Authors Posts by Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan
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Elected officials and Stony Brook Medicine faculty and staff at the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 17. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Stepping into the main lobby of the new Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, which is slated to open for patient care Nov. 17, it’s apparent that young patients will come first. The downstairs lobby is decorated in soothing tones with a fun nautical theme and one wall features a live feed of fish swimming at the Long Island Aquarium.

Children sit by the live feed from the Long Island Aquarium in the downstairs lobby of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

In anticipation of the Nov. 17 opening, Stony Brook Medicine held a ribbon-cutting at the site with staff and elected officials in attendance Oct. 17. According to Stony Brook Medicine, the 71,500-square-foot, 114-bed hospital will be the only children’s hospital with single-patient rooms on Long Island.

“We’re really trying to get everything into a child-friendly environment, and this is sort of like the icing on the cake to have our building and to get the pediatric inpatients out from the 11th floor of what is predominantly an adult hospital into this proper space that was designed for kids and their families,” said Dr. Margaret McGovern, professor of pediatrics and physician-in-chief at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, during a tour and interview two days before the ribbon-cutting.

With a full-service health care program that includes a Level 1 pediatric trauma center, neonatal intensive care unit and more, McGovern said Stony Brook Medicine treats an array of pediatric conditions.

“In general the acuity is high,” she said. “These are kids who really need to be in the hospital. It’s everything from an infection to a broken bone.”

McGovern said the single-bed rooms will provide infection control, comfort, privacy and security. The children’s hospital will be located on floors 4, 5, 6 and 7 in the new Medical and Research Translation building, also known as MART, which combined with using wristbands with devices, will provide extra security for children.

Each patient’s room will have a pull-out sofa for parents to sleep, refrigerator, safe and workspaces for both families and hospital staff. Each room also has a private bathroom with a shower that is wheelchair accessible.

Children in one of the play areas in Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Dr. Carolyn Milana, interim Chair in the Department of Pediatrics, said that the single-patient rooms will allow medical staff to easily have private conversations with families, as the current rooms have two patients each and can only be divided with a curtain. She said at times medical teams have to step out of a room to have a conversation with parents. 

“This will allow the whole team to come in and really have a conversation with the family in private, and it’s quieter,” Milana said.

The children will also have a remote to control the lighting over artwork hung on the walls, and medical teams will be able to pull up records and patient care educational materials right up on the room’s television screen.

Maureen Cole, RN, associate director of nursing, Children’s Hospital and Women’s Services, said that the rooms were designed after receiving feedback from families on an advisory council.

“They were very instrumental in some of the additions that we have made, and then the children gave a lot of feedback, too, because we have a youth advisory council who have been touring the building,” she said.

Cole said children even offered advice on how they should be spoken to and who should be in the room when conversations occur about their care.

In addition to the private rooms, McGovern said the hospital was designed for respite with play spaces and rooms and even a teen lounge. The building will also have an adolescent unit on a separate floor from younger children and a classroom with Wi-Fi. 

The Ronald McDonald House, a nonprofit which provides support to improve the health of children, has a family room in the hospital so parents can sit and relax and even do work. A washer, dryer and shower across from the room is also available to families.

The building includes an elevator for patients being transported for procedures that is separate from visitors. The special procedure unit will provide services such as sedated MRIs, pediatric endoscopies and bone marrow procedures for both in- and outpatients.

McGovern said nearly 10 years ago Stony Brook Medicine declared themselves a children’s hospital because they recognized the need to expand children’s health care programs in Suffolk County.

“There are about 450,000 kids in Suffolk County,” she said. “That is absolutely a population that can support a children’s hospital. So we’ve been building the number of pediatric providers who are on our full-time faculty — now there’s almost 180 of them, 30 different pediatric specialties.”

McGovern said there are also more than 250 nurses on staff and Child Life Services employees and social workers.

