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St. Charles Hospital

By Anthony Petriello

St. Charles Hospital’s renowned rehabilitation department has a new second-in-command. Laura Beck, a current employee at the hospital and a Miller Place resident, was recently promoted to Vice President of Rehabilitation.

Beck will be responsible for overseeing both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation for St. Charles as well as recently implemented programs geared toward sports medicine; treating lymphedema, a condition that leads to fluid build-up and swelling; and vestibular rehabilitation, an exercise-based program aimed at alleviating balance and gait issues.

St. Charles Hospital’s new Vice President of Rehabilitation Laura Beck. Photo from St. Charles Hospital

Beck has been working at St. Charles in various positions for 26 years, and she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Therapy from Quinnipiac College, which is now Quinnipiac University. Her first position as a physical therapist was at St. Charles, and she returned to college and received her Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration and Policy from Stony Brook University.

“I am very excited for the opportunity,” she said. “St. Charles has an extremely long history, over 110 years, of excellence in rehabilitation that I am very proud to be a part of, and I am very excited for the chance to further our program, continue to grow, and continue the tradition of rehab we have had here for so many years.”

Beck has had served in many roles in her tenure at St. Charles. She started out as a staff physical therapist in 1991 and was promoted to a senior level physical therapist in 1994. Two years later Beck was promoted once again to supervising physical therapist, overseeing other therapists while still seeing patients herself. Beck started her focus on outpatient rehabilitation in 2000, when she was promoted to center manager of the Port Jefferson outpatient office.

Acknowledging her knowledge and acumen in rehabilitation, the hospital promoted her to director of Outpatient Rehabilitation, Pediatric Rehabilitation Services, and Offsite Contracts in 2003. In that position, which she held until just recently, she oversaw the daily activities of all nine of St. Charles’ outpatient rehabilitation locations across Long Island, which treat more than 10,000 patients every year, according to the hospital’s website.

Jim O’Connor, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer of St. Charles Hospital, was optimistic about Beck’s ability to fill the position and further the progress the rehabilitation department has made.

“There is a lot of opportunity to grow services … I don’t know that change is the word, I just think we have to continue to grow, stay current, and stay topical with evidence based practice.”

— Laura Beck

“Laura brings a wealth of experience to her new role for which her responsibilities include leading and directing all administrative functions of both the Inpatient and Outpatient Rehabilitation Departments,” O’Connor said. “Additionally, she will provide leadership oversight in the development of short- and long-range goals for programmatic development and financial planning as well as recommend new or revised policies and operational procedures in all administrative areas.”

Beck said she is prepared to seek new opportunities for the rehabilitation department and work to update and improve the services that are already being provided at the hospital and at outpatient locations. When asked