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Suffolk moves to merge 2 East End clinics into private facility

Suffolk County will move to merge its two East End public health clinics into a new, privately operated facility, officials announced Thursday.

Aides to County Executive Steve Bellone appeared before the legislature's health committee and detailed plans to use much of $4.7 million in expiring state grants to build a new clinic on Southampton Hospital grounds. The clinic would combine the East Hampton and Southampton locations and be run by Hudson River Health Care, a Peekskill-based nonprofit. Suffolk has 10 health centers.

Hudson River, which took over operations of the county's Coram health center last year, has been negotiating with Bellone to take over four more clinics this year. The administration used a waiver to avoid the open bidding process and deal exclusively with the firm.

Health Commissioner James Tomarken said consolidating and privatizing the South Fork clinics could save Suffolk $3.8 million over five years. Officials also say Hudson River would provide patients with dental and mental health services not available now.

"You have money that is 'use it or lose it,' and the goal is to find worthy projects," Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said of the grant funds. "This will result in expanded services and savings."

But the union for clinic workers opposed the East End privatization. "Isn't it the function of government to protect the health and safety of its citizens?" Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees president Dan Farrell said. "You think the citizens are in better hands with a private company?"

After lengthy debate, the health committee without recommendation discharged a bill to accept the $4.7 million grant and put it in the capital budget for the East End consolidation and other clinic improvements. The money was initially earmarked to renovate the county's Brentwood clinic, but issues with that facility's lease halted the project. Schneider said the administration would seek to maintain Brentwood's funding by replacing the expiring grant money with capital funds.

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who opposes privatization of county health facilities, questioned the use of grant money for a facility that a private operator will run. "We're spending money on something we're no longer going to own," Browning said.

Also on Thursday:

The government operations committee approved a bill to name Suffolk's Vanderbilt Museum Planetarium after Fort Salonga residents Charles and Helen Reichert. Charles Reichert, who operates several IGA grocery chains, will donate $850,000 to the Centerport planetarium over 10 years. That money would go for an endowment to ensure continued education programs.

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