Hospital officials and legislators were elated by the SUNY board of trustees' unanimous approval Tuesday of a merger between Stony Brook University Hospital and Southampton Hospital.
Dr. Samuel Stanley, president of Stony Brook University, called the affiliation a "win-win."
"This is an extraordinarily important first step," he told the 18-member board in Albany. "This will enhance our ability to compete successfully in a very crowded marketplace."
Stony Brook and Southampton announced in October 2012 a nonbinding letter of intent in which the 125-bed East End hospital would operate under the 603-bed Stony Brook hospital license. The deal still must be approved by the state Department of Health, the attorney general's office and the state comptroller's office -- a process that Stony Brook University Hospital chief executive Dr. Reuven Pasternak said could take up to a year.
State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said he was "on cloud nine."
"It will bring an infusion of specialty care for the East End, and I think in a very short period of time will erase its medically underserved status," he said.
State Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) agreed. "I think it's a game changer for health care on the East End," he said.
Southampton Hospital chief executive Robert Chaloner called the vote "historic," and Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, dean of the Stony Brook University School of Medicine, said the affiliation would "expand medicine and medical innovation by enhancing education and research" and provide clinical training sites.
Under the agreement's terms, the East End hospital retains its board of directors but Chaloner will become chief administrative officer, working for Stony Brook.
Southampton's union employees -- about 80 percent of the 850 full-time staff members -- will remain in their current union, 1199 SEIU. Also, 25 of Southampton's 125 beds will be transferred to Stony Brook.
No cash will be exchanged. Instead, Southampton will lease its facilities to Stony Brook.
SUNY trustees insisted that any capital improvements for the East End hospital will have to come from money generated by Southampton, not the state. That, in effect, delays plans to build a new hospital on Stony Brook's Southampton campus, which were announced when the merger first was made public in 2012.
Pasternak said Tuesday he believes it would be several years before a hospital could be built.
Officials attributed SUNY's stipulation on capital improvements -- as well as the long time getting trustees' approval -- to what LaValle called "the LICH effect." SUNY Downstate Medical Center lost millions after its affiliation with financially strapped Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, which closed in May.
"It has cast such a pall," LaValle said. "We dotted every 'i' and crossed every 't' multiple times."
LaValle and Thiele said the approval may help Stony Brook in separate talks with Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport. Each is in discussions with Stony Brook and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System about mergers.
"Now there is a template available to show the other two hospitals it can be done," Thiele said.