The exterior of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

“Everyone likes to work in a place that has been thoughtfully designed to help them do their best work,” McGovern said. “I think that has resonated, also, with our staff and keeping good staff. We’re recruiting great physicians here. Pediatricians like to work at children’s hospitals because it says a lot about the commitment of the organization to children’s health to have a children’s hospital. I think that has helped us be successful recruiting doctors here from the best training programs in the country to come and join us to help us take care of the kids in Suffolk County.”

According to Stony Brook Medicine officials, the cost of the construction was $73 million and was part of Stony Brook Medicine’s $450 million expansion, which includes a 10-story hospital pavilion and new cancer center. To help with the cost state Senators Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured $50 million from the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the State University of New York, under the leadership of former Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, helped to secure more funds through a $35 million NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant.

More contributions came from donors with $25 million from 3,584 contributors to the Children’s Hospital Building Fund, which was supported with two matching gifts of $10 million from an anonymous donor and $2.5 million from the Knapp Swezey Children’s Challenge. An additional $50 million was from a historic $150 million gift to Stony Brook University from Jim and Marilyn Simons.

Delaney Unger, 13, from Selden was on hand for the Oct. 17 ribbon-cutting. An Osteosarcoma survivor, who received a unique amputation called rotationplasty in the spring of 2017, was a patient at Stony Brook Children’s.

“I must say, I am a little jealous of the new beautiful Stony Brook Children’s Hospital,” Delaney said. “I can attest that not only will the children who stay here get the best possible care, but they will also do so in a fantastic new facility designed with them in mind.”

Before the official opening, the hospital invites the community to see the new building Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pre-registration is preferred at stonybrookchildrens.org/openhouse.

On Oct. 13, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, at its Educational & Cultural Center with performances from Sol y Sombra Spanish Dance Company.

Attendees, including students from The Stony Brook School, were treated to an array of dances including flamenco, salsa, the Argentine tango, Mexican folk and more. Maria Loreta, founder and artistic director of Sol y Sombra, provided a brief history of the origins of the dances before each performance. After the presentation, audience members got up to try a few steps of salsa, and then sampled empanadas, churros and rice and beans.

Deer during mating season cause havoc on the roads. Photo from Kathy Schiavone

It’s that time of year when deer look to mate, and that can result in dangers for motorists on local roadways.

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Environmental Conservation are advising motorists to take care when navigating roads during October, November and December. While deer can be seen all year round roaming around the North Shore, during the fall it’s breeding season.

More deer on the roads in the fall mean an increase in collisions with the animals. Photo from Kathy Schiavone

Two-thirds of the crashes between deer and vehicles occur during the three-month span, according to a press release from the agencies.

In a TBR News Media article from October of 2018, Lori Ketcham, a rehabilitator with Middle Island-based Save the Animals Rescue Foundation, reminded residents that deer don’t hesitate when they are crossing a street, especially in the fall.

“The boys only have one thing on their mind,” Ketcham said. “They’re following the scent so they’re just running. They smell a girl down the street. They run, and they don’t care if there are roads in the way.”

Mark J.F. Schroeder, DMV commissioner and chair of the governor’s traffic safety committee, said drivers should exercise extreme caution during the autumn months.

“When you see a deer-crossing sign along a highway, that means deer have been seen at that location and have collided with cars there,” Schroeder said. “Those signs are meant to warn you to be extra cautious when driving through such locations.”

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said drivers should be alert during both dawn and dusk. The animals tend to be more active during these periods of the day while visibility is also reduced.

The state agencies also recommend decreasing speed when you approach deer near roadsides as they can bolt out or change direction quickly. If you see a deer, look for others as they are herd animals and usually travel in groups.

Motorists are also advised to brake firmly and avoid swerving if they encounter an animal, as swerving can cause collisions. The DEC recommends not approaching an injured animal as they can strike out with their legs or hooves.

Here are a few additional tips in case of a deer collision:

● Move your vehicle to a safe place. If possible, pull over to the side of the road and turn on your hazard lights. If you must leave your vehicle, stay off the road and out of the way of any oncoming vehicles.

