at the two clinics will be transferred to other county health facilities. Hudson River will hire its own staff.
Suffolk operates 10 health centers, and is in negotiations with Hudson River to take over facilities in Riverhead and Amityville. Bellone used a waiver to avoid the open bidding process so he could deal with Hudson River, and will provide the nonprofit $3.9 million over the next five years to run the new clinic.
Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said he supports privatization because Hudson River has federal funding to improve care for low-income patients.
"We don't have to provide health clinics; we do it because it's the right thing to do," Schneiderman said. "Now there's a lot of federal money to actually increase the levels of service."
Bellone wants the county to stop providing health services directly, citing losses in state reimbursements. He is moving to close the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank and also wants to privatize county methadone clinics.
Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who abstained from voting, called the privatizations a "slippery slope. If you think we're going to stop at the health centers, what's next?"
Mary Finnin, a former county public health nurse who opposes the clinic transfers, said before the vote that she objected to giving business to a Westchester company when Suffolk has hospitals that could do the work.
The legislature also tabled a resolution authorizing officials to start marketing the Foley property.
One sponsor, Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), said he wants to revise the bill to ensure that no action is taken until all patients are transferred from the nursing home.