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Community gathers at Northport Middle School for 'sickout' . Photo by Donna Deddy

On the sidewalk in front of the Northport Middle School on Thursday, Nov. 7, protesters held up signs as the morning traffic passed by.

“Answers Required,” their posters and T-shirts read.

As people shared their personal stories with reporters, it became evident that something is awry with many community members clearly lacking a peace of mind. 

As the district attempts to address all of the concerns, it’s still unclear who or what government agencies or which experts will give them all the answers to all the questions that they are looking for. The district, town, county and state all have different areas of expertise and have also contacted outside authorities.

“My son was diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 20,” said Lawrence Belk. “Within 18 months of his diagnosis in 2009, we learned that two other students were also diagnosed with the disease.”

Belk also said that he has coached soccer and “half of the kids use nebulizers.”

The district reports that the school’s air quality tests normal.

Several parents during the sickout said that their child has been diagnosed with carboxyhemoglobin, an ailment caused by carbon monoxide exposure from auto exhaust and cigarette smoke exposure. 

Small amounts of carbon monoxide exposure can dramatically reduce the blood’s ability to transport oxygen, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Common conditions induced by carbon monoxide exposure include headaches, nausea, rapid breathing, weakness, exhaustion and confusion. 

The district uses the site as its bus depot and stores bus fuel in two underground 4,000-gallon diesel tanks, according to former board member Tammie Topel. Inspection information on the tanks are the responsibility of Suffolk County, according the New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation press officer.

The county’s report on the tanks were unavailable before press time. The district did not say if the building is constantly monitored for carbon monoxide.

Several parents with children with carboxyhemoglobin said that their requests to be relocated for health reasons were denied because the districts air tests did not detect unsafe carbon monoxide levels.

 “Brown water came out of the water fountain,” said student Lucas Yule. 

The district said the discoloration was caused by an iron buildup. Yule’s mother Tracy Muno said that the school sent home a letter explaining that it was flushing out its drinking water pipes.

Yule also attended classes in the K wing, where foul odors were most recently reported. 

“It smelled like puke,” he said.

Other people complained that the building smells like mold the minute you walk in the front door. The hallways in the school are known to flood. 

A letter dated Aug. 17, 2018, from New York State to the district superintendent has identified the chemical pesticide chlordane, which was banned 30 years ago, around the buildings perimeter. The state concluded, based on information from 2000, that it did not adversely impact air quality inside the school. Though two dust samples on windowsills in classrooms detected it in “low levels,” subsequent cleanings eliminated the chemical found on the windowsill. 

As previously reported [“Northport Families Plan ‘Sickout’ in Protest,” The Times of Huntington, Nov. 7], parents have identified 18 children diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma and aplastic anemia in the last 10 years. Former teachers have surveyed former staff and found 33 with cancer. 

A state public health assessment on the Northport Middle School was requested by Assemblyman Raia.  State health officials could only confirm that a study requested in spring of 2019, is being conducted on recent Northport High School graduates. The health department also stated in an email that community members are welcome to contact the Department at 518-473-7817, or via email at canmap@health.state.ny.us to discuss their concerns and provide detailed information.

The district said that it understands how issues surrounding environmental matters are unsettling. Since all testing has indicated that the building is safe, the district said in a letter to parents that its subcommittee will address the more important task of bringing people together. 

The district did not return phone calls and email inquiries about hallways flooding and the relocation of the districts bus depot.

 

County officials and environmental activists look at designs for new water system at the Vanderbilt Museum.

Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum has installed two innovative systems for processing wastewater that significantly reduce the harmful impact of nitrogen pollution in the Northport Bay. The new technology builds on the county’s efforts to address excess nitrogen from wastewater leaching into local waters, which once the epicenter of the region’s red tide. 

New water system at the Vanderbilt museum.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and county Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) announced the installations at an Oct. 30 press event at the museum. 

“The science is clear and the solution has been established,” Bellone said. 

He noted that it is necessary to replace outdated technologies that do not reduce nitrogen pollution with new technologies that do.

“We have a $6.1 billion tourism economy that is underpinned by water,” Bellone added. “With strong support from academia, business leaders and the environmental community, our region is no longer kicking the can down the road, but is taking aggressive action to reverse the water quality crisis to better protect our waterways for future generations.”