● Call the police. Alert authorities if the animal is blocking traffic and creating a threat for other drivers. If the collision results in injury, death or more than $1,000 in property damage, you must fill out an official crash report and send it to the DMV.

● Look for leaking fluid, loose parts, tire damage, broken lights, a hood that won’t latch and other safety hazards. If your vehicle seems unsafe in any way, call for a tow truck.

According to the 2018 State Farm Insurance deer-vehicle collision study, it was estimated that there were 1.33 million deer, elk, moose and caribou collisions between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018, in the U.S. — down from 1.34 million cited in the company’s 2017 study. New Yorkers had a one in 165 chance of crashing into the animals in 2018, according to State Farm.

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone poses with the Hawkins Path Recycling Crew. Photo from Bellone's office

Thanks to a Suffolk County pilot program, students in the Middle Country Central School District have been learning about the importance of recycling and have been quite successful at the task.

On Oct. 3, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) came to Hawkins Path Elementary School in Selden to announce that students who participated in the Suffolk School Recycling Program, which was launched last year, recycled 35 tons of paper during the 2018-19 school year. Hawkins Path students, as well as New Lane Elementary School in Selden and Unity Drive PreK/Kindergarten Center in Centereach, were among the more than 6,000 children that participated in the partnership with the county.

During the pilot program, Hawkins Path, Unity Drive and New Lane recycled 2,330, 4,554 and 8,043 pounds of paper, respectively. Hawkins Path and New Lane also recycled a combined total of approximately half a ton of bottles and cans, according to county officials.

Roberta Gerold, Middle Country Central School District superintendent, congratulated the schools.

“Our students’ enthusiasm for this project clearly articulates the value of recycling and of sustaining resources,” she said. “The Suffolk School Recycling Program has inspired all of us in Middle Country. We are so proud of our students and staff’s work.”

In 2018, as part of Suffolk’s pilot program, 1,000 recycling bins were delivered to 12 schools allowing each building to have two bins for each classroom, office cafeteria and athletic field. Schools were also provided with scales to measure recycled materials.

According to county officials, recycling 35 tons of paper translates into the students saving 595 trees, 150,000 kilowatt hours of energy, 331 barrels of oil, 1,988 BTUs of energy, 245,000 gallons of water, 145 cubic yards of landfill space and stops 2,100 pounds of air pollution from being released.

“We launched a new kind of program to prove that students can help improve our recycling efforts and actually measure how much of an impact that they are having on our environment,” Bellone said. “The results are undeniable, the program is working, and we will continue to look for new opportunities to expand the initiative to protect and preserve our Island.”

The press conference was Bellone’s second visit to Hawkins Path Elementary School in 2019. Earlier this year he met with the school’s fifth-grade students who showed examples of their recycling work.

In addition to Middle Country schools, the county worked with Harley Avenue Primary School, James Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School, John Glenn High School, Twin
Pines Elementary School, Hemlock Park Elementary, Hampton Bays Elementary, Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School and Quogue Elementary. The county anticipates working with other school districts in the near future to develop the program on a larger scale.

Three Village Central School District becomes the first school district in New York to join a national lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul. TBR News Media file photo

Three Village Central School District is joining the fight against vaping devices.

In a letter from Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and Board of Education President William Connors, the district announced it became the first school district in New York to join a national lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul.

“As educators, it is our duty to protect the health and safety of our students, and we believe this company is compromising those efforts while simultaneously disrupting the educational process by marketing to teens,” Pedisich and Connors wrote.

Officials stated in the letter that legal fees will be covered by the firms representing the parties in the suit and will not come from district taxes.

The district officials said in the letter vaping devices are easy for teenagers to hide and use. 

“This epidemic, while a national one, has had a direct and grave impact on our local school community,” school officials said. “As a district, we have needed to divert resources and deploy new ones to combat the problem of teen vaping.”

Three Village has installed devices to detect vaping, created prevention programs, adjusted health curricula to focus on the dangers of vaping, created a new student assistant counselor position to focus on prevention and treatment, and embraced new disciplinary actions and a districtwide zero-tolerance policy on vaping, according to the letter.

