Tag Archive | "Southampton Hospital"

Dr. Darin Wiggins


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The Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Southampton Hospital on the difference between swine flu and typical flu, who should get a vaccine and why you shouldn’t rush to the ER.

What’s the difference between the H1N1 virus and the typical flu?

Clinically, they are not all that different. Patients have a high fever, muscle pain, classic flu symptoms. A headache and fever — they share that.

There are some differences in who it is affecting, and it has more to do with the fact the younger generation has never been exposed to this before. Usually the flu hits the older population worse. This variation, the H1N1 is hitting the younger generation worse.

What age group?

We’re seeing it in 20 to 40 year olds, with many in their early 20s. A lot of them are college age and are all living in dorms together. This one is concentrated in a lot of colleges. They’re the canary in the coal mine.

How do you determine the difference?

There is not much of a clinical difference; but there are tests specifically for H1N1

The normal flu dies out around February, but this year saw a spike in June. It was almost all swine flu. There’s almost no reason test. We saw a spike again when students went back to school.

The regular flu season starts in November and December and we don’t know if swine will continue into regular season.

Of those who contract H1N1, what is the percentage of those who die?

Extremely low, millions have gotten swine flu in America and very few fatalities. It’s not worse than a typical flu season. You don’t care if you’re 30 in ten million, but it tends to get a lot of media attention.

There is a lot of swine flu that goes undiagnosed. In Mexico, for example, it appeared there were a lot of deaths, and it looked horrible at first until they realized how many people actually had the disease.

And every flu season, a few healthy people will die.

What symptoms should we be looking for that are tell tale H1N1 symptoms?


What symptoms would send us to the emergency room?

It’s still the same, regardless of what flu you’re talking about. You ask, do I need to go to an ER? It will depend on the risk group you fall in. Most people need to stay home and take meds.

The guidelines are almost identical to the average flu. Clearly, if you’re having a problem breathing or experiencing confusion, go to the ER or contact your regular doctor.

A fever and aches don’t necessarily mean you should be going to the emergency room.

Are you at high risk? Have asthma, for example. Then you should. The very young or those with immune deficiencies, too. H1N1 is very typical in most respects.

What are the groups who should be getting the vaccine?

I personally believe everybody should — if you can get it. If for no other reason you don’t want to get the flu,

The very young and pregnant women are getting prioritized, then comes health care workers – because we’re exposed to a lot of sick people.

Is there a contagious shedding from those who receive the nasal mist?

It is a live virus and could cause you to shed the attenuated virus, which could make someone sick. There are some that cannot receive the live virus, those who do not have an intact immune system, for example.

How fast do you have take tamiflu, and how fast do you need to get tamiflu in your system?

CDC changed their recommendations. Only those who are at high risk or seriously sick should take tamiflu. Most patients who have flu will get better on their own. Taking tamiflu will take only about a half day shorter, that’s about it. A lot of doctors have stopped prescribing it.

When will the H1N1 vaccine be available locally?

I believe the hospital’s shipment is due this week. Some pediatricians have gotten theirs already.

At one point all hospital employees were required to get the vaccine, but that was lifted this week. Now no one is required. Once we’ve given our employees and in-house patients, we’ll make the balance available to the public.

A lot more patients are getting vaccinated this year than ever before, but the supply is not as robust as we would have liked.

Hospital Opens Doors to Wellness Institute

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On the Monday before Southampton Hospital’s new Ed and Phyllis Davis Wellness Institute is to open, director of rehabilitation Craig Homis and his team of employees are waiting for furniture to be delivered, a construction crew is putting the finishing touches on the revamped space and the custodial staff is still wiping down floors and walls.

Although it would appear that Homis is scrambling to ready the institute for its official opening and ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday, September 17, he is surprisingly calm and unfazed by the flurry of activity around him. When Homis takes a moment out of his busy schedule to discuss the Wellness institute, an idea in the pipeline for nearly five years, the empty rooms seem to fill with their anticipated use. One can picture patients stretching together in the exercise room during a yoga class or another patient having an acupuncture treatment in an examining room with wide windows and plenty of light.

For Homis, the Wellness Institute is expanding upon an integrative form of medicine the hospital already uses with its patients who suffer from chronic illnesses. The institute will offer a wide array of classes, seminars and will feature a staff of wellness experts, including a massage therapist, nutritionist and acupuncturist, in the hopes of marrying traditional clinical practices with holistic medicine.