More than 115,000 people visit the park each year and the upgrade will benefit local waterways by reducing nitrogen discharge at the site by approximately 164 pounds annually. 

To date, the county has installed advanced wastewater treatment systems at Lake Ronkonkoma and Meschutt Beach, and is currently in the process of installing 13 additional systems at other parks. 

The major contributor to water quality issues, Spencer said, is nitrogen discharges from more than 360,000 antiquated cesspools in Suffolk. 

“I am so pleased to see this technology brought to our county parks, specifically the Vanderbilt Museum, which sits directly beside a water body that we have worked so hard to restore,” Spencer added. He said upgrades to Northport’s sewage treatment plant resulted in a massive reduction in nitrogen discharge, and produced tangible benefits including the absence of red tide and the reopening of a permanently closed Centerport beach.

The investment at Vanderbilt is expected to progress, improve and protect the region’s natural resources, Spencer added. 

Officials also announced at the press event that during the month of October alone, more than 100 residents have applied for grants through the county’s septic improvement program, and that next year the county plans to install 1,200 nitrogen-reducing wastewater treatment systems, doubling the amount currently installed. 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, applauded the progress and collaborative efforts of everyone involved. 

“This is what change looks like, one installation at a time,” she said. “Good science, good advocacy and good elected officials give us good policy, and fortunately that’s what we have seen on the water quality issue in Suffolk County.”  

The installation of the new systems is part of the county’s Reclaim Our Water initiative, which seeks to reduce nitrogen pollution of surface and groundwaters. 

Homeowners outside of a sewer district are encouraged to apply for grant funding and low interest loans to assist in paying to upgrade to an innovative system. Visit www.reclaimourwater.info to find out more.

Researchers regularly gather at the Banbury Center at Cold Spring Harbor to share ideas about to counteract Lyme Disease.

Lyme disease, the increasingly common tick-borne disease, may soon be preventable. 

Experts from academia, government and industry have been discussing at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Banbury Center the benefits and scientific feasibility of developing a vaccine that would essentially stop the infection in humans. 

The highlights of those discussions are summarized in a new study published Oct. 17 in Clinical Infectious Disease. Its conclusion: 

“We are now positioned at a crossroad where advanced technologies allow for application of new genetic strategies for immunizations, possible identification of new immunogens, and repurpose of proven vaccine candidates not only for humans but also for domestic animals and environmental reservoirs.” 

In laymen’s terms: New techniques are there, it’s creating a lot of excitement and there’s hope. 

The study is the culmination of more than 3 years of meetings held at the lab, where the most promising strategies for counteracting the infection were discussed. 

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. Traditionally, vaccines have been used to treat infectious diseases and rely on human antibodies to attack the germ. One of the new vaccines, which might be used in combination with traditional techniques, actually impacts the tick.

“What was discovered several years ago, to everyone’s surprise, a Lyme vaccine worked inside the tick itself and inactivated the Lyme bacteria. Newer vaccines are being designed to disrupt the mechanism for transmission of the Lyme bacteria from tick to human,” said Dr. Steven Schutzer, one of the study’s lead authors. 

Researchers cannot speculate when the vaccines will become publicly available, but they said they feel encouraged that they are in the pipeline with some trials underway.

Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, such as doxycycline, and is most successfully eradicated with early diagnosis. The only preventative measure to date, the researchers note, is to simply avoid tick bites. That strategy, though, has been ineffective at stopping the disease’s prevalence. Each year, more than 300,000 people are diagnosed with the disease. In Suffolk County, 600 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease, the highest rate in New York State. 

Lyme disease symptoms include fever, fatigue and headache, symptoms that often mimic other illnesses. It is often diagnosed by its characteristic bullseye skin rash, but not all cases present with a rash. Left untreated, the disease can infect the joints, heart and nervous system. Some people suffer from a post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome and have trouble thinking six months after they finish treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Former Suffolk County Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher was recently diagnosed with meningitis, induced she said, by a severe case of Lyme disease. After hearing other people’s stories about how Lyme disease can cause major illnesses, even a heart attack, she said a vaccine would be welcomed. 

