PBMC planning $60 million trauma care tower expansion


Peconic Bay Medical Center is putting the finishing touches on a plan to build a three-story “critical care tower” on its property, doubling the size of its emergency room and adding a helipad to the roof, according to hospital president and CEO Andy Mitchell.

“We have always had a vision for this institution, because of its geography and the growth that’s occurred in this primary service area along with the density of zoning and therefore the population, to make this hospital a true regional medical center,” Mr. Mitchell said. “The reality is the population is largely an elderly population that has significant medical needs and this region needs a true regional medical center.”

The project — which could cost up to $60 million — would make PBMC the first licensed trauma center on the North Fork and would be among the most costly projects at the Riverhead hospital in its history, he said.

Under the current plans, the hospital would build a three-story extension over the existing emergency room. The new emergency room would add four updated trauma bays to the hospital’s existing bays with upgraded equipment and connections to the larger Northwell Health network, allowing 24/7 monitoring of patients’ conditions.

“It’s the whole nine yards,” Mr. Mitchell said. “The stuff you see on TV.”

A new intensive care unit would be built one story up with “state-of-the-art” equipment, he said.

“If you’re dealing with really sick patients that come in with trauma they need to go to an ICU that has the most modern system capabilities,” he said. A 17,850-square-foot cardiac catheter care center would occupy the third floor. That cardiac center, long pursued by the hospital, would be the first on the East End.

Atop the new structure would be a Federal Aviation Administration-approved helipad capable of landing Suffolk County, Coast Guard and Northwell Health helicopters.

The hospital can obtain certification through the American College of Surgeons as a Level 3 trauma center, and possibly aim for Level 2 certification, the second-highest available, Mr. Mitchell said. The American College of Surgeons standard for a trauma center is higher than the state’s standards, which will soon be replaced, he added.

“If you’re going to develop a trauma center for the region you have to go with the most stringent standards from the start,” Mr. Mitchell said.

Stony Brook University Hospital, where many seriously injured patients are currently airlifted, is a Level 1 center.

If the expansion is completed, Mr. Mitchell said patients who need care for traumatic conditions could be taken to PBMC, stabilized and then airlifted to a Level 1 trauma center within the Northwell network of hospitals.

Mr. Mitchell hopes to begin groundbreaking on the project in September and have the three-story tower completed within 18 months. Construction could begin quickly because the hospital wouldn’t need to replace the existing foundation, which could handle the weight of the added floors, he said.

“It’s a very aggressive timeline,” Mr. Mitchell said.

The plans for a regional trauma center have been in the works for months, before the Northwell Health merger.

But Mr. Mitchell said the hospital’s recent partnership as part of the Northwell Health network of hospitals has paid dividends.

Since January, the hospital has been a part of the Northwell Trauma Institute, meeting every two weeks with a consortium of administrators and doctors who are guiding PBMC through the process of setting up its own trauma center.

In addition to sharing best practices, technology and equipment with PBMC, Northwell will also help to cover some of the construction costs, Mr. Mitchell said; the hospital will be launching a capital fundraising project in the future to pay for some of the remaining construction costs.

Since joining Northwell, PBMC hired two orthopedic trauma surgeons as well as an additional general trauma surgeon.

“We’re still examining exactly what we need,” Mr. Mitchell said.

The plans were announced just days after Southampton Hospital received its own state designation as a Level 3 trauma center, the first on the East End.

“It’s all about what it is for the community,” said Katrin Diana, a registered nurse and the hospitals trauma center coordinator. “We’re providing a service for the community that was really lacking.”

Southampton Hospital has been exploring a trauma center addition for years, Ms. Diana said. The hospital currently has two trauma rooms available, though it has no reserved helipad, she said.

But that trauma center may be too far for some ambulance crews on the North Fork. Peggy Killian, chief of the Southold Fire Department and an emergency medical technician, said medical teams now airlift patients to Stony Brook since that’s the fastest and highest quality care option.

Ms. Killian said EMTs have about one hour — nicknamed the “golden hour” — to get seriously injured or ill patients to a hospital for care. An airlift to Stony Brook takes about 40 minutes, she said; a trip to Southampton by ambulance would be more than an hour.

“It would probably take us longer to take someone to Southampton rather that Stony Brook,” Ms. Killian said. “If the helicopter is not flying and they’re serious enough, Peconic Bay [Medical Center] is closer. You want to get them to a place that at least has a 24-hour neonatal operating room.”

Mr. Mitchell praised Southampton’s efforts to become a trauma center, but said PBMC was looking beyond that to offer an all-around solution to intensive care.

“Our approach is on a much larger scale than just a Level 3 trauma center,” he said.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter could not be immediately reached for comment.

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