“All of our rehabilitative programs like massage, nutrition counseling and the cancer wellness program were already offered at the hospital, but now we will be able to incorporate things like yoga, Tai Chi and meditation,” explained Marsha Kenny, Southampton Hospital’s director of marketing and public affairs.

Five years ago, staff members Cynthia Grant, the supervisor of the massage therapy program, and Jessica Swiatocha, a nurse practitioner and supervisor of the Cardio-Pulmonary Clinic and Wellness Program, were trained at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard University. The knowledge they gained from this course became a template for the integrative medical practices used at the hospital.

Kenny explains that patients suffering from chronic illnesses would undergo an eight week “mind body” course to help them manage stress during their difficult treatments. The Wellness Institute houses these services in one place and expands upon the concept of balance between the mind and the body by offering other courses, like yoga and Tai Chi. As Kenny explains, the institute is meant for both individuals with chronic illnesses and those simply wishing to adopt a healthier life-style.

With a change in leadership in December of 2007, hospital president and CEO Robert Chaloner was brought in around this time, the idea of a Wellness Institute shifted from a wish to a plan as the hospital started fundraising efforts and picked a location for the institute in early 2008. However, it took almost a year to find an off site location for the business office, which originally inhabited the space, and it took another eight months for the renovations to be completed.

The hospital’s construction crew started preliminary renovations eight months ago, but their work was staggered as they focused their efforts on completing the recently opened Ellen Hermanson Breast Institute. However, the end result is a Wellness Institute unique to the East End.

“I haven’t heard about other programs like ours,” remarked Homis. “Everyone has their own version of an integrative medical program … Others are more fitness based. But we are kind of special out here.”

The institute offers classes and programs catering to every need. From art therapy to cardiac rehabilitation, the institute has a little bit of everything. Many ongoing courses, however, are focused on specific illnesses, including “Yoga for Cancer Patients” and “Diabetes: Basics and Beyond.” Other services include EEG Biofeedback to help with concentration, sleep, mood and performance, and meditation and visualization sessions. Homis believes controlling stress and eating correctly are key components in a treatment program. The institute offers a stress management course and classes on nutrition, including “Nutritional Weight,” “Culinary Nutrition,” and “Eat Healthy Your Way.”

As the institute is founded on the principal of the mind-body connection, several support groups are also administered, including one on diabetes and an eight week weight loss class. The hospital’s 700 employees are also encouraged to take advantage of the institute and monthly employee yoga and meditation sessions will be offered. Homis added that some services are covered by insurance, while others like the yoga classes will be priced reasonably to make them available to all patients.

The facilities are as much of a draw as its concept and services. There are two examining rooms, a consultation room and a large open space, which can be divided, for support groups and exercise classes. The space was renovated from its former use as a business office into a warm oasis with faux wood floors, sage green painted walls and low recessed lighting. However, the piece de resistance at the institute are the several wide windows which stream in light throughout the day. For Homis, it was especially important to be sensitive to his patients. He used non-toxic paint for the walls, hired a Feng Shui consultant to help lay out the space, and chose vinyl faux wood flooring for easy clean up. The institute is also conveniently located next to the cardiac rehabilitation center.

On Monday, Ed Davis, who with his wife Phyllis helped fund a majority of the project, poked around the institute as the coordinator of wellness services Ragan Finalborgo organized papers on her newly-arrived dark wood desk. Construction workers tooled around with a bit of wiring in the exercise room, but almost everything appeared to be under control and ready for the opening reception on Thursday, much to Homis and Kenny’s delight.

Deadline Passes, Hospitals Will Waive Some Fees for Empire Policy Holders

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By Andrew Rudansky

With the passing of the August negotiations deadline, the three member hospitals of the East End Health Alliance  — Southampton, Peconic Bay Medical Center and Eastern Long Island — are now no longer in the Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield network. But the Alliance has agreed to make it less painful, financially, for local residents insured by Empire.

The main point of contention in the negotiations is the rate at which Empire would reimburse the Alliance hospitals for services rendered to patients.

In response to passing the deadline the Alliance has adopted a new policy, waving any additional co-pay charges, for elective procedures, that Empire policy holders would incur for being “out-of-network.” Paul Connor III, President of Eastern Long Island Hospital and spokesperson for the East End Health Alliance said that the premise of this policy was to try to eliminate any of the costs that Empire puts on its members for using any outside facilities.