During the Cold Spring Harbor meetings, a recognition emerged among participants that an effective vaccine was an important public health tool and the best path to follow to counteract the disease. 

Schutzer emphasized, though, that getting vaccinated for Lyme disease, a noncontagious disease, would be a personal choice, rather than a public health mandate. 

“When the pathogen is highly contagious, vaccines are most effective when a large population is vaccinated, creating herd immunity, and leading to the protection of the individual and of the community,” the researchers state in the study. “A vaccine directed against the causative agent B. burgdorferi, or against the tick vector that transmits this bacterium, will only protect the vaccinated person; thus, in this case, herd immunity does not apply toward protection of the community.” 

Stony Brook University researcher Jorge Benach participated in the meetings and noted Lyme vaccines are currently available for dogs but not appropriate for humans. 

“There’s clearly a need,” he said. “A lot of things need to be considered before an approval of a vaccine.”

One of those factors: 25 percent of ticks carrying the Lyme bacterium also carry other infectious organisms. 

Both researchers said they valued the rare opportunity to commingle, discuss and share expertise about a certain aspect of science under one roof during the Banbury Center’s meetings on Lyme disease.  

Dr. Rebecca Leshan, executive director of the Banbury Center at Cold Spring Harbor Lab, is proud that the meetings can impact the wider community. 

“I can’t overemphasize the importance of the small meetings convened at the Banbury Center of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory,” she said. “They provide a truly unique opportunity for experts to engage with counterparts they may never otherwise meet and stimulate new ideas and strategies. And the beautiful Lloyd Harbor setting may provide a bit of extra inspiration for all those who participate.”

The first meetings of the group resulted in improved diagnostics that has already had major effects, with FDA approval of a number of tests. Outcomes from the most recent meetings, she said, continue to set the right course of action. 

Community gathers at Northport Middle School for 'sickout' . Photo by Donna Deddy

November 7 should have been a normal school day at Northport Middle School, according to a letter that the district sent out to its families on Tuesday. However, community members organized a protest called a “sickout” Thursday morning because of ongoing concerns that date back decades with air quality issues in the building.

Most recently, a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system installed in 2018 is being blamed for causing what the district calls “unpleasant odors” in certain wings of the building. That situation, the district states, has been addressed. After inspections, it found no visible cause for the problem. It has attributed the odor to heating elements being used for the first time and debris captured in drip plates on the building’s roof. No evidence of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, airborne particulates or mold was found in its air sampling, the district said.

However, children were complaining of “dead animal smells” that caused headaches, coughing and vomiting, and after decades of ongoing health concerns, parents, retired teachers and other community members are calling for stronger action.

“The building needs to be closed,” Tara Mackey said.  “No question about it.”

“The building needs to be closed, no question about it” 

– Tara Mackey

Her child’s blood work, she said, identified a clear pattern of carbon monoxide exposure that spiked during school sessions and cleared during school vacations. The family ultimately moved last June in response to the concern after what she calls a two-and-a-half-year ordeal.

More than 600 students attend Northport Middle School on Middleville Road. The district did not respond to repeated requests for information on the number of students that have fallen ill from the latest air quality concerns at the school. People interviewed for this report and state on Facebook that their children in the past have suffered with nose bleeds, chronic coughs to the point of vomiting, asthma and headaches.

Parents, who have conducted their own informal study, have identified 18 students who were diagnosed over the last 10 years with leukemia, lymphoma and aplastic anemia, all rare diseases often caused by environmental exposures. Four children, they say, have died. 

New York State Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) has asked the New York State Department of Health to conduct a longitudinal study in response to the concerns in a Nov. 1 letter. Earlier this year, lawmakers requested studies, when they learned that five recent Northport High School graduates from the same graduating class were diagnosed with blood cancers. That study is ongoing.

Northport Middle School renovated wings of its school in 2018 to address ongoing air quality issues. Photo from Northport-East Northport School District

“We are continuing our review of cancers reportedly developed among former students of the Northport-East Northport Union Free School District,” said Erin Hammond, press officer for the state health department. “We look forward to sharing our findings with the community in early 2020. Any further investigation will depend on the findings of the ongoing review. Again, genetics, lifestyle choices and environmental exposure histories are all potential contributing factors for cancer and are taken into consideration in incidence investigations.”

