It will be one of the biggest construction projects in the history of the Hamptons and the largest building east of the Shinnecock Canal.
Given current zoning restrictions, a project of this magnitude will probably never be seen again.
More to the point, a brand-new Southampton Hospital, reborn with the name Stony Brook Southampton after a merger, is long overdue and much needed.
It will also forever change the makeup of Southampton Village, where the current facility is located.
The new hospital will be on the grounds of the Stony Brook Southampton campus, and that’s part of the story.
It’s really a tale of two institutions on divergent paths that found each other at just the right moment in time. Southampton Hospital long ago outgrew its confined space, and while Southampton College enjoyed some glory years, it too was losing steam and stature as the millenium came and went.
When Long Island University officials announced in 2004 that Southampton College was closing, the surprise decision caught locals off guard. Hundreds of jobs would be lost, and the largest parcel of land in the area faced an uncertain future.
Even after Stony Brook University was convinced — strong-armed — into taking over the campus, nothing came easy. “They were a little slow out of the chute, and then the recession hit,” recalled Assemblyman Fred Thiele. Shirley Strum Kenny, president of Stony Brook University, retired in 2009 and the college eliminated its sustainability program. Attendance, never robust, slowed to a trickle.
“I used to judge how it was doing by the cars in the parking lot,” Thiele said. There weren’t many. Stony Brook wanted to pull out altogether, citing budget restraints.
Close It Down
Dr. Samuel Stanley, Stony Brook’s president, announced the decision to close the campus on April 7, 2010.
Thiele, an attorney by trade, helped prepare a lawsuit on behalf of the soon-to-be-displaced students.
The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court, charged the university broke state law by failing to hold a public hearing before announcing plans to shutter the dorms and most other buildings on campus. Katie Osiecki, Nicole Altimari, Tara Linton, Dean Tarulli, Kathleen Furey, and Martha Weller, the student plaintiffs, demanded, and received, an apology.
The university committed to continuing sustainability education at its main campus until spring 2014, when the last of the plaintiffs was expected to graduate. In addition, the university agreed to pay $5000 toward the cost of a sustainability conference at Stony Brook Southampton in 2013, and $30,000 toward the students’ attorney’s fees, according to a copy of the settlement. Dr. Stanley was forced to make a public apology.
Robert Chaloner, president and CEO of Southampton Hospital, was an anxious onlooker during the legal proceedings. “I think if you go around the country and look at hospitals and colleges, they often sit next to each other, and there’s good reasons for that,” said Chaloner. His intentions were clear: Southampton Hospital needed a new home, and Stony Brook Medical and his hospital were already sharing services and heading toward a full merger.
Chaloner was armed with the findings of the Berger Commission report of health care facilities in New York State. The recommendations included possible consolidation, closure, conversion, and restructuring of stand-alone hospitals. ‘If the recommendations are approved by the Governor and the Legislature, they become law, and must be implemented by the Commissioner of Health,’ the summary stated. Clearly, the writing was on the wall for Southampton Hospital. Find a partner, relocate, or close.
“Hospitals are teaching facilities where we train the next generation of health care workers,” Chaloner said, adding that the hospital, which already has a partnership with Stony Brook University Medical Center, regularly partners with different educational institutions, providing the hands-on training, while students gain their academic experience in the universities.
Beefed Up Program
Stony Brook University, meanwhile, built a $10 million Marine Science building and beefed up its writing program in Southampton. Student enrollment increased markedly.
In January 2015, the SUNY board of trustees approved a merger between Stony Brook University Hospital and Southampton Hospital. Dr. Stanley called the affiliation a “win-win.”
“This is an extraordinarily important first step,” he told the 18-member board in Albany. “This will enhance our ability to compete successfully in a very crowded marketplace.”
Chaloner called the vote “historic,” and Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, dean of the Stony Brook University School of Medicine, said the affiliation would “expand medicine and medical innovation by enhancing education and research” and provide clinical training sites.
No one was happier than Senator Ken LaValle, who had worked not only to keep the campus vibrant but to keep Southampton Hospital vibrant. “It will bring an infusion of specialty care for the East End, and I think in a very short period of time will erase its medically underserved status,” he said.
The truth was, the idea of building a hospital on campus property had already been informally broached.
The two entities realized how much common ground existed almost immediately. With the hospital on campus, graduate medical students would have a teaching facility and a hospital within steps of each other. Southampton Town was on board.
The current 125-bed hospital, 100 years old, is antiquated and constrained. When it was built, that part of Southampton Village was primarily marshland and farms; now it is surrounded by multi-million-dollar homes. The real estate it sits on is worth a fortune, though the cumbersome building would be difficult to convert to condominiums.
Thiele and LaValle crafted legislation that would allow Stony Brook University to lease the necessary property on the state-owned campus. The Southampton Hospital Association was formed to build the new hospital. The state legislature was on board. And then, out of nowhere, a crisis.
Fast forward to June 7. A number of unions, after perusing the agreement, feared the coupling of what was essentially still a private hospital with a public entity would have a negative impact on union jobs at the state level. They balked at the agreement. With the legislature facing a June 20 drop-dead date to pass it, the deal was in danger of being scuttled.
It wasn’t building trade unions that objected. New York State United Teachers reps were afraid of the bargaining practice prevalent at some private hospitals. The Civil Service Employees Association voiced fears that new hires at the yet-to-be-built hospital would be allowed to bypass its union.
Thiele, LaValle, and Chaloner, with only days to save the deal, held marathon meetings with union reps on Tuesday in Albany to try to address the concerns and remove the roadblock. Finally, with one day to go, the unions capitulated.
“Serendipity happened,” Thiele noted. It turned out the United University Professions Union was in the midst of contract negotiations with the state. A tentative agreement was forged as part of a larger deal involving the use of Southampton campus land for the new hospital building.
One more hurdle remains. Alyssa Milello, spokeswoman for Southampton Hospital, pointed out that Governor Andrew Cuomo still needs to sign off on the deal and has until the end of the year to do so. Then, the hospital must raise the estimated $250 million to construct the new building. Thiele said a realistic estimate would be five years before the project is to begin in earnest.