“Yes we could be losing money,” said Connors, “but we believe that it would be an advantage for the out-of-network holders if they could still use Alliance hospitals, that they are used to using.” Citing the “greater good” Connors believed that the policy would be “a gesture towards the community.”

In response to this news Hummel said, “We are very happy that they are concerned with the financial impact of these negations on their members.” Hummel added that she wished the Alliance had exhibited this same concern for their patients before the deadline passed on August 1.

Despite the passing of the deadline both sides are committed to continue the negotiation process.

Craig Andrews, Public Relations Director at Empire Blue Cross Shield said that Empire’s “goal has been to resolve this, it is our goal to get them back in our network.”

Empire has refused several offers made by the Alliance calling the proposed rates “not realistic.” Jill Hummel, Vice President of Health Services for Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield called the rates proposed by the Alliance as “far in excess of what we offer to comparable hospitals.”

The Alliance has maintained that the rates they have proposed, rates that Andrews claims are between a 50 to 60 percent increase from the pervious agreement, are “market rates,” rates similar to the ones the Alliance has with other insurance providers. Andrews says that Empire’s counter offers to the Alliance are in the “double-digits” but would not elaborate further. Hummel said “We put on the table a very substantial multi-year proposal,” one that she claims would be adequate to cover the operating needs of an efficiently run hospital.

Congressman Tim Bishop, who held a joint press conference with the Alliance on July 20, is not the only politician to side with the hospitals during the contract negotiations. State Assemblymen Fred W. Thiele, Jr. said “I come down on the side of hospitals.” Thiele says that the dispute between Empire and the Alliance is adversely effecting many of his constituents. Thiele as well as all of the other members of the New York State Assembly are policy holders of the states insurance plan, a plan Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield provides.

The failure of both sides to come to an agreement prompted the Alliance announced that they were going to hold a press conference on Friday August 7, at 10 a.m. at the Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead. Expected to attend the press conference would be State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, State Assemblymen Marc S. Alessi and Thiele. Thiele, a Republican, said that this press conference with Alessi, a Democrat, transcended partisan politics. “This is about the public welfare,” said Thiele.

However on Tuesday, August 4, a second press release was sent out announcing that the press conference would be cancelled. Thiele said the cancellation of the press conference was an “indicator that serious negotiations might restart.”

In photo above, Congressman Tim Bishop and Alliance spokesman Paul Connor at press conference two weeks ago.

Still No Deal With Empire BlueCross BlueShield

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The contract negotiations between Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield and the East End Health Alliance are reportedly still at a standstill. With only one day left, before the deadline (Friday at midnight) — when 40 percent of Eastern Long Islanders would no longer be covered at local Alliance hospitals — things do not look good.

Paul Connor III, spokesman for the Alliance, said, “Anything is a possibility…but when I see how far we still have to go I am not optimistic.”

Craig Andrews, Public Relations Director at Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, said, “we gave them our proposal, they sent back a counter proposal but not much has changed. The rates in the proposal they sent us are too high.” Andrews added, “It is only Wednesday and we do have up until midnight on Friday.”

Regardless of the deadline, emergency cases and pregnant women beyond the first trimester would still be covered at local hospitals.

Bishop Aids Health Alliance in Fight With Empire

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By Andrew Rudansky

With only 11 days left before Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield’s contract with several area hospitals expires, The East End Health Alliance, a partnership between Southampton Hospital, Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, and Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, is scrambling to return to the negotiating table. Congressman Tim Bishop, a Southampton native, intervening on behalf of the alliance held a press conference at the Southampton Hospital’s Parrish Memorial Hall this Monday, July 20 urging Empire BCBS to return to the negotiating table to renew the contract before the July 31 deadline.
“I don’t want to be melodramatic and suggest that we are on the verge of a health care crisis,” said Congressman Bishop, “but we are certainly on the verge of a tremendously adverse situation that affects public health on eastern Long Island.”
This situation should not be unfamiliar to many local residents, as this isn’t the first time the East End Health Alliance has run up against insurance companies. In May of 2008 with Oxford Health Insurance and then once again in September of 2008 with GHI/HIP, the Alliance both faced stern opposition at the negotiating table. In both of those cases the Alliance was able to successfully negotiate new contracts.