Former teachers have also reportedly fallen ill. John Kobel said that he has skin cancer, prostate cancer, heavy metal contamination and occupationally induced respiratory disease after working in the science classroom in the middle school, where he said chemicals were improperly stored in a closet cesspool. The sinks’ drains, he said, also lacked traps as code dictates. The former teacher surveyed about 200 to 300 staff members and learned that 33 former teachers also have cancer.

Government officials have said in telephone interviews that they want to avoid public hysteria.

But the lack of adequate oversight has been a concern. Some people say that there is a cover-up. They say that district officials have not completed shallow and deep soil and groundwater testing on-site or published copies of the inspection reports for two 4,000-gallon underground storage tanks that store the diesel fuel for the districts buses, which refuel at the same location. They also wonder, when prompted, why the district decided against comparing the reasons for health office visits at the district’s two middle schools. They worry about underground plumes and exhaust from idling buses at the district depot on-site. There’s also been concerns about mold in the building. 

The site is also roughly two miles from the Covanta plant, a facility that burns 750 tons per day of municipal waste from residential, commercial and industrial sources. The facility, which began operations in 1991, also incinerates the combustible portion of construction and demolition (C&D) debris, light industrial waste, shredded tires, sewage treatment plant sludge and other nonhazardous industrial waste streams on-site as approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on a case by case basis. 

Covanta Huntington, also known as the Huntington Resource Recovery Plant, is a major source of air emissions in the region and is considered among the largest in New York. The region’s air quality for oxides of nitrogen and VOCs exceed safe standards, which causes asthma and other respiratory ailments. But the facility’s emissions are within all permissible limits set for the plant by the DEC. 

“It’s just not possible for Covanta to be a factor,”  James Regan, media relations director. “Other schools, the Fifth Avenue School, Bellerose Avenue and Commack Union Free Schools are also close by, and they have no odor complaints there.”

Prevailing winds, Regan also said, blow its emissions in different directions. The company, he said, will gladly host a site tour to show community members how the facility works and cannot possibly be the cause.

The Suffolk County Department of Health states that schools fall under the state’s jurisdiction. The state department of health states that “local school districts are responsible for monitoring air quality in its schools.” The state health department added that it’s available for technical assistance, if requested.

Through its public relations firm, the district states that it has reached out to the state for assistance. 

In the past year, the school has changed its refueling schedule for buses on site, renovated wings of the school, removed hazardous material stored on-site below classrooms and installed new ventilation equipment, among other actions taken.

The district stated in its Nov. 4 letter that the school board will discuss and approve more testing and form a committee to further review the situation at its Nov. 7 board meeting. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at W.J. Brosnan School, 158 Laurel Ave., Northport.

The district has documented the actions it’s taken and its correspondence with the public and teachers union on its website. 

The Facebook page Close Northport Middle School Long Island, New York states that more than 50 people signed up to attend the “sickout.” They are calling on kids to wear blue to school, if they plan on attending classes to support the cause. 

David Luces contributed to this story. 

 

 

It’s status quo in Huntington. Voters reelected incumbents to fill seats in the county Legislature and town council.

Andrew Raia and his mother Jo-Ann Raia watch the election night returns. He took more than 57 percent of the vote for town clerk. Photo by. Donna Deedy

The popularity of Joan Cergol (D) shined through on election night, maintaining a clear voter count lead as district results were reported. Eugene Cook (R) eventually took back his seat for town council, but early on election night it looked as if challengers Kathleen Cleary (D) or Andrea Sorrentino (R) might unseat him.

“It’s been quite a journey,” Sorrentino said. “I’m just a guy off the street who decided to run and became a strong contender in this election.”

In the end, Republicans maintain control of the town council with the same people representing citizens. And with Steve Bellone (D) cinching the county executive for a third term, it’s government as usual until the next election cycle.

The big change in Huntington: Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia, who served for 40 years, passes the baton to her son Andrew (R-East Northport), a state Assemblyman for 17 years. He stays in state office until Dec. 31 and assumes his role as town clerk Jan. 1. “I’ll be working two jobs for the rest of the year,” he said. “The first thing I’ll do is help my mother clear off her desk.”

