Quality health care and, to hear state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) describe it, home cooking are good for the body, mind, soul and community. That’s the argument the Republican senator has been making for years on behalf of the Stony Brook University medical center and its hospital.
After the university lost out earlier this year on a partnership with Peconic Bay Medical Center, which agreed to team up with North Shore-LIJ Health System, the longtime local senator has continued his unflagging support of Stony Brook, particularly with John T. Mather Memorial Hospital.
“If we think of a wheel, the hub of a wheel, and the local community hospitals are its spokes,” LaValle said, referring to Stony Brook as that hub in the center. “This is my vision and one that I think is good for the people I represent” to allow them to have the “best quality health care” close to home.
For his consistent and long-term efforts to lend the support of his office to an important area institution, and for the passion and dedication he has shown to the residents of the region for close to four decades, LaValle is a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.
Stony Brook officials appreciated LaValle’s work on their behalf and suggested that he played a seminal role in keeping their ongoing relationship with Southampton Hospital on track.
“It took perseverance to continue to push the Southampton relationship with Stony Brook through,” said Reuven Pasternak, the CEO of Stony Brook University Hospital. “He was absolutely critical in keeping those discussions going and seeing them to fruition.”
Pasternak said LaValle also facilitated a connection with Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.
The senator has been “a big supporter” of that relationship, Pasternak said. “He’s always made himself available to speak to people in Albany.”
LaValle was instrumental in the building of the new Medicine and Research Translation building, a 240,000-square foot facility that is expected to be completed in 2016. Kenneth Kaushansky, the dean of the School of Medicine and the senior vice president of health sciences, said LaValle helped secure critical state financing.
LaValle identified $45 million that was earmarked for a law school at Stony Brook that was never built that he “was able get reallocated,” Kaushansky said. “The state support for MART was hugely dependent on the senator.”
Kaushansky said he and LaValle have regular discussions about any potential issues that arise.
If things aren’t proceeding the way the university would like, LaValle “always volunteers to help put them back on track.”
State Assemblyman Steve Englebright said LaValle deserves recognition for his work on behalf of Stony Brook and all the area hospitals.
“He is firmly supportive of Stony Brook’s role and mission, as well as for all the hospitals in our community,” Englebright (D-Setauket) said.
LaValle suggested his role as chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher Education gives him an opportunity to advocate on behalf of the SBU medical school. His chairmanship provides “a vehicle to be able to work with other people in the state university system and within state agencies,” he said.
The approximately 129 students in each medical school class contribute to area health care while they pursue their education, LaValle said.
“That is one of the very first helping points for the university,” LaValle said. “It’s being able to fulfill the education of their medical students. There are also people doing their clinical work and residencies.”
LaValle is contributing to Stony Brook’s effort to secure a longer-term connection with Mather. He cited numerous such two-way benefits for a potential longer-term alliance.
Stony Brook can provide services that “will save Mather a lot of money,” LaValle said.
For patients of the two hospitals, the quality and convenience are also a winning combination.
“If someone needs cardiac care, it is a hop, skip and a jump to get that care,” LaValle said. “They don’t have to be helicoptered some place or drive a long time distance.”
Kaushansky appreciated the support from the senator.
“He’s doing everything he can,” Kaushansky said. LaValle has “been a strong proponent of getting us and Mather to work together for the benefit” of the patient population in the area.
Kaushansky cited several other benefits to Mather of an ongoing and deeper connection with Stony Brook, including support for Mather’s stroke center with back-up cerebral artery intervention, and support for their radiology department.
While a deeper connection with Mather would be mutually beneficial for the hospitals, LaValle suggested, it would also create an important level of convenience for patients.
“I have started with the premise that patient care closest to home is the best care for the patient,” LaValle said. “The families can interact and it’s convenient. We are focused in a way to ensure that the quality of health care is at its maximum.”
From the leaders through the rank and file, Stony Brook health care professionals appreciate LaValle’s support.
“If anybody were to ask a person working in the dialysis unit, ‘Of all the politicians in the state of New York, who do you think is the strongest advocate for Stony Brook Medical School and Stony Brook University Hospital?’ most of them would say Ken LaValle,” said Kaushansky.
Pasternak, who considers LaValle a friend, called him sincere in his beliefs.
“It’s not the politics that drives him,” Pasternak said. “It’s his passion for the region and the people in the region.”