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Empire BCBS is much different than Oxford Health Insurance and GHI/HIP in terms of scope. Empire BCBS is Eastern Long Island’s largest health care provider, covering over 40% of all policy holders in the area. Many of these policy holders receive their Empire BCBS coverage from public schools and municipal jobs. The Alliance claims that they cover over 300,000 residents between the three of them, and if 40% of that number could no longer be covered by their insurance plan when they are admitted to those hospitals it would be, said Bishop, “intolerable and suggests that patient well-being is a secondary concern to [Empire BCBS’s] bottom line.”
Andrew J, Mitchell, President and CEO of Peconic Bay Medical Center said, “There are so many different varieties of health plans within the Empire BCBS product line, that it would be very difficult to estimate the number of people” that would be unable to come to Alliance hospitals due to insurance problems. Mitchell added that without adequate reimbursement from the insurance companies, Alliance hospitals could not provide the same scope of services that they currently do provide.
“[Current negotiations] are really going nowhere,” said Paul Connor III, President of Eastern Long Island Hospital and spokesperson for the East End Health Alliance. Connor was impressed with Congressman Bishop’s interest in the issue. “Tim [Bishop] is a tremendous advocate for our hospitals and health care,” said Connor.
Bishop used the platform to reiterate his support for a government alternative to the current health care system. “This is exhibit A on why we need comprehensive health care reform,” said Bishop.
If the contract expires before a settlement can be made many local area Empire BCBS policy holders could be redirected to hospitals in Patchogue or Port Jefferson, or be required to pay “more expensive out-of-network rates.”
Even if the two sides fail to come to some sort of agreement before the July 21 deadline, New York State law mandates that all emergency patients or pregnant women in their first trimester be admitted to a hospital regardless of their insurance status. Also only Alliance hospitals will be affected and personal doctors will remain unaffected.
“I believe this status results from Empire’s failure to negotiate in good faith,” wrote the congressman in a letter addressed to Mark Wagar, president and CEO of Empire BCBS and Angela F. Braly, president and CEO of WellPoint. The letter, written directly after the press conference, stated that the Alliance hospitals are asking for reimbursement rates similar to ones they have with other insurance providers. Similarly, according to the letter, the rates proposed by Empire BCBS would result in a loss of $500 per day by hospitals.
“No reasonable person can think that this is sustainable, no reasonable person can describe Empire BCBS’s posture here as negotiating in good faith,” said Bishop at the press conference.
George D. Keckeisen, MD, president of the Southampton Hospital Medical Staff, said, “This is a problem that needs to be addressed…and we hope that with the pressure we can bring to bear from the both health care provides, both the physicians community and nurses, in addition and in conjunction with the hospitals administration…that the Blue Cross provider will actually come to the table and make a realistic proposal that we can all live with.”
Bishop’s strongly worded letter concluded with the congressman saying that he might request a federal investigation of unfair practices in the negotiations if Empire BCBS does not capitulate to what Bishop believes are more reasonable rates.

Top: Congressman Tim Bishop with Paul Connor III, spokesman for the East End Health Alliance, at Monday’s press conference.

Inset: Bruce LaValle, R.N., speaking with Jasmine Dozier, R.N. (left) and Diane Groneman, R.N. (right).

Bridgehampton Accident Leaves Watermill Man in Critical Condition

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On Sunday, July 12, a head-on car accident occurred on Montauk Highway near Poxabogue Lane in Bridgehampton at around 8:30 am after Fred Slaughter, 43, of Hackensack, New Jersey fell asleep at the wheel. According to Southampton Town Police, while asleep Slaughter crossed over the eastbound lane and onto the shoulder of the road when he awoke and swerved sharply to his right, striking an eastbound vehicle head-on near the center of the road. Police say the car that was hit was driven by a 41-year-old male resident of Watermill, whose name is being withheld pending family notification. When police arrived at the scene they found the 41-year-old seriously injured and trapped in his car, while Slaughter suffered only minor injuries. The Bridgehampton Fire Department responded and extricated the 41-year-old from the car and transported him to a landing zone where he was transferred to Stony Brook University Hospital by way of a Suffolk County Police Medi-Vac helicopter. Slaughter was taken to Southampton Hospital for his injuries. It was later determined that Slaughter’s driving privileges had been suspended eight times for numerous traffic infractions dating back to March 2008. Slaughter faces charges of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the second degree, a misdemeanor, and failing to maintain his lane, a traffic infraction. Slaughter has already been treated and released from the hospital, but police say the 41-year-old is still in critical condition and suffering from life threatening injuries.