He expects to leave state government with impact. On Nov. 1, he requested that the state Department of Health conduct a longitudinal study for the Northport Middle School, where students, teachers and staff have reported for decades poor air quality, enough to make people seriously ill. Some people blame the building for the school community’s high cancer rates and other rare illnesses.

Raia’s vacant state Assembly seat could trigger a special election. The process, Raia said, doesn’t require a primary. The governor, Andrew Cuomo (D), however, may opt to skip on a special election, since 2020 is an election year. The governor has 77 days from Jan. 1 to decide, according to Raia. 

David Luces, Rita J. Egan, Leah Chiappino and Donna Deedy all contributed reporting.

Students holding buttons at voter registration

 

Vote Leslie Kennedy for County Seat District 12

We support Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) for county District 12. Kennedy had a few facts completely wrong with regard to Suffolk County’s new clean water initiatives. We urge her to be more careful with her criticisms about the cesspool and sewer replacement program. This program is essential, and it serves no good purpose to misinform a public. Margot Rosenthal, Kennedy’s opponent, may in fact be a good candidate. However, we were unable to connect with her. Elected officials need to be responsive to their constituents. That means returning phone calls from news outlets that aim to better inform the electorate.

Vote for Trotta for County Seat District 13

We strongly endorse Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) for county District 13. Jan Singer is a competent candidate. But Trotta’s background with the county’s Police Department provides incredible insight into the system. He’s a true watchdog and government agencies better serve the public when people speak out about corruption and wrongdoing. Trotta is running for office for the right reasons and we wish him luck and support in addressing the budget concerns.

Vote Berland for County Seat District 16

We urge voters to Re-elect Berland to the county legislature. For Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District, we believe that incumbent Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) is still the best choice to sit on the county legislature for the next two years. Her experience and record speaks for itself and she has the community knowledge needed for the job. 

She will be facing tough challenges with the future of the red-light program, it will be up to her and her other constituents to fix the problems of the program and alleviate concerns from the public who remain skeptical. 

On other issues like affordable housing and public safety, Berland’s time on the Huntington town council will prove to be important as she has shown an understanding of resident’s concerns in the past while supporting smart fiscal practices, pushing for more affordable housing projects, economic development and increased resources given to schools. 

To tackle the MS-13 situation, Berland will need to continue to work with community leaders, residents and the SCPD. 

While we admire Hector Gavilla’s passion for his district and the issues it faces, he unfortunately falls short on experience. Though the Republican candidate brought up some interesting ideas, they just aren’t fleshed out enough. It’s clear that Gavilla has become a community leader in his district and we encourage him to continue being in tune with residents’ concerns. Also, we encourage Gavilla to work with Berland.  It could lead to alot of positive things down the line. 

Re-Elect Spencer for District 18

Please re-elect Doc Spencer to a fourth-term. 

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) has served the people of the 18th Legislative District well for the last seven years. 

The legislator’s background as a licensed physician has given him knowledge and experience to help in some of the county’s pressing issues like underage tobacco use and opioids. His record shows that he is committed to tackling numerous environmental and health issues that residents face, especially with the vaping situation. 

Spencer has demonstrated a good understanding of numerous topics and acts as a vital voice on the Suffolk County Legislature. 

We believe that Spencer is still the right man for the job. 

For Town Council Elect Cleary and Re-Elect Cergol

We urge you to re-elect Joan Cergol and elect Kathleen Cleary. Cergol has an impressive grasp of the issues in the Town of Huntington.  Residents are fortunate to have a hard-working and dedicated person representing them on the Town Council.  After serving only one year, before running for re-election, she cleary deserves to be re-elected.  She gets things done, is articulate and responsive to constituents. 

Kathleen Cleary brings similar enthusiasm to job.  It’s a tough choice between Cleary and incumbent Cook, who has been behind bold initiatives.  But Cleary’s unique background in business and horticulture offers the town fresh approaches to water quality problems.  

Andrea Sorrentino is a special candidate, who should stay active in the community.  His idea on creating more apprenticeships in the town needs to be embraced.  He’s a true community and family oriented person, qualities that people value. 

