A new facility at Peconic Bay Medical Center Health’s Manorville campus is working to provide comprehensive care and educational materials to locals who have been bitten by deer ticks or already have Lyme disease.
The Tick-Related Disease Center, which opened its office in May at the Gertrude & Luis Feil Campus for Ambulatory Care on County Road 111, was launched in response to the increasing incidence of tick-borne illness on the North Fork — something that is driven largely by the East End’s difficulty in managing its deer overpopulation.
“Ticks are endemic in our area,” said PBMC rheumatologist Dr. Jenny Cabas-Vargas, adding that she sees an average of four patients a day at the new center. “It was felt that patients needed a site where they could have the care needed for [tick-related] disorders and for education purposes, too.”
At the facility, located inside the urgent care building, “all spectrums of patients are seen,” Dr. Cabas-Vargas said, including those who need ticks removed, current Lyme disease patients and anyone needing follow-up care. Dr. George Ruggiero, PBMC’s chief of family medicine, also treats patients there.
“We can do all the bloodwork and testing [for Lyme disease],” Dr. Cabas-Vargas said. “It’s then sent to the lab. Depending on the patient’s needs — if they need a consultation with neurology or, if it’s a more complex case, an infectious disease doctor — we have the ability to coordinate that as well.”
The Tick-Related Disease Center also receives educational support from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead, which provides the facility with brochures for patients that cover subjects like Lyme disease symptoms and how to identify different types of ticks.
Last month, PBMC’s annual Health Golf Classic raised nearly $250,000 to benefit the center. That money will go toward additional promotional and educational materials and, potentially, recruiting more doctors for the facility, Dr. Cabas-Vargas said.
“I think we see that down the line there’s going to be a need for more providers, so that may cover some of that cost,” she said.
Last year, the Suffolk County Legislature launched a tick control advisory committee to develop a plan to combat the growing presence of tick-borne disease. In June, Southold Town began to recruit people for a more localized version of that committee.
“I would call it a full-fledged public health crisis or emergency,” county committee member John Rasweiler of Cutchogue told The Suffolk Times last month.