Locals Outraged Over New MTA Tax

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“Isn’t this taxation without representation? I thought we already went through this,” said Sag Harbor Variety Store owner Lisa Field when asked what she thought of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new payroll tax.

The tax, signed into law earlier this month, will require local businesses, including hospitals, schools and governments, to pay a 34 cent tax for every $100 of payroll. Suffolk County is set to pump millions of dollars into the MTA to help shore up the authority’s $1.8 million deficit. From the halls of the state assembly to the sidewalks of Main Street, people are saying the MTA is unfairly taxing Suffolk County residents for a service they rarely use and the county is in essence funding the New York City transportation system.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele contends the MTA package was made “behind closed doors” with officials, hailing from the New York Metropolitan area, leading the negotiations.

Back in March, Thiele seemed certain the tax wouldn’t be voted through, but the state legislature indeed passed it on May 6, after state senator Brian Foley of Long Island swayed the vote, allowing the package to pass by two votes in the senate.

“Between March and now a lot of arm twisting went on,” explained Thiele.

“I thought we were pretty effective in putting up a unified decision,” stated Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman of the efforts made by local officials to oppose the payroll tax. “We have lost the power, and all of this money is leaving Long Island and going to New York City.”

Schneiderman maintains the East End is underserved by the MTA. Although the county contributed $250 million to the transit authority last year, the MTA currently runs just three trains on weekdays from the East End to New York City.

Geoff Lynch of the Hampton Jitney said the transit system works well in New York City because the authority services a small geographic area with a high density population. But on the East End, he added, a smaller population is spread out over a wide geographic area.

According to a press release from Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine, the county will pay around $520 million when the new MTA taxes and fees are enacted or about $347 per resident per year — on top of the taxes residents already pay toward the MTA. Schneiderman believes only 10 percent of Suffolk’s population, or 150,000 people, ride the LIRR.

“The county will pay around $3,000 to $4,000 per rider. We could lease each of them a car and we could forget about the trains,” argued Schneiderman.

When asked if East End residents will get more LIRR service in exchange for their contribution to the MTA payroll tax, Sam Zambuto of the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) said no.

“[The Payroll Tax] allows the LIRR to maintain the existing level of service and eliminates the service reductions that were slated for implementation,” Zambuto reported. “It also reduces the fare increase from an average of 26 percent to an average of 10 percent.”

MTA representative Kevin Ortiz said even with $1.8 billion in funds procured from the payroll tax and other fees, the MTA will still face a small deficit in the upcoming year. Ortiz argued that the new funds would bring additional wages to the county because the MTA uses the services of  subcontractors in Deer Park, and other Suffolk locations. He added the MTA’s capital plan would create $11.8 billion in wages and salaries in the 12 counties it services.

“They have to look at the big picture,” said Ortiz of Suffolk residents.

But local residents, from hospital administrators to business owners, say they are having a hard time seeing the “big picture.”

“Everybody that is in business out here will be subject to this new tax,” asserted Sag Harbor Village Mayor Greg Ferraris. He added that the tax will cost the village administration upwards of $10,000.

Southampton Hospital faces an even steeper tax burden because of its large payroll. Marsha Kenny, the director of public affairs, said the hospital had already closed its books for the 2009 budget when they learned of the tax. The hospital expects to pay $140,000 to the MTA this year.

Len Bernard, the Sag Harbor School District Business Manager, estimated the school will pay between $46,000 to $50,000 for the tax, though the state has promised to reimburse school districts.

“I am not at all confident the state will give funds to reimburse the school districts,” remarked school superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “I am concerned that if they do reimburse the school district for the tax it will come at the expense of general state aid.”

“I can point to every single line item on the budget and tell you how it benefits someone in the community, but I can’t with this,” continued Gratto. “We are just subsidizing New York City.”

Responding to the outrage of local communities over the payroll tax, the Suffolk County Legislature voted on Tuesday, May 12, to create a commission to conduct a feasibility study on Long Island seceding from the State of New York.

“We want it to be on the ballot next year as a non-binding referendum to create the State of Long Island,” said Schneiderman. “Every year we give the state about $8 billion but we only receive around $5 billion in services.”

Schneiderman conceded, however, that a state hasn’t successfully seceded since the 1860s, when West Virginia split from Virginia.

“I think this is more symbolic,” said Schneiderman. “We want to send a message to Albany that the present situation is unacceptable.”

