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Health care firm seeks to run Suffolk clinics

Officials of a nonprofit health care company pressed

Officials of a nonprofit health care company pressed the Suffolk County Legislature Tuesday, May 7, 2013, to allow them to take over several county clinics, promising to provide better patient care. Credit: iStock

Officials of a nonprofit health care company pressed the Suffolk County Legislature Tuesday to allow them to take over several county clinics, promising to provide better patient care.

Representatives of Peekskill-based Hudson River Health Care spoke before county legislators approved the transfer of $4.7 million in expiring state grant money from Suffolk's public health clinic in Brentwood to projects including two East End clinics that would merge into a single, privately run facility.

The legislature also approved a bill earmarking about $1 million in new state transit aid to expand the county's Sunday and evening bus service.

County Executive Steve Bellone has been negotiating with Hudson River, which took over Suffolk's Coram clinic last year, to operate four more of the county's 10 clinics. The consolidated East End clinic would be built at Southampton Hospital. No county employees will be laid off, Bellone said.

Suffolk would save $3.8 million over five years with the clinic takeovers, Bellone said. The legislature still must approve the actual privatization.

Hudson River told lawmakers that they'd provide increased services to East End residents, including dental and mental health care.

Jeannette Phillips, a Hudson River board member, said her firm has expanded care in Coram since it took over last May, hiring more doctors and nurses, renovating the building and reducing patient waits.

"We're here to work hand-in-hand with the community," Phillips said.

Others expressed skepticism about the privatization moves.

"Why are we giving away our precious resources that we need in Suffolk County?" asked Mary Finnin, a retired county public health nurse.

County Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) asked, "What other areas of the county government does the county executive plan to privatize?"

Bellone said he would introduce legislation to transfer $4.7 million in capital funds to the Brentwood clinic.

Also Tuesday, legislators authorized the use of $1.1 million of about $2.1 million in the new state transit aid to expand Sunday and evening service on several county bus routes. Supporters, led by Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), wanted to use all of the funds to increase service. But Bellone said that in light of the county's estimated $250 million deficit, a portion should be used to cut transit subsidies.

A route expansion plan will be presented to lawmakers within 30 days. Suffolk also is applying for $2 million in federal aid to further expand Sunday and evening service. Currently, only East End routes offer Sunday service, but only in summer.

Public transit advocates urged support for the bill, saying it would help the working poor and students.

"These are the folks who need the Sunday service, the extended service, the most," said Richard Koubek, Welfare to Work Commission chairman.

Also yesterday, legislators:

approved naming the Vanderbilt Museum Planetarium in Centerport for a couple who pledged $850,000 to the facility. Charles and Helen Reichert will provide the gift over 10 years for an endowment to support operations and programs.

appointed Robert Lipp as director of the legislature's Budget Review Office. Lipp had served as interim director since the office's longtime director, Gail Vizzini, resigned early this year for a job at Suffolk County Community College.

"I can't think of anyone more capable of doing this," Schneiderman said of Lipp, 62, who has spent 28 years with the office.

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