While no one questioned the need for Peconic Bay Medical Center’s proposed hospital annex in the parking lot of Bob’s Discount Furniture on Route 58, the location drew some concerns at a public hearing before the Riverhead Town Planning Board Thursday night.
The plans call for construction of a 3,500 square foot building in the southeast corner of the Gateway Plaza, which is the name of the shopping center with Walmart and Bob’s Discount Furniture. PBMC also indicated it plans a possible future expansion of nearly 2,000 square feet in the future.
The goal is to eventually have non-emergency patients come to this site, and not to the emergency room, as currently happens, officials said.
“I don’t think anyone would disagree that hospital emergency rooms are being used as walk-in clinics by people that don’t have insurance,” said Kimberly Judd, the attorney for PBMC. The proposed annex would free up the emergency room for emergencies, she said.
“Our emergency room is at capacity and if you go there, particularly on the weekends, or in the evenings when any of the typical urgent care centers are closed, you can’t get in,” said PBMC board president Sherry Patterson.
“The beds are in the halls, parking is at a maximum; there’s just nowhere else to go. If you want your community hospital to continue to serve you the best way they can, this is something that we really truly need. It’s something the community really truly needs.”
Ron McManus, PBMC’s senior vice president, said the ER wait time can run as long as 6 to 9 hours because of the large volume of visitors — about 38,000 visits per year.
He said about 38 percent of the patients who go to emergency department can be seen at a lower level of care, which is what is being proposed by the annex.
Planning Board member Stan Carey said no one doubts the need for the facility, but he questioned the location.
“On my way here today at about 2 p.m., it took about 17 minutes to get past that location,” Mr. Carey said. “Traffic was backed up without an emergency facility there.”
If an ambulance were trying to take an emergency patient to the hospital’s main campus, he asked, “how would they get out of there? The cars were blocked up in the intersection. You couldn’t move. They were actually blocking the green light.”
Mr. McManus said that while there will be an ambulance on site at the annex, the frequency of times when an ambulance will need to transport a patient from the annex to the main campus is expected to be rare.
Patients who go to the emergency room with non-emergency situations will be seen there, but PBMC expects that eventually, people will learn to go to the annex with non-emergency cases.
Planning Board member Lyle Wells and resident Richard Luzzi also questioned the location.
“We have Kroemer Avenue that’s starting to grow and yet we have a dysfunctional light system,” Mr. Wells said.
“I don’t think that spot can support another building,” Mr. Luzzi said, adding that the number of cars going to that shopping center has been increasing.
“The design of that whole shopping center needs a lot of work,” he said.
Residents Ken LeBohner and Howard Young both voiced support for PBMC.
“It’s a wonderful care facility and I would trust them with my life, and have,” Mr. Young said.
As for the location, Ms. Patterson said hospital officials looked at every vacant building and property in town and chose this one because of its location near the Long Island Expressway.
“One of the things we didn’t want to do is locate it deep into the heart of Route 58, where it would be drawing traffic from the LIE into town,” she said.
In addition, anything east of Northville Turnpike can’t be considered because it would not be within the town sewer district, and hospital buildings, by law, are required to have separate heating, ventilation and air condition systems from other buildings, she said.
The hospital’s service area is about 400 square miles and ranges from east of the William Floyd Parkway, the entire North Fork, and the South Fork from Hampton Bays west, Mr. McManus said.
Ms. Judd said that if another retail store were proposed in this location, the traffic generation would be greater. Traffic counts show that the peak hours for retail is in the late afternoon and at night, whereas the peak for PBMC’s new Manorville campus — similar to what is proposed on Route 58 — is in the morning, she said.
The Planning Board closed the public hearing but did not rule on the application.