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Elsie Owens Health Center to 'go live'

Photo of the exterior of the Elsie Owens,

Photo of the exterior of the Elsie Owens, Suffolk County Health and Social Service Center in Coram. (May 17, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Marked for closing a year ago, Suffolk's Elsie Owens Health Center in Coram "will go live" Tuesday under the management of an new outside operator that officials predict will lower fees and down the road provide extra dental and mental health services.

Except for a fresh coat of paint in the main reception area, the Coram health center's patients will see little immediate change with Hudson River Health Care Inc., a Peekskill-based federal qualified nonprofit, which runs 21 health centers serving 70,000 patients upstate and in Greenport and Nassau.

"From a patient's point of view, we hope there will be as little change as possible," said Anne Nolon, Hudson River's president and chief executive. "The staff they have grown to care for are still here and the staff will continue to care for them." Physicians and other staff from Stony Brook University Hospital will continue to provide medical services under contract with Hudson River.

County officials say Hudson can operate more cheaply than the county as a federally qualified health center because it gets a higher level of state and federal aid and is eligible for free malpractice insurance for its doctors. County officials estimate that the county's network of health centers cost Suffolk $25 million to $30 million a year.

Nolon said the most immediate change for patients is the sliding scale of fees will be lowered to $15 to $65 for those below 200 percent of poverty level. The county now charges anyone without insurance $75 per visit. She also said that within about six months Hudson will expand services to include dental and mental health care once the state Health Department approves changes in their operating license.

Hudson officials also are looking to expand the center's patient base from the current 7,000 to more than 10,000 within three years. To help attract new patients, Hudson River health will employ a community outreach worker to contact community groups.

The changeover comes after the state a year ago cut back aid for running county clinics, and former County Executive Steve Levy slated the Owens center for closing. State health officials, however, encouraged talks between the county and Hudson River that led to an agreement early this year. The new Bellone administration wants the nonprofit group to take over operation of a second health center next year.

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