Thiele believes Suffolk County constituents are feeling increasingly overburdened by state taxes, especially in light of the economic downturn.

“I have never seen a recession end by taxing people more,” he declared.

It may be that the MTA payroll tax will have a trickle down effect, with implications not just for business owners but patrons of Long Island restaurants and retail establishments as well.

“A lot of businesses in the area increase their prices in the summer and decrease their prices in the winter,” said Tora Matsuoka, co-owner of Sen and Phao Thai Kitchen. “Prior to finding out about this tax, [and a new beer and wine tax] my feelings were that we wouldn’t readjust our prices, but it is something we are considering … taxes in New York are stringent and I think it is driving people out of the state.”

Local Health Officials Say Swine Flu Over-hyped

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On Friday, May 1, Marsha Kenny the director of marketing for Southampton Hospital said there were no confirmed cases of H1N1 Influenza A, commonly referred to as swine flu, in the county. By the time Monday rolled around, however, there were four confirmed cases, including three children from Deer Park.
News of the flu’s spread from Mexico to the U.S. has dominated the media in recent weeks and the outbreak has been likened to the 1918 pandemic of Spanish Influenza. Although the tally of confirmed national cases has climbed to 642, resulting in two deaths, local health officials say the deadliness of swine flu has been largely over-hyped.
“I think to some extent it is a media phenomenon — to another extent severe infectious diseases have cropped up periodically throughout history and have caused tremendous illness. I think we are all wondering when the next shoe will be dropped,” said Dr. Fred Weinbaum, chief medical officer at Southampton Hospital. “I think bio-terrorism created the mindfulness for catastrophe. That and the modern world is shrinking. We are linked by only a few days.”
Weinbaum added that the Spanish flu, which killed millions, was significantly more virulent than today’s swine flu. Most flu strains attack humans with a weak immune system, like children and the elderly. The Spanish flu, however, triggered a hyper-immune response and afflicted healthy individuals ranging in ages from 20 to 40 years old.
The swine flu, said Weinbaum, shares more similarities with the common seasonal flu. For instance, the symptoms for both strains are relatively the same and include fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue and vomiting. Like the seasonal flu, swine flu is a respiratory illness. But unlike the common flu, Southampton Hospital officials say “the swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs that has changed its genetic composition to become a respiratory virus transmitted from person to person.”
They added, however, that the virus couldn’t be spread through eating cooked pork products.
If the swine flu reaches pandemic proportions, Kenny says the hospital is prepared and has an established emergency protocol. Weinbaum added that the Center for Disease Control would most likely dip into its stockpile of Tamiflu, a treatment for the virus, which would be distributed through local health departments to hospitals.
In the meantime, Weinbaum said Southampton Hospital is focusing their efforts on disseminating accurate and up-to-date information to the local community.
“I think the only preparation we can do is working together with local and state health authorities,” Weinbaum reported. “It’s more about getting information rapidly distributed. We are trying to dispel rumors and a sense of panic. We are trying to keep everyone from reaching conclusions based on hearsay and rumor.”
On Friday, Weinbaum held a conference call with local superintendents concerned about what to do if a student contracts swine flu. Weinbaum encouraged parents to keep their children home if they are sick, and said the same goes for school staff. He added that closing a school should be a collaborative decision between the state department of health, the county department of health and the school board. The New York State Department of Health has set-up a 24-hour toll-free hotline, at (800) 808-1987, to handle public concerns. Locally, Sag Harbor School District has posted an alert about swine flu on its website and the elementary school has distributed a letter to parents asking them to keep sick children at home.
It would appear the swine flu outbreak has yet to touch Sag Harbor directly, aside from interfering with one resident’s travel plans. Cati Van Milders was planning to spend this week in Mexico for a retreat, but it was canceled at the last minute because of the flu.
Asked if she would travel to Mexico anyway, Van Milders said, “No I wouldn’t have gone. I was a little apprehensive about being stuck on the plane and picking up something.”

Family Joins Suit Over Son’s Donated Organs

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When Lisa Koehne’s son Alex lay in a bed at Stony Brook University Hospital two years ago this month, she sensed there was something wrong other than what the doctors were telling her. Alex, had been diagnosed with bacterial meningitis and after 17 days at the hospital, died on March 30, 2007.

But what Lisa and her husband Jim learned weeks later was that it was actually a rare and extremely aggressive form of cancer — anaplastic central nervous system T-cell lymphoma — that took their son’s life.