Nearly 40 percent of 12th grade students and 27 percent of high school students in New York State are now using e-cigarettes, according to New York State officials.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website that the use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for children, teens and young adults, as most e-cigarettes contain nicotine and other harmful substances. According to the agency, highly-addictive nicotine can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.

As at Oct. 8, the CDC has reported 1,080 vaping-associated illnesses in the United States with 23 deaths. There have been 110 cases attributed to New York, according to the state’s health department. On the same day, the death of a Bronx teen was announced as the first confirmed fatality related to vape products in New York.

 

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The Newfield Wolverines, 4-3 in the league, hosted the Northport Tigers, who stand 4-2, Oct. 7. 
Both teams looked to move into second place in League III behind Huntington and League III leader Smithtown West.

Sonny Farrell, the junior midfielder, broke the ice for Newfield scoring 21 minutes in when co-captain Lorenzo Selini scored an insurance goal with six minutes left to take it 2-0 into the halftime break.

Northport senior Tage Oster made a game of it heading the ball into the net 10 minutes into the second half but the Wolverines dug and held on for the 2-1 win. Chris Cusimano had four saves in net for Newfield, and Joseph Kearns stopped five for the Tigers.

Northport retakes the field when they host Hills East on Oct. 11, and the Wolverines will try their hand with Hills East on the road Oct. 16. Both games kickoff at 4 p.m.

On Oct. 6, hundreds attended the 26th annual Walk for Beauty in Stony Brook village. Each year The Ward Melville Heritage Organization hosts the event that raises money for a targeted research fund at Stony Brook Medicine for breast cancer research and The WMHO Unique Boutique for wigs.

The 10K Hercules on the Harbor run complemented the 4K/6K walk where  participants make their way through scenic Stony Brook.

After the walk and run, a pet costume contest was held, attendees had the chance to win raffles, musicians were on hand to entertain and HeartBeet Farms and the Stony Brook Cancer Mobile Mammography van was on-site.

 

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Trailing by one score to open the second half Ward Melville retied the game at 21-21 in a Division I matchup on the road against Longwood, but the Lions scored late in the fourth quarter to retake the lead, 27-21, to hold on for the win Oct. 4.

It was all Michael Fiore for the Patriots where the senior running back accounted for all three of the Patriot touchdowns grinding out 182 rushing yards on 35 carries.

The loss drops Ward Melville to 2-2 at the midway point of the season. The Patriots retake the field Oct. 11 when they take on Riverhead at home. Game time is 6:30 p.m.

The slight chill in the air Oct. 5 created the perfect feel for Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s annual fall festival.

Hundreds joined the fun at the farm where there were bounce houses, pumpkins, music, tractor rides, face painting, vendors and more.

Country Line Dancing featuring Skip from Country Rhythms Long Island was on hand to provide line dancing lessons throughout the day.

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Vivian Viloria-Fisher sitting on her father’s lap in an early 1950s family picture. Photo from Vivian Viloria-Fisher

When Vivian Viloria-Fisher first ran for Suffolk County legislator on the Democratic ticket, during newspaper interviews she felt it was important to talk about her Hispanic heritage.

Holding the accordion, above, in the 1950s is Angel Viloria, father of Vivian-Viloria Fisher. Photo from Vivian-Viloria Fisher

“It was 1999 and there weren’t that many Latinos here at that time, and every time you read about a Latino, they were talking about someone poor or someone who was in trouble, and I wanted to be a role model,” Viloria-Fisher said. “I wanted kids to see that there are successful Latinos in Suffolk County.”

After she was elected, she took things a step further. While she ran the first time only using her married name, due to being registered to vote that way, she said after winning she decided to hyphenate, feeling it was important to include her maiden name because it was part of her identity.

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, the former legislator looked back to her own heritage and was willing to give advice to young Latinos.

