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Riverhead Fire Chief Nick Luparella

Local firefighters battle budget cuts for Stony Brook Hospital

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Local firefighters and emergency responders are sounding the alarm on state budget cuts that  could force Stony Brook University Medical Center to eliminate critical special mission programs, including its level I trauma center, burn center and psychiatric emergency program.

They are mobilizing to fight Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed elimination of all state aid to the hospital, the only state hospital on Long Island. Cuomo’s budget slashes $55 million in state aid to the hospital.

Stony Brook is the only hospital that provides many critical services and care patients can’t receive anywhere else in Suffolk County, said Riverhead Fire Chief Nick Luparella.

The university hospital sees more than 4,500 transfers from community hospitals each year for patients requiring specialty services, according to the hospital’s website.

“Stony Brook University Hospital provides many services that are not available any where else in Suffolk County,” Luparella said. The loss of these programs means Suffolk County residents will have to travel outside the county for care, he said.

The proposed $55 million cut comes on top of $275 million reductions in state funding over the past three years, according to Stony Brook University Medical Center CEO Steven L. Strongwater.

“These critical programs are at risk. Every last dollar of support for these and other programs at SBUMC are slated to be cut in the proposed state budget,” Strongwater said in a written statement published on the hospital’s website.

Strongwater took that message to Long Island’s Republican assembly delegation at a budget hearing held in Hauppauge Friday, where he also spoke about the hospital’s impact on the local economy. The hospital annually generates $1.6 billion in economic activity, he told the assembly delegation, which included First District Assemblyman Dan Losquadro.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Losquadro did not directly address the proposed cuts to the state hospital.

“The theme of the hearing was evident,” Losquadro said. “It’s time to move past the status quo. We need to push farther with Medicaid reform, go the extra mile for our children by obtaining our fair share of school aid, and fight for ‘real’ mandate relief that is well overdue for our localities and school districts. Unfortunately, none of this will happen if Albany political bosses continue to put their interests and the interests of big money ahead of the people’s needs.”

The future of programs provided by Stony Brook to Peconic Bay Medical Center is unknown, according to Peconic Bay Medical Center president and CEO Andrew J. Mitchell.

“Stony Brook has not discussed with us any impacts on PBMC programs,” Mitchell said. The programs include emergency medicine, radiology, neurosurgery/spine center and the paramedic support program, he said.

Peconic Bay Medical Center and other private hospitals will not see a dramatic cut in direct aid, Mitchell said, because they don’t get any. “The supplemental state aid is not something provided to hospitals other than to the state university hospital,” Mitchell said.

Instead, Peconic Bay and other private hospitals will be affected by state budget cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, Mitchell said. Those are still significant, he said.

“We’ll again be looking at ways to further reduce expenses in order to offset reductions in reimbursements,” Mitchell said. “Medicaid and Medicare cuts affect all patients, not just Medicaid or Medicare recipients.”

Local emergency responders are urging residents to contact Losquadro, South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle to demand restoration of state aid to Stony Brook University Medical Center, Luparella said. They are also asking residents to contact county and town elected officials to ask them to lobby state leaders as well, he said. (See open letter from Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Fund past-president Craig Zitek.)