One of the cardiac catheterization labs built at Southside Hospital after North Shore-LIJ took over operation of the community hospital in Bay Shore in 2005. File photo: Peter Blasl

Eastern Long Island Hospital’s decision last week to partner with Stony Brook University Hospital does not affect “in any way” North Shore-LIJ Health System’s plans for Peconic Bay Medical Center, according to North Shore’s chief communications officer.

“It doesn’t affect our plans for investment in Peconic Bay Medical Center for it to become a regional destination for quality health care,” North Shore-LIJ vice president for public relations Terry Lynam said in an interview Friday.

North Shore-LIJ filed an application with the state health department May 14, seeking approval of the merger with PBMC. The application, formally called a certificate of need, is under review by the state. Lynam said he believes the application is this month’s agenda of the state health department’s committee charged with reviewing applications for changes in hospital ownership.

While it’s unknown when state regulators will make a decision on the application, North Shore-LIJ is looking to complete the merger by January 2016, which marks the expiration of PBMC’s current contract with Stony Brook University Hospital for the operation of its emergency and radiology departments.

“Once their agreement concludes and pending approval by the state, PBMC would become a full member of the North Shore-LIJ system,” Lynam said.

North Shore-LIJ had set its sights on bringing both Peconic Bay and ELIH into its 19-hospital health system. Lynam said North Shore pursued lengthy discussions with ELIH for more than a year prior to the Greenport hospital’s July 9 vote to become part of a Stony Brook-led health system.

With that decision, two of the three hospitals of the East End Health Alliance will become part of the Stony Brook system, hailed by elected officials as Suffolk County’s first integrated health care system. Southampton Hospital announced in October 2012 that it would partner with Stony Brook. The SUNY trustees in January 2015 gave their approved to the affiliation.

Peconic Bay Medical Center on March 27 announced its intention to merge with North Shore-LIJ. PBMC officials pointed to North Shore’s commitment to investing in building major regional programs they say are desperately needed on the East End, especially cardiac and trauma care. East End residents who need coronary angioplasty can’t get the lifesaving procedure at any of the three East End hospitals; most are rushed by ambulance to Stony Brook, a drive that takes more than an hour. Trauma victims — mostly people injured in automobile accidents — also currently have to be transported to Stony Brook, either by ambulance or helicopter.

Peconic Bay’s decision angered State Senator Ken LaValle, a longtime advocate of a Stony Brook-led health system for Suffolk County, with Stony Brook at its “hub” and the three East End hospitals as “the spokes,” he said in an interview after PBMC’s announcement. He vowed to do whatever he could to block the PBMC-NSLIJ merger.

“I’m not willing to sit by and watch health care on the East End be ceded to a Nassau County facility,” LaValle said.

Those words made North Shore-LIJ officials bristle. Executive vice president and chief operating officer Mark Solazzo pointed out that he and some 19,000 other North Shore-LIJ employees live in Suffolk County. (The health system’s total employee roster is more than 54,000, a number that will reach near 60,000 by the end of this year, Solazzo said. It is the largest private sector employer in the state.) Solazzo also pointed out that North Shore already operates four other hospitals, as well as many ambulatory care facilities and physician practices in Suffolk. The health system has more than 400 ambulatory care facilities and employs more than 2,800 physicians full-time.

Solazzo emphasized that North Shore’s philosophy of care is “diametrically opposed” to the “hub and spoke” model, where one medical facility is at the center of a system, as a hub, where services are concentrated, with other facilities — the spokes — feeding that hub.

“Health care is local,” Solazzo said. “You’ve got to take care of the community and where you can do it safely is where you should do it.”

In keeping with that philosophy, NSLIJ invested about $300 million in Southside Hospital in Bay Shore since it took over its operation in 2005, to transform it into a tertiary care hospital — the only one in Suffolk County besides Stony Brook.

Opening a a cardiac catheterization lab at Peconic Bay Medical Center will be North Shore’s top priority, Solazzo told RiverheadLOCAL in April. North Shore will also move to upgrade PBMC’s trauma treatment capabilities, so trauma victims can also be treated closer to home, he said.

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