More than a former elected official who fought for protections for the environment and immigrants, she is the daughter of a bandleader who was at the forefront of the merengue movement in the United States during the 1950s.

Viloria-Fisher was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in December 1947. At the time, the island’s capital was called Ciudad Trujillo after the dictator Rafael Trujillo. Three months after she was born, her family fled to New York City to escape the tyrant’s regime.

Her father, a merengue bandleader named Angel Viloria, and his family had a music business in the Dominican Republic. Trujillo made himself wealthy by stealing money from different businesses, she said, and when her father spoke up, things weren’t safe for her family.

The Vilorias moved to New York, the birthplace of her mother, Mary. Viloria-Fisher’s mother was a daughter of a Marine of Irish and Scottish descent who was stationed in the Dominican Republic. It was there that he met the former legislator’s grandmother, and they moved to New York. However, when Viloria-Fisher’s grandparents separated, her grandmother moved her children back to the Dominican Republic.

In New York, Viloria-Fisher said her father did everything to earn money from teaching piano lessons, tuning pianos and playing any gigs that came his way.

“He did everything he had to do to make a living which artists have to do,” she said.

Soon after they landed in New York, her father and his band hit it big with hits such as “Palo Bonito (La Cruz)” and “Compadre Pedro Juan.” Angel Viloria y su Conjunto Típico Cibaeño released three albums in two years, while performing in New York City. During the summer months, the band would also play in the Catskills. She said while her father and his group would wear suits when performing in the city, she remembers when they were upstate they would wear the ruffle shirts that many associated with Latin music.

Back on the island of the Dominican Republic, Trujillo wouldn’t let Angel Viloria’s music be played even though he gifted the musician with an accordion before he left, to paint a picture of goodwill. Viloria-Fisher said because money was tight, her father used the accordion throughout his career.

She said she remembers jam sessions in her childhood apartment where a young visitor was Tito Puente, who became known as the “King of Latin Music” with international fame. When she was 6 years old, many merengue and salsa artists held a show for her father at New York City’s Palladium in July of 1954 before he headed to Puerto Rico as a headliner at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan.

“They never thought they would never see him again,” she said.

“I wanted kids to see that there are successful Latinos in Suffolk County.”

— Vivian Viloria-Fisher

 

It was during his trip to Puerto Rico that Angel Viloria died at 41. While the family was told he died of a blood clot, due to his brother being found dead in a river in the Dominican Republic — Trujillo’s calling card — it was believed that Viloria-Fisher’s father was killed by the dictator as well.

“It was really tough,” she said. “There was always a kind of a whispered suspicion that Trujillo had something to do with it.”

After her father’s death, her mother began to work. Due to the nuns at school requiring her and her siblings to speak English, and her mother needing to improve her language skills, her mother insisted they speak only English at home. However, Viloria-Fisher grew up listening to her father’s and other Spanish-language music and developed a talent for speaking foreign languages.

Her ear for languages served her well as she went on to teach English and Spanish in local schools, including Advanced Placement Spanish in the Three Village Central School District for 12 years. She later went on to become chair of the district’s foreign language department. A legacy left behind at Ward Melville High School is the Spanish Honor Society being named the Angel Viloria Chapter.

“I was very proud of that because the name has to qualify as being culturally significant in order to name the chapter after someone,” Viloria-Fisher said.

Today, Viloria-Fisher, who has been married to her husband, Stu, for 36 years, has five children and five grandchildren. Among the photos and mementos she shares with them, including a letter from her father to her mother when he performed in the Catskills, is her dad’s accordion displayed on a shelf in her home. The instrument was pawned many times by her mother, Viloria-Fisher said, whenever money was tight in the early days. However, her mother was always able to buy it back.

Viloria-Fisher served the 5th District in the county legislature from 1999 to 2011 and was deputy presiding officer for six of those years. As the first Latina in a Suffolk County legislature seat, Viloria-Fisher has advice for young Latinas who may want to run for elected office.

“Don’t hide who you are,” she said. “Let people know who you are, but go beyond identity politics.”