Vote for Shirley for Smithtown Town Council

Two seats are open for the Smithtown town council. We support Patricia Shirley (L) for a seat as council member. Shirley has noticed that the town’s board meetings could be more open and transparent. The current system allows citizens the right to address the board with little or no dialogue following the concerns raised. Decisions often appear to be discussed outside of public view. Other challengers to the incumbent candidate also call for more transparency and public engagement. We agree. 

Reelect Lohmann for Town Council

We recommend reelecting Tom Lohmann (R) to Smithtown town council. Lohmann is committed to getting work done, full time. Though we wish he would take on a more receptive and less dismissive tone, we feel that he has sleeves rolled up and now has the background needed to complete tasks like the sewer projects. Since other challengers to the town council are requesting more transparency and better engagement with the community, the current town council likely is getting the message. When elected officials personally commit to accountability, the community benefits.

 

Community gathers at the Old First Church in Huntington to celebrate those who have conquered addiction and remembering those who have been lost.

The Town of Huntington Opioid and Addiction Task Force invited residents to join a special program Oct. 28 at the Old First Presbyterian Church in Huntington celebrating those who have conquered addiction and remembering those who have been lost.

 The program, “A Recovery Event: Celebrating Hope in Huntington,” featured first-hand accounts from those who have conquered addiction, information about local prevention, treatment and recovery programs, and a stirring performance by the Old First Church Sanctuary Choir.  Sharon Richmond shared her story about her son Vincent.  The ceremony was dedicated to his honor. (See page A5 for her story.)

 “Huntington, like every other community in America, has been hit hard by the opioid crisis,” said Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), who sponsored the program with the task force. “We created this event to show that there is a cause for hope and that in fact that there are thousands of local residents who have found a path to recovery,”

The event drew more than 100 people to the Old First Church. A highlight of the evening was a candlelight circle to celebrate, honor and remember those who were lost as a result of their addiction.

Created by a town board resolution in December 2017, the Opioid and Addiction Task Force includes local health care professionals, educators and community leaders. It works to unify, support and strengthen prevention, treatment and recovery efforts within the town. Its goals include reducing the incidence of substance abuse, promoting timely access to care for consumers and their families, creating environments conducive to recovery and reducing the stigma associated with substance use disorders.

“Many of our families have been greatly affected — their lives changed forever after losing a loved one to addiction,” Cuthbertson said. “We know that substance abuse is preventable, addiction is treatable and recovery works.”

The town is hanging resource information posters around town.

“Somebody is waiting for you to come to them,” said Stephen Donnelly, who has sponsored different opioid services in the past. He encourages people to ask people impacted:  “How can I help you?”

For Treatment Referral List contact the 24/7 hotline 631-979-1700. Help is a phone call away.

Photo by Donna Deedy 

Sharon Richmond poses with her son Vincent D'Antoni in Battery Park on Mother’s Day 2016. “One day society will look back at this time period and think what a terrible atrocity we allowed to happen to our most vulnerable children,“ Richmond said. Photo by Sharon Richmond

I am educator, an advocate and most importantly a parent who lost her only child to the disease of addiction. Unfortunately, I know I am not alone. The truth is: I stand with more than 72,000 other parents who grieve the loss of their child to an overdose. 

When I speak publicly about addiction issues and look out at people, I see a small piece of me. When I look at your child, I see the beautiful potential of what could have been my child. If only mental health and the disease of addiction had the same basic human right to health care as other illnesses. I hope that by sharing my son’s story, I can create a future where all people are treated equally, no matter their ability or disability. 

My son Vincent was sensitive, kind, funny and insightful. He was popular, played almost every sport, and his teachers always said he brought conversations to the next level and stood up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I will always stand tall and be proud of the person my son was. 

The one thing that most people never knew was that, no matter how hard he tried, Vincent still battled with serious mental health issues: ADHD, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), anxiety and low self-esteem, which eventually led to a deep depression. Even though Vincent had a family that absolutely adored him and everyone he met thought he was handsome, smart and funny, Vincent … never saw himself that way. Children need to be taught how to communicate and be given a variety of strategies to cope in today’s world. We have to work together. It needs to be at the family, school and community level. 

