Suffolk County lawmakers voted Tuesday to hire an outside contractor to run Coram's Elsie Owens health center in a deal described as a "model" for other county health care clinics.

Top Suffolk health officials said the public-private partnership would save more than $3 million over five years.

"I think this is the model going forward with each of our health centers," said Suffolk Health Commissioner James Tomarken. "This is the future."

Legislators unanimously approved a contract with Hudson River Health Care Inc., a Peekskill-based group that runs 21 health centers serving 70,000 patients upstate and in Greenport and Nassau. The state Health Department encouraged Hudson to work with the county after former County Executive Steve Levy proposed shutting the Coram clinic after state aid cuts.

"If these folks had not come along, we were close to going without one of our health centers," said Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook).

The county's nine health centers were hit with $14 million in cuts last May after the state retroactively clawed back $20 million in aid for services. A partial reversal of the cuts and action by county lawmakers blocked Coram's shutdown temporarily.

Backers of the takeover plan say Hudson, which gets increased federal reimbursements and free malpractice insurance as a federally qualified health center, will add dental and mental health services to Owens' current primary care while reducing costs. However, the arrangement will end county control.

Under the deal, the county will make five years of supplemental payments to Hudson, totaling $5.13 million. The county also will continue to cover the building's lease and property taxes. Those costs total $701,000 this year and will rise by 3 percent every other year until the lease expires in 2035. County officials say the agreement will save the county $3.1 million over five years.

Hudson chief financial officer James Sinkoff said the nonprofit would not need additional county funding beyond five years because it expects to increase patient rolls from the current 8,000 to about 13,000 after five years.

Hudson president and chief executive Anne Nolon said the company is open to an increased role with Suffolk but added, "Let's get this one done and done well, and it can be the model."

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