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Bellone vetoes lawmakers' resolution to force health center's contract renewal

Critics warned that the county executive's action creates

Critics warned that the county executive's action creates delays that could result in a shutdown of health care for thousands. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, in a rare veto, rejected a resolution directing the county attorney to enter into a new five-year contract extension with Hudson River HealhCare,   saying lawmakers lack authority to issue the mandate.

Bellone stated that lawmakers have “no legal authority” to take such action, saying the county attorney’s office maintains the resolution would not be sustained legally. Bellone’s veto is the first of the year and only  his 10th during eight years in office. Hudson River HealthCare operates the county's eight health centers.

The county and HRH negotiated a new contract last year for all county health centers, which would cut the county’s annual share of costs from $13.7 million to  $12 million a year through 2024. County Attorney Dennis Brown said the contract was never executed, although Bellone included the projected savings in his 2019 budget, adopted by lawmakers last fall.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) called it “a sad state of affairs” that Bellone and aides are delaying the contract when a closure notice could result in a shutdown of critical health care in 60 days for 80,000 county residents, most of whom are uninsured or underinsured.  Legis. Tom Cilmi, head of the GOP caucus, agreed, criticizing Bellone “for dragging his feet on the contract while the health and safety of our residents are put at risk.”

The legislative resolution, which was approved last month on a 12-6 vote considered veto-proof, was aimed at getting the county attorney to move the contract forward so the legislature could vote Tuesday to ratify the new pact. Gregory could not predict whether any legislator might defect and override the vote.

Republicans say Bellone, who is facing re-election this fall, balked at the renewal because his administration originally promised there would be no need of further county subsidies at the end of their first five-year contract, except for lease and property tax payments.

Before the vote on the resolution, HRH officials told lawmakers they would have to issue notices of impending closure by July 1 for health centers in Southampton and Coram, where contracts have already expired. They said contracts for other sites will also expire later this year.  A spokesman for HRH declined to comment Tuesday about contract talks with the county or if closure notices have been issued. Bellone aides did not return calls for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier, officials of the nonprofit HRH say they have fronted about $5 million to cover the county share of costs for Southampton for the last two years and for the Coram clinic since January. However, HRH had $22 million more in revenue than expenses in 2017, according to the most recent tax filings.

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