Vincent started smoking marijuana in high school. Toward the end of my son’s life, he shared that “pot” had been his gateway drug to stronger drugs. After high school, he was hanging around with a different crowd. During college, his “A” grades started to falter. Then, he lost his job. Something wasn’t right. I searched his room and found what I feared most: Oxycodone had become Vincent’s drug of choice. We had heated discussions that oxycodone was extremely dangerous and addictive. He would show me research that denied it. As we all know, powerful companies can find ways around the law and can state just about anything they want and get away with it. 

The oxycodone amplified my son’s anxiety and depression. He began to isolate himself. He could hardly get himself to go to work or even out of the house. Vincent tried to self-detox and get drug free on his own, failing several times. 

Finally, Vincent agreed his addiction was out of his control. I had so much hope he was going to get the treatment he desperately needed. Over the course of just one year, prior to my son passing away, he would get denied by the insurance company over four times! 

The insurance company stated he didn’t fit “medical necessity.” First, he had supportive parents. Second, he was motivated to get better. By the third denial, I filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. They were able to get my son 14 days. 14 days … is such a short time to physically and emotionally overcome addiction, and certainly not enough time for Vincent. My son came out and soon relapsed. This time to heroin. 

After battling with the insurance company for months, they finally approved my son. Regrettably, unbeknownst to us, insurance companies are allowed to back-deny services within 30 days of approval. After detox and 14 days, my son was back-denied, stating he had no other mental health illnesses, was highly motivated to get better, and had a supportive family. He was crying that he needed more time. He was extremely anxious and severely depressed. They placed Vincent on anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication, even though my son was denied treatment due to not having any mental health illnesses. 

My son was trying to get better. He went to out-patient almost every day, met weekly with his counselor, and attended meetings at night. 

In the next few weeks, Vincent stayed drug free … he was beginning to be himself again. However, without getting the services he desperately needed and deserved, my son relapsed and bought drugs unknowingly laced with the deadly drug fentanyl. My son Vincent had no chance. I lost my shiny star, my beautiful son, Vincent on Sept. 13, 2017. Last month would have been his 28th birthday. 

Vincent’s battle is one like too many others. In his honor, I advocate for change. He had so many barriers making it so difficult to get the help he needed: whether it be getting denied Suboxone for detox, incorrect information to determine appropriate services, or getting the Vivitrol shot to help prevent relapse. No one should ever have to fight so hard for the basic human right to health care. 

Insurance companies need to be held accountable. They need to cross reference information for accuracy prior to denying inpatient treatment. They need to comply with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. Federal law states that anyone with a mental health illness or the disease of addiction should get the same basic human rights to healthcare as those who have regular medical conditions. 

I couldn’t imagine if my son or anyone’s child had a regular health disease such as diabetes, a heart condition or cancer that they would get denied the medical care they needed, if they had a supportive family and were motivated to get better.

Over 200 loved ones die from an overdose every single day. We don’t have the luxury of time. In order to create any meaningful change, we need you to be a part of making a difference in our community. Your voice needs to be heard. It is so powerful and very important. If you truly want to see change … Reach out to your local and state representatives, ask them what their action plan is, and hold them accountable. Let them know how important it is for you and your children to have a future where everyone has the same right to get the care they need to be healthy. 

It is my hope that by sharing my son’s story, I can raise awareness, encourage the importance of communication, education and most importantly equality for basic human right to healthcare. 

Sharon Richmond lives in Northport and is part of the Town of Huntington’s Opioid Task Force. She is also a member of the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force. She works closely with F.I.S.T (Families In Support of Treatment), LICADD (Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence), FCA (Family and Children’s Association),  the North Shore CASA (Coalition Against Substance Abuse) and Nassau County Heroin Prevention Task Force. She is a teacher at North Shore Schools in Nassau County.

Tales, Trails and Treats, Sweetbriar Nature Center's Halloween celebration provided families with a day outdoors with hands-on activities.

Sweetbriar Nature Center, located at 62 Eckernkamp Avenue in  Smithtown, is hosting a variety of events to bring people closer to nature and animals. On Oct. 26, young children were invited for a spooky trick or treat trail complete with animal encounters. Friday night , Nov. 1, families with children ages 7 and up are invited to hike in the darkness to meet nocturnal animals and call in maybe an owl or two. Bring a flashlight. The event costs $10 with discounts available for Scouts. For more information, call 631-979-6344.