To compound their grief, they learned several months later that two of four patients who received organs from Alex had died, the organs themselves infected with the cancer.

Beginning early last year, lawyers for all four organ recipients started a series of suits against the medical center as well as Southampton Hospital, where Alex had been treated initially as an emergency patient, and where meningitis was first diagnosed by Dr. Robert Semlear, the family physician at the time, who is also named in the suit.

This week the Koehnes also joined the suit, arguing simply, the doctors and hospitals should have done more.

“We never got any answers from Stony Brook or Southampton,” said Jim Koehne in an interview Tuesday.

“We knew we would have to give depositions, and we asked ourselves if we wanted to go through this all again,” said Jim. “And we said, ‘yes we do, we want to know what happened’.”

Also named in the claims, which allege negligence in Alex’s misdiagnosis, are New York University Hospital and one of its physicians, Dr. Thomas Diflo, who performed one of the transplants, and doctors Kimberly Fenton, Salma Syed, Daniel Sloniewski and Mary Anderson — all associated with Stony Brook — and neurologist Norman Pflaster, of Southampton.

Alex was initially admitted to Southampton Hospital by Dr. Semlear, where he stayed for a week, and was released with antibiotics and pain killers, according to Mr. Koehne. Then days later, Alex’s extreme pain and sudden seizures drove the family to take him to Stony Brook, where doctors maintained the same bacterial meningitis diagnosis.

Southampton Hospital spokesperson Marsha Kenny said the hospital does not comment on issues of litigation.

Lauren Sheprow, spokesperson for Stony Brook University Medical Center responded “we do not comment on matters before the court or on any specific patient due to state and federal patient privacy laws.”

She added: “In general, every matter that involves organ donations or transplantation at SBUMC is handled according to the guidelines of UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing), which has federal authority over organ donation and transplantation in the U.S., and New York Organ Donor Network, the local authority over organ donation as designated by UNOS.”

“Every organ donation case by its very nature is surrounded by tragic circumstances, and we grieve with families as they struggle to make a very personal and private decision at a very painful time,” she wrote in an email. “We admire the strength, compassion and commitment of those who help save the life of another through donation, even as they are suffering the pain of the loss of their own loved one.”

The firm of Dankner & Milstein initiated the first claim in January 2008 on behalf of Gerardo Trueba of the Bronx, who received one of Alex’s kidneys. The other kidney recipient was James Kelly of Mount Sinai, L.I. Both men, after learning of the true diagnosis, had the donated kidneys — which had been infected with cancer — removed. Both men underwent chemotherapy, which appears to have been successful said Adam Kauffman, an associate at Dankner & Millstein. Both men, however, also are on dialysis, and probably will be for life, he said.

The other recipients included Kitman Lee, a 52-year old hepatitis B cirrhosis patient of Brooklyn, who received Alex’s liver at NYU Medical Center. He also contracted the same cancer that killed Alex and died 116 days later. The recipient of Alex’s pancreas, 36-year old Jodie Lynn Shierts of Pequot Lakes, who had type 1 diabetes mellitus, had the donated pancreas removed, but died as a result of lymphoma.

The complaints allege that the hospitals failed to rule out meningitis through tests, the long onset of Alex’s illness, and the failure of antibiotics to cure it, and failed to seek any other cause for the illness. In addition, the complaints say the organs were released without confirmation of cause of death.

The Koehnes’ complaint is based on “the failure to diagnose their son’s true condition,” said firm partner Edward Milstein.

“As a result, their son didn’t receive treatment,” said Milstein, “he didn’t have the chance to benefit from treatment.”

Milstein added, however, they are not alleging that, even if Alex had received a prompt diagnosis or treatment, he would have survived.

Jim Koehne remembered this week when they were standing by their son at Stony Brook, his wife Lisa looking at Alex’s eyes and noting how one eye rolled a different way.

“’There’s something else wrong’,” he remembers her saying.

It was a mother’s intuition he felt was ignored.

 “I really feel the diagnosis was handled incorrectly,” said Mr. Koehne. “They could have looked in a different direction.”

Mr. Koehne acknowledges the cancer was so virulent that he and his family may never have had much more time with Alex.

“But even if it was another day, or two days,” said Mr. Koehne. “And Lisa could have said goodbye to her son.”

