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Suffolk health clinic merger plan criticized by union activists

An exterior view of the Jenny and John

An exterior view of the Jenny and John Paulson Emergency Department at Southampton Hospital. (Oct. 4, 2010) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Union activists criticized Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s administration for planning to merge two South Fork health clinics, claiming the county did not follow legal procedures and maintaining the move is a first step that will lead to the layoff of more county workers.

A half-dozen foes, including Association of Municipal Employees executive vice president Michael Finland, appeared at an 80-minute public hearing earlier this week. A second hearing is scheduled Friday in Hauppauge.

The county is planning to merge two satellite health clinics in Southampton and East Hampton, now staffed by county employees, and enter into an agreement with nonprofit Hudson River Health Care to operate the merged clinic. The new center would be located near Southampton Hospital and renovated with a $4 million state grant. County officials say existing staff would be moved to other county-run health centers.

Linda McGregor, a registered nurse and union activist, said the county has failed to do a request for proposal, which would get taxpayers the best deal. “You’re throwing the state law into the garbage can and doing what you want to do,” she said. Backers say a legislative-executive committee voted to permit a waiver.

Several patients of Hudson River health centers in Coram and Greenport praised their operations. “They helped me through the process and I paid what I could afford,” Manny Velasquez said.

Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), a privatization opponent, said Hudson River is a “good operation” but officials should review its performance in Coram before allowing an expansion. She also said the county should consider staffing the health centers while allowing Hudson River to administer them, using their license as a federally qualified health center to reap the benefits of higher aid and legal coverage for malpractice cases.

Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said Bellone aides have said the merger will result in no layoffs, but Browning said the county executive is looking to privatize all 10 county health centers.

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