Photos by Media Origin

 

 

Incumbent Susan Berland and challenger Hector Gavilla are vying for Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District seat. Berland of Dix Hills is the Democratic candidate and has served on the Legislature for the past two years. She served on the Huntington Town Council as a councilwoman for more than 16 years prior to being elected county lawmaker. 

Republican hopeful Hector Gavilla is seeking political office for the first time. In 2017, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the 16th District seat which he lost to Berland. Gavilla has been a licensed real estate broker since 2003 and has run Commack-based Long Island Professional Realty since 2010.

The candidates are concerned with the future of the red-light camera program, the county financial situation, affordable housing and public safety. 

Red-light camera program:

The incumbent says she believes red-light cameras save lives. 

“People need to stop at a red light, they shouldn’t run through it and stop appropriately,” Berland said. “If people did that then you wouldn’t have the ‘money grab’ argument because they wouldn’t be paying the fines for them.”

Berland said there is a need for improvements in the program. She proposed looking at individual camera locations and potentially moving cameras to other problem areas. 

The incumbent also said they want to make sure they can oversee the placement of cameras once they get a new contractor. 

Gavilla disagreed saying the red-light camera program is a scam.  He argued that the cameras are placed disproportionally in low-income areas. 

“The county has discriminated by putting red-light cameras in low income communities,” he said. “There are none in the affluent areas [on the Island].” 

Though he admitted that if someone runs a red-light they deserve a ticket. 

Suffolk’s financial future:

The county’s finances have been one of the main topics of discussion in this year’s election season. According to a recent state comptroller report, Suffolk was under the most severe fiscal stress of any county in 2018 for the second year in a row. Suffolk had an operating deficit of about $26.5 million in 2018 and a general fund balance deficit of $285 million. 

Gavilla said the county is spending money it doesn’t have. 

“The total [deficit] amount depends on who you speak to,” he said. 

If elected, the challenger would get rid of certain special taxes and fees. He would also look to consolidating services and making cuts in some departments. 

“We need to cut expenditures, we can do that very easily by going to department heads and employees and incentivizing them to find ways to cut their fees,” Gavilla said. 

Berland said when Bellone was elected to office, the county was $500 million dollars in debt. 

“There hasn’t been an increase in the property tax line and we have kept within the 2 percent cap,” she said.  

Berland said they are continuing to provide the services residents need, while acknowledging that the county has cut numerous government job position in the last few years. 

Affordable housing on Long Island/Town of Huntington:

The county legislator said there is a need to find affordable housing for everyone. 

“We need to be able to provide affordable housing, you have these [housing] developments built and then 20 to 30 years later it goes to market rate,” Berland said. 

The incumbent looked to the recent Ronkonkoma Hub project as a way they could provide affordable housing as well as keep working families and young people on the Island. 

Berland said she supports continued economic development in the town and giving more resources to schools. 

 The challenger on the other hand would look to bring back high paying jobs to the area. 

Gavilla said he wants to bring back Fortune 500 companies, mentioning that his own father worked for a subsidiary of Grumman when he was young. He also said he would work with state lawmakers to assist in bringing those jobs here. 

In addition, Gavilla said there is a tax problem that needs to be fixed. 

“Property taxes are too high and that affects everything,” he said. “ You have to keep business owners here.”

Public safety (opioids/vaping/gang violence):  

Gavilla said while visiting homes throughout the area people are happy that federal government officials are assisting in the fight against MS-13. 

“I’ve visited close to 5,000 homes … the Hispanic communities are happy the feds are involved,” he said. 

Gavilla said there is a need for increased police presence as he believes more can be done on the opioid epidemic as well. 

According to him, the Hispanic communities are against making parts of Suffolk County as sanctuary areas, saying “they want the bad guys out.” 

Berland agreed with Gavilla that more can be done with MS-13, but said the Suffolk Police Department is doing a good job. 

The incumbent said in terms of immigration, people that are committing crimes should be deported. 

Berland supports banning vaping in the county, saying it has created “a whole new generation of kids smoking.”

“We also need to crack down on the sale of opioids and increase Narcan training,” she said.