Above: Jim and Lisa Koehne remember their son Alex with a foundation, Alex’s Promise, which raises money for brain cancer research. Last year they were able to donate $10,000 to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.



Southampton Hospital Forms Alliance with Stony Brook

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Southampton Hospital forged an alliance on Friday that will bring to the small South Fork hospital many of the services of one of the most respected medical facilities between here and New York City. The agreement with Stony Brook University Hospital completes a series of recommendations from the state-mandated Beger  Report which, among other things, called for greater relationships between medical facilities to provide more comprehensive and cost-effective heath care for the residents of Long Island. In June, Southampton Hospital also fulfilled another one of the report’s recommendations, forming an alliance with the other two East End hospitals, Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, creating the East End Health Alliance, an organization that gives the three institutions greater buying and negotiating power. That arrangement also allowed each of the three to develop specialties that would complement the specialties in the other hospitals. Southampton is the third of the local hospitals to form a relationship with Stony Brook.

This newest alliance with Stony Brook will bring yet more strength when it comes time to negotiate contracts such as insurance reimbursement, and provide greater scales of economy in purchasing supplies.

“During a hospital stay, a patient needs to be guaranteed good health care,” said Shirley Strum Kenny, president of Stony Brook University, during Friday morning’s signing ceremony at the Parrish Memorial Hall at Southampton Hospital. “To do that we have to ensure the health of our hospitals.”

But aside from the economic factors, officials say the alliance will bring easier access to a deeper well of health care options to residents of the East End.

“During the summer cocktail parties here, I always hear people say you have to travel to New York City to get good health care,” said Southampton Hospital President and CEO Robert S. Chaloner. “That’s not true. Our mission is to convince all our communities that they don’t have to travel; that good health care exists here.”

The alliance, said Chaloner, will provide several opportunities for the local hospital and its patients, including access to academic and professional capabilities Southampton currently does not have, and expertise in areas such as heart disease and stroke.

The agreement provides for a one-call hotline for transfer patients, and in the emerging field of Hospitalist services, Southampton and Stony Brook will share ideas and management practices with the goal of improving patient care, according to a release provided by the hospital. The two hospitals will participate in joint continuing medical education (CME) activities and explore the development of an overarching academic affiliation for Southampton with Stony Brook University’s Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine, Nursing, Social Welfare and Health Technology and Management. In addition, Stony Brook will provide an integration of quality monitoring and reporting as well as electronic patient record systems that will allow for enhancement of patient services. Finally, Stony Brook will sponsor Southampton Hospital as an Associate member of the University HealthSystem Consortium (UHC), providing access to a group purchasing program.

“Stony Brook will help us recruit doctors in a time when there is a physician shortage and it is difficult for them to survive here,” said Chaloner, “and will give us access to educational and training opportunities for our doctors.”

The alliance will also benefit Stony Brook, said Dr. Steven Strongwater, CEO of Stony Brook University Medical Center. His hospital has an expanding medical school class size and Southampton will provide an excellent opportunity for placing interns and students.

“Southampton Hospital has a great tradition in this community dating back to 1908 when it first opened, and we have great respect for the mission and traditions here,” said Dr. Strongwater. “We recognize the need to support that mission and find ways to get advanced services to those who need it—not to duplicate, but augment with training, education and recruitment. Southampton and Stony Brook are a perfect match for that.”

Stony Brook University Medical Center is the only academic medical center on Long Island. It comprises Stony Brook University School of Medicine and Stony Brook University Hospital, which is the only tertiary care hospital and Level 1 trauma center in Suffolk County. With 540 beds and 5,100 employees, it is the largest hospital in Suffolk County.            

“When the Berger Commission came in we were far ahead of what Berger wanted us to do,” said Senator Kenneth  P.  LaValle who sponsored the “Flexibility” legislation authorizing the East End alliance. “This alliance came together thanks to critical people with the right personalities and the right backgrounds to pull it together.  Building people, building strengths leads to one thing – better patient care.”


In photo above (l to r) Senator Kenneth P. La Valle, Shirley Strum Kenny, President Stony Brook University; Robert S. Chaloner, President and CEO Southampton Hospital; (back l to r) Martin L. Stone, MD., Southampton Hospital Board;   Steven L. Strongwater, M.D., CEO, Stony Brook University Medical Center; Reverend Peter M. Larsen, Southampton Hospital Board Chairman and Dr. Humayun Chaudhry, D.O., Commissioner, Health Services for Suffolk County