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John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson. File photo

By Kevin Redding

Under the sponsorship of Stony Brook University Hospital, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson has recently launched two new medical residency programs: one focused in psychiatry and the other in diagnostic radiology.

These programs, which officially joined existing residency programs, internal medicine and transitional year, on July 1, will serve to solidify Mather as an ever-expanding hub of academic training for its medical school graduates, and offer high-quality health care to its Suffolk County patients.

Both are four-year programs, offered to five residents per year in psychiatry and three per year in diagnostic radiology, that will give residents hands-on access to technology, clinics and patients relating to the specific field.

Those in the psychiatry program will benefit from Mather’s two inpatient psychiatry units for adults and adolescents and various clinics, including one for eating disorders and chemical dependency. According to Dr. Noam Fast, the program’s director, the residents will undergo an unusually didactic schedule, rotating between classroom lectures from the clinical faculty and working with patients directly — which will allow them to hone their craft.

“We’re training the next generation… and hopefully they decide to stay in our local community and actually treat our community members.” — Jared Dunkin

“Mather actually had a lot of psychiatry services and that is what you need to be able to train residents the right way,” Fast said. “You need all of these services, and when you have all these opportunities, it becomes the basis to teach. The patients benefit, the staff benefits and the hospital and community at large do, as well.”

Radiology residents will learn to understand and operate the inordinate amount of technology the field consists of. The residents must know how to read a wide spectrum of imaging, including X-ray, radiographs, MRI scans, CT scans, ultrasound and mammography.

Dr. Jared Dunkin, director of the radiology program, said that even though it will be a steep learning curve — using the computers and dictation systems — it’s something that students will be acclimated to in just a few months. Residents will also be learning the tools of the trade that can potentially prevent life-ending ailments within the body.

“For us, imaging is giving insight into what is going on in the body without having to cut them open,” Dunkin said. “It gives us a window into the organs just to come up with a diagnosis. There’s a lot of screening programs through radiology. They’re developing chest-screening programs, for instance, to identify people at risk for lung cancer. We try to identify these cancers early, so that way the doctors can treat them earlier.”

In order to find their residents, Fast and Dunkin used what’s called a “match,” an elaborate computer program used as an application process in medical circles. Medical students in their fourth year send in their resumes, transcripts, school test scores and recommendation letters. Fast and Dunkin then sift through hundreds of potential residents and narrow the candidates down to a select few for interviewing and ranking.

Mather's two new residency programs focus on psychiatry and chemical dependency. File photo
Mather’s two new residency programs focus on psychiatry and chemical dependency. File photo

Then, on “match day,” the computer takes the list and pairs the students with a certain program. Usually, Fast and Dunkin have months to do this, but due to a late accreditation, they only had a little more than a week this time around. Even with limited time, the directors said they’re happy with the final selections.

The goal was to find those who are bright, dedicated, interested in learning and could potentially have a long-lasting career within Suffolk County.

“The residency programs are a lifeline for the community,” Fast said. “You have a chance to train residents in your own program, and then the expectation is that a proportion of the residents would be interested in this community, and we do hope that we can attract some of these doctors and recruit them, as well.” Dr. Joan Faro, chief medical officer at Mather, said last year that the partnership between Stony Brook and Mather, in forming a new graduate medical education program, would only strengthen the level of care the community hospital provides by reinforcing the facility’s standards. The new programs should take those standards to new heights.

Dunkin has an eye on the future of the hospital when speaking about the new programs.

“We’re training the next generation,” he said. “A lot of residency programs look to their former residents to fill the ranks when needed. So we’re training the next generation, and hopefully they decide to stay in our local community and actually treat our community members.”

By Elana Glowatz

Suffolk County is entering obscure territory this year as some sex offenders drop off the state registry and others have lost restrictions on where they can live.

Laura Ahearn has advocated for local governments to have the power to regulate where registered sex offenders live. File photo
Laura Ahearn has advocated for local governments to have the power to regulate where registered sex offenders live. File photo

It was exactly one year ago that the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that local laws restricting where sex offenders could live were invalid, following a lawsuit from a registered offender from Nassau County who challenged his own government’s rule that prohibited him from living within 1,000 feet from a school. Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. wrote in his decision that “a local government’s police power is not absolute” and is pre-empted by state law.

State regulations already prohibit certain sex offenders who are on parole or probation from living within 1,000 feet of a school or other child care facility, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, but the local laws went further. In Suffolk County, Chapter 745 made it illegal for all registered sex offenders — not just those on parole or probation — to live within a quarter mile of schools, day care centers, playgrounds or their victims. But following Pigott’s decision, that law, while still technically on the books, is no longer enforceable.

To make matters more complicated, Jan. 1 marked the beginning of the end for some of the lowest level sex offenders on the state registry.

Offenders are grouped into one of three levels based on their perceived risk of committing another sex crime. On the lowest rung, Level 1 offenders who have not received special designations for being violent, being repeat offenders or having a “mental abnormality or personality disorder” that makes the person “likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses,” according to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, are only included on the registry for 20 years from their conviction. The New York State correction law enacting that system has just turned 20 years old, meaning the earliest offenders added to the registry are beginning to drop off.

The Sex Offender Registration Act obligates Level 2 and Level 3 offenders, as well as those with the additional designations, to remain on the registry for life, although there is a provision under which certain Level 2 offenders can appeal to be removed after a period of 30 years.

At a recent civic association meeting in Port Jefferson Station, Laura Ahearn from the advocacy group Parents for Megan’s Law — which raises awareness about sex crime issues and monitors offenders — gave examples of offenders set to come off the registry this year, including a man who raped a 4-year-old girl, and another who raped and sodomized a woman.

But it doesn’t stop there.

“It is thousands over time that are going to drop off,” Ahearn said.

A database search of Level 1 offenders along the North Shore of Suffolk County turned up many offenders who had been convicted of statutory rape or possession of child pornography, and who had served little to no time in jail. However, there were more serious offenses as well.

“You know when an adult man or an adult woman rapes a 4-year-old, that is just shocking. That [should be] a lifetime registration.”
— Laura Ahearn

Some of the undesignated Level 1 offenders who were convicted shortly after the Sex Offender Registration Act was created include a Smithtown man, now 43, convicted of first-degree sexual abuse against a 19-year-old; a 61-year-old Rocky Point man who sexually abused a 12-year-old girl more than once; a Huntington man, now 40, who sexually abused an 11-year-old; and a Rocky Point man convicted of incest with a 17-year-old.

Ahearn’s group has argued that sex offenders are more likely to reoffend as time goes on. According to Parents for Megan’s Law, recidivism rates are estimated to be 14 percent after five years and 27 percent after 20 years.

One midnight in January, Suffolk County police arrested a 48-year-old man, later discovered to be a registered Level 1 sex offender, in Fort Salonga after the suspect was allegedly caught undressed inside a vehicle with a 14-year-old boy. Police reported at the time that the two arranged the meeting over a cellphone application and there had been sexual contact.

The man had been convicted of sexual misconduct with a 16-year-old girl in 2003 and was sentenced to six years of probation. His new charges included criminal sex act and endangering the welfare of a child.

“So it makes no sense logically” to let Level 1 offenders drop off the registry after 20 years, Ahearn said in Port Jefferson Station. She has advocated for the terms to be extended or to have offenders appeal to be removed from the registry, like Level 2 offenders can after 30 years, so it can be decided on a case-by-case basis.

It’s a “you-know-it-when-you-see-it kind of thing, because you know when an adult man or an adult woman rapes a 4-year-old, that is just shocking,” she said. “That [should be] a lifetime registration.”

Even if the offenders remain on the registry, the court ruling that struck down restrictions on where most offenders can live has made matters trickier.

Ahearn said the fact that multiple layers of local government had enacted restrictions contributed to the situation.

“What happened is it got out of control,” she said.

County and town laws previously restricted sex offenders from living near schools and playgrounds. File photo
County and town laws previously restricted sex offenders from living near schools and playgrounds. File photo

Below the Suffolk County level, for example, the Town of Brookhaven had its own restrictions that prohibited offenders from living within a quarter mile of schools, playgrounds or parks.

There are bills floating around the state government that would tighten restrictions on where certain sex offenders could live, but the only one that has gained traction is a bill state Sen. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) sponsored, along with state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), that would return to local governments the power to regulate where offenders can reside.

“Local laws designed to protect children against registered sex offenders are enacted in response to unique conditions and concerns of specific communities and should act in complement with existing state law,” the bill’s summary read.

Although the bill passed the Senate last year, it died in the Assembly. But Venditto reintroduced his proposal this year.

For more information about sex offender laws or to search for sex offenders in a specific neighborhood, visit the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services at www.criminaljustice.ny.gov or the Parents for Megan’s Law group at www.parentsformeganslaw.org.

Dr. Frederick Schiavone with emergency medicine residents in the Clinical Simulation Center. Photo from Melissa Weir

Stony Brook is sending some fresh faces to one of its neighboring hospitals.

Earlier this month, Stony Brook University Hospital heralded in a new partnership with John T. Mather Hospital that will transition the Port Jefferson facility from a community hospital into an academic teaching hub. But that doesn’t mean Mather will be losing its community-centric feel, hospital officials said.

The partnership began in 2012 when Mather officials started seeking advice from Stony Brook Medicine on how to establish a new graduate medical education program, and quickly evolved into Stony Brook Medicine’s sponsorship of the program. Mather welcomed its first class of 19 residents studying internal medicine in July 2014 and it has been all-systems-go ever since. And if all goes well, Mather said it aspired to reach 100 residents at the end of five years.

“It’s an investment in the future,” said Dr. Joan Faro, chief medical officer at Mather, who works as the site’s designated institutional officer for the graduate medical education team and initially reached out to Stony Brook Medicine to explore the partnership. “Our standards will be as high, or even higher, as they have been as they are passed down, and we are so fortunate to take advantage of [Stony Brook Medicine’s] expertise and guidance.”

Under the new system, Stony Brook’s graduate medical education program reviews Mather’s selections for residency program directors and then Faro sends recommended candidates back to Stony Brook. The candidates are then interviewed and authorized for appointments. When Mather residents graduate, they will receive a Stony Brook University Hospital crest alongside the Mather crest on their graduation certificates.

With Stony Brook Medicine’s help, Mather has instituted its own de facto recruiting system for promising prospects in the medical arena. By inviting residents into Mather, the hospital is not only ingraining its culture into the learners at an early stage, but it is also setting them on a path that could potentially lead to long stays working there, Faro said. And with the recent opening of a new 35-bed facility on the Mather campus, the time could not be better for residents to be learning on-site.

Dr. Frederick Schiavone, vice dean of the graduate medical education program at Stony Brook Medicine, teamed up with Carrie Eckart, executive director of the same program, to help transition Mather into an academic teaching hospital over the past year and said it could not be going more smoothly, as Mather’s staff steps up to new teaching roles.

“It’s a passion,” Schiavone said. “People like to teach, love to teach. It’s built into what being a doctor means. When residents thank us for helping teach them, you couldn’t ask for a better reward.”

One of the benefits of becoming a teaching hospital for Mather, Faro said, is that the staff are required to stay on top of the latest developments in medical education and training, which means that Mather’s patients receive advanced methods of health care delivery. Schiavone said the affiliation was ideal for Stony Brook Medicine as it allows staffers to train residents from the beginning as they are brought up throughout the system.

“We need to reach out to our community,” Schiavone said. “The focus is always to deliver the best health care in Suffolk County. Mather’s success is our success.”

And by putting collaborative patient care at the center of the model of delivering health care, Schiavone said Stony Brook Medicine was benefitting from having more residency spots to dole out.

Having residents under the same roof as Mather’s experienced medical professionals would only raise the level of care the community hospital provides by reinforcing the facility’s standards, Faro said.

Editor’s note: This version of the story was updated to correctly reflect the number of residents Mather has taken in as its inaugural class.

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