By Mara Certic
After more than two years of negotiations, the first step was taken toward a merger between Southampton and Stony Brook University hospitals on Tuesday when the full SUNY Board of Trustees approved the long-awaited alliance.
The board unanimously approved an affiliation agreement between the two hospitals after hearing from a member of its five-member Academic Medical Centers and Hospitals Committee.
SUNY’s hospital subcommittee, which was appointed to make recommendations about the university’s health centers, unanimously supported the affiliation agreement between the two hospitals on Monday morning, finally moving it out of committee.
Trustee Cary Staller gave the presentation to his fellow board members, filling in for the committee chairman John Murad, who was watching the meeting via webcam.
Mr. Staller explained the committee is in favor of the integration and affiliation agreement, as it is formally called, on three conditions. The first is that Stony Brook University and Stony Brook University Hospital are not allowed to seek funding from the state or SUNY for capital projects related to the affiliation on the Stony Brook Southampton campus.
Southampton Hospital has shared some services with Suffolk County’s largest hospital since 2008. The two medical centers signed a letter of intent in October of 2012, which said Southampton would operate under Stony Brook’s license, in hopes that a new facility would be built on Stony Brook Southampton’s 85-acre campus.
The first condition of the merger does not in any way put a damper on those plans, according to Robert Chaloner, president and CEO of Southampton Hospital.
“We never were looking for money from the state to do that,” he said in a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon. “We always believed the hospital should be built with private philanthropy.”
The second provision is that Stony Brook University Hospital must establish sufficient cash reserves to cover Southampton Hospital’s liabilities and the final condition stipulates that Stony Brook University Hospital must come up with a comprehensive plan for the integration including specific tasks and milestones.
According to Mr. Chaloner, the merger will allow Southampton Hospital some security at a time when long-term trends for small, independent hospitals “are not great.”
Mr. Chaloner said the two hospitals hope to work side-by-side to extend healthcare teaching programs, share and improve information technology and tap into each other’s resources.
There is a chance of coordinating the Meeting House Lane practices with Stony Brook University Hospital, he said, which has a similar organization.
“We’d like to tie things together, but if anything that’ll be somewhere we need to go full speed ahead,” he said, adding that there is a huge need for more doctors on the East End. For that reason, there will be no employee cuts as a result of this merger.
“One of the major fundamentals is to ensure employees stay in place and that they retain their current union memberships,” he said.
“We don’t want people to leave, we need everybody,” Mr. Chaloner said. “This is a merger to bring two organizations together to grow, not to cut.”
All 18 members of the board voted in favor of the resolution. Trustee Eunice Lewin said she had been concerned about the merger until she visited Southampton Hospital and was “pleasantly surprised.”
Dr. Samuel Stanley, president of Stony Brook University Hospital, was at Tuesday’s meeting and thanked the board.
“It’s not completed yet, there’s still work to be done, but this is an extraordinarily important first step,” he said.
“For both Southampton Hospital and for Stony Brook, this is a win-win in every sense of the word,” he said, “We look forward to the implementation process.”
“This affiliation is a step in the right direction for expanding and improving health care on the South Fork. Both Stony Brook and Southampton Hospital officials are to be commended for their efforts,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said in a press release issued on Tuesday.
“Assemblyman Thiele and I have worked hard to impress upon the SUNY system the need and benefits of bringing these two hospitals together and commend the Board of Trustees for recognizing the changing face of healthcare and advancing this initiative,” Senator Kenneth P. LaValle said in the same release.
“The possibilities are endless. This affiliation could help revitalize the Stony Brook Southampton campus by bringing in new health care based academic programs, and also a new state-of-the-art hospital at the Southampton campus. The agreement could serve as an anchor, ensuring that the college be a permanent fixture in our community,” Mr. Thiele added.