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What we heard

Northwell President and Chief Executive Michael Dowling visits

Northwell President and Chief Executive Michael Dowling visits with Newsday's editorial board on March 1, 2018. Credit: Amanda Fiscina

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Daily Point

Medicine’s future on Long Island and beyond

Michael Dowling, the president and chief executive of Northwell Health, spent nearly three hours with the Newsday editorial board Thursday in a wide-ranging conversation about health care, the Long Island economy, Northwell’s future and more.

Among the many tidbits we learned:

  • While Northwell remains Long Island’s largest employer, it is far more than a regional institution. Its footprint continues to grow. Northwell has a presence in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, and as far as Westchester and Connecticut. But Northwell’s not done yet. Dowling said he’s talking with hospitals in New Jersey and Philadelphia. His “catchment area” is any community from which people travel to work in New York City.
  • To serve Long Island snowbirds, Northwell is affiliated with Boca Raton Regional Hospital in Florida.
  • In what could be a game-changer for the region, Northwell has had discussions with MD Anderson, a premier cancer center based in Texas, about working together. That comes after Northwell’s recent hiring of Richard R. Barakat, who had directed Memorial Sloan Kettering’s regional network, to head its cancer services and research.
  • While Northwell is most known for its 16 hospitals, the system also has expanded its ambulatory outpatient network, which now has 650 locations. While Northwell used to depend on its hospitals for 85 percent of its revenue, that figure is now down to 54 percent, Dowling said.
  • Northwell officials spent a day last week meeting with representatives from Amazon about ways the two can work together. Dowling said Amazon is interested in getting into the health care supply-chain business. Dowling said he also has met with CVS, noting that those stores are “all potential competitors to me in the future.”
  • Dowling said he’s “boisterous” about the local economy, though he’d like to see Nassau and Suffolk counties work together more. “We get tied up in our own underwear” on Long Island, he said.
  • Northwell’s research arm, the Feinstein Institute, still plans to build its Center for Bioelectronic Medicine, but at Feinstein’s existing campus, rather than at the Nassau Hub, as once planned. The question to be resolved is what will happen to $50 million in state funds that was committed to the center at the Hub. Dowling said he hopes “the bulk of the money” will be given to Feinstein.
  • Northwell’s strategy relies on the potential for building for-profit companies. He noted that Northwell and Feinstein hold a “Shark Tank”-like competition among employees in which winning ideas are awarded $500,000 for business development. There is potential, he said, to create technology hubs on Long Island that aren’t dependent on New York City.
  • Dowling said Northwell’s exit from the health insurance business isn’t necessarily permanent. In 2013, Northwell created CareConnect, the first commercial insurance company owned by a health system, which attracted about 126,000 customers, 66,000 on Long Island. Although Dowling said the consumer satisfaction rate was 98 percent, last year Northwell exited the business, citing huge losses caused by the requirement that it pay $112 million into the Affordable Care Act’s risk-adjustment pool in 2016, and would face similar costs each year. But CareConnect never received an expected $150 million from the federal government in risk payments, which were promised by the ACA but canceled by Congress. If a different president or Congress could help him make the numbers work, Dowling said he would be glad to give it another go.

Randi F. Marshall

Talking Point

Assessment headache

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is pushing to develop an accurate property tax roll for the county, and that’s a political land mine.

The existing inaccurate roll has allowed taxpayers who grieve every year to beat their assessments way down, and the tax-appeal companies that help them to fatten up.

These companies have earned at least $500 million since 2011 pushing these appeals through, and some of the values are so artificially low that a regularly grieving taxpayer who gets a fair bill after the system is fixed would probably face a huge hike. That makes some county legislators from both parties nervous, because voters served with huge tax increases might lash out at the ballot box.

The county legislature is balking at approving the spending and borrowing Curran needs for outside assessment firms to help fix the roll. To get them on her side, she is floating a draft executive order to promise that no one would see his or her assessment increase by more than 6 percent in any one year, and that there wouldn’t be hikes of more than 20 percent in any five-year period.

Those are actually the rules in the state real property tax code, but they could be skirted by playing with the county’s assessment ratio to bring repeatedly grieved property tax bills up to their fair cost more quickly.

The upshot is that taxpayers who never grieved, and who were hurt most by then-County Executive Edward Mangano’s willingness to let the rolls become a joke, would wait longer to see their share of the burden fall to its fair level than if accurate values went into effect to all at once.

But without Curran’s assurance to slow down the increases for those underpaying, the legislature wouldn’t let her fix the system at all.

Lane Filler

Pencil Point

As the pendulum swings

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Bonus Point

The name rang a bell

Jan W. Gilbert, the former dentist charged with trespassing at the Centre Island home of Fox News star Sean Hannity, has a track record of strong opinions, much like the TV host.

Between 2005 and 2012, Gilbert had five letters published in Newsday. He complained about the dangers of drivers zipping around other cars on highways, opposed a proposed tax on sugary drinks when artificial sweeteners could be more harmful, and accused pro baseball pitchers of trying to hit batters. Gilbert seemed like a man wanting to be heard.

He commented on University of Southern California football kicker Mario Danelo’s death in 2007, apparently after a fall from a cliff: “When the coroner’s toxicology report stated that there was a highly elevated blood-alcohol level but no drugs were detected, it illuminated the twisted mindset that thinks alcohol is not a drug.”

Authorities said the 72-year-old Long Beach resident walked uninvited into Hannity’s mansion on Feb. 17. After responding to a 911 call from someone in the home, police said, Gilbert told them he was writing a book about the TV host and needed to give him some papers.

Gilbert has been charged with misdemeanor second-degree criminal trespass. A state database says his dental license is revoked.

By phone this week, Gilbert told a Newsday reporter, “There is a real reason, a valid reason, a superior reason and a fully confirmed reason, but I’m not going to be able to talk about it. Someone misheard, fabricated or misunderstood.”

It sounds like Gilbert still has quite a bit to say.

Anne Michaud