The Suffolk County Legislature at the last minute Tuesday resuscitated $14.3 million in appropriations to build two new county health centers in Wyandanch and Patchogue after both were on the verge of defeat.
A last-minute vote switch by Republican Legis. Tom Barraga (R-West Islip) saved funding for a new Patchogue health center. And Democratic Legis. Al Krupski changed sides and moved to reconsider the Wyandanch funding after he originally voted with those who had successfully blocked funding.
Both switched their votes after personal lobbying by Democratic presiding officer DuWayne Gregory following a tense and sometimes heated debate.
Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) criticized plans for new funding because the Bellone administration in the past year had succeeded in turning over operation of all 10 county health centers to the upstate-based nonprofit Hudson River Healthcare.
“We just got out the health center business to save money,” said Trotta. “We’re flat broke and you want us to subsidize a nonprofit where top executives are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year? . . . This is absurd.”
Health officials said the county saves millions of dollars by having the nonprofit deliver health services. But as part of the deal the county has continued to provide space for Hudson River Health to operate the health centers.
They called appropriations crucial because the county still has grant applications pending with the state and federal governments to pay half the cost of building the new facilities. They would replace rented quarters that need to be updated and expanded.
Part of their application, officials add, is that they have to show the county has the funding to go forward.
Krupski said Gregory in his appeal noted that the legislature retains ultimate control because it still must authorize bonds for the project.
Barraga said Gregory asked him to keep the project going at least until the county finds out whether it will get the grants.
“I was asked to reconsider until we hear word, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable if we knew what we are going to get from the federal government,” Barraga said.
Also Tuesday night, lawmakers passed an emergency resolution to extend the Patchogue lease, which ran out in June, for another three years at a cost of $1.6 million. Health officials say even if the grants are approved it will take a year to 18 months to complete construction.