Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The future of our community hospitals

Significant changes may be in the offing for health care delivery systems on the East End. The much-anticipated report of the Berger commission was released today and it recommends a structural consolidation of the three East End hospitals, with the possible subsequent addition of Brookhaven Memorial. The commission says the hospitals should have one governing board empowered to develop and implement a strategic plan for all facilities. If the hospitals balk, the state health department will not approve any future "certificate of need" applications, which effectively puts them out of business. So they really have little choice but to comply.

This could be interesting in terms of future management of the hospitals. Would they have one CEO instead of three? Will it be one of the CEOs currently running the three independent facillities? Nobody at the hastily convened press conference at Peconic Bay Medical Center wanted to discuss those specifics, so we won't know for a while how this will play itself out.

One CEO said the cost of implementing the commission's recommendations could run to $25 million. Who will foot that bill? The hospitals are certainly in no position to bear that burden. Is this another unfunded mandate from state government? (Like dozens of

To their credit, and to the credit of State Senator Ken LaValle, the East End hospitals are already well on their way to doing a lot of what the Berger commission is recommending, in terms of structural consolidation and affiliation with University Hospital in Stony Brook — the county's ONLY tertiary care hospital.

When you think about it, it's absurd that Suffolk County — which is how many times bigger than Nassau geographically and which has a population that's now bigger than Nassau's — has only one tertiary care center. One for the whole county! Nassau has several such facilities. (North Shore, LIJ, Winthrop, St. Francis, maybe NCMC too.) Wouldn't it make sense for there to be such a center for the eastern part of the county, including the twin forks and eastern Brookhaven? Geographically, Peconic Bay Medical Center is the right place for it. But as far as I can see upon a cursory reading of the commission's 240-page final report, there's no mention of establishing a tertiary care center in eastern Suffolk. That's too bad.