Availability of physicians at the Shelter Island Medical Center has been “a chronic issue,” Councilman Paul Shepherd told his colleagues at the March 12 Town Board work session.
Supervisor Gary Gerth has devoted as much time and effort to the problem as he has on any single issue, he said, since taking the helm at Town Hall a year ago.
But the lack of year-round coverage continues to plague the town and particularly affects senior residents, many of whom find it difficult to go off-Island for treatment.
The relationship between Dr. Peter Kelt and Winthrop-University Hospital has come to an end, Mr. Gerth said. A lease agreement with Winthrop Hospital to operate the office at the Medical Center on South Ferry Road has been in place for a number of years.
Dr. Kelt would like to continue to practice at the Medical Center, but the hours he can give don’t match the agreement the town had with Winthrop to provide enhanced coverage.
The agreement provided that Dr. Kelt’s office would have two doctors and a physician’s assistant available, according to plans outlined in April 2018. Promises were made, but ultimately, Winthrop failed to understand its contract to provide service was with the town, not Dr. Kelt, Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. said.
Councilman Jim Colligan said after an agreement seemed worked out last year, Winthrop had invested a lot of money in automating communication systems so records could be more easily shared.
But this month, Dr. Kelt was notified by Winthrop that it was no longer going to continue the relationship.
In recent months, Mr. Gerth has talked about a likelihood of Dr. Nathanael Desire, who operates the other office at the Medical Center, and Dr. Jay Slotkin from the North Fork, forming an alliance to staff that office better.
Now he said an effort is underway for Stony Brook Hospital, which has an alliance with both Eastern Long Island Hospital and Southampton Hospital, to provide coverage on Shelter Island.
Dr. Desire has also taken an assignment with Peconic Landing in Greenport to offer treatment for patients there.
Whether he still plans to maintain the Shelter Island office and whether Dr. Slotkin is still in the picture is unclear.
Mr. Gerth said he wants to get a commitment from doctors or a group to staff the Medical Building on a steady basis.
Mr. Colligan called it a challenge to get enough patients in the off season for a doctor to make a commitment. He lamented that, with two doctors currently operating offices on the Island, there’s not close communication between them about staffing.