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Editorial: A healthy plan for Suffolk's East End clinics

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone talks about the

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone talks about the county's budget problems and solutions during a news conference in Hauppauge. (April 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Suffolk officials have an opportunity to expand the medical services available to patients at two county health clinics on the East End, and save money in the bargain.

That's a win-win that the county legislature should approve when it votes Tuesday on a proposal to consolidate the clinics now in Southampton and East Hampton, move them onto the campus of Southampton Hospital, and bring in Hudson River Healthcare Inc. to operate the new facility.

The deal crafted by County Executive Steve Bellone is projected to save the county $3.8 million to $5.3 million over five years. More important, it would expand the clinics' offerings to include dental and mental health services, lower-cost drugs, and free vaccinations for kids who would otherwise not get them because of inability to pay.

Suffolk would spend $2.2 million from a state grant to renovate space for the new facility, and the current clinics' 16 employees would be moved to other county facilities. Hudson River, a Peekskill nonprofit that already runs the former county health center in Coram, is a Federally Qualified Health Center, a designation that requires it to treat patients regardless of their ability to pay. That means the county's important mission to provide care for the medically underserved would still be met.

Suffolk has maintained a network of health centers since 1968. Today it operates eight clinics and supports two others. But state funding for the $64 million operation plunged from $30.4 million in 2008 to $16.3 last year. Despite revenue from other sources, the net cost to the county is $24 million a year. With the county budget millions in the red, Bellone has put out a request for proposals to operate the county's other clinics, too. It's the right move.

The way health care is delivered is changing at a dizzying pace. Keeping up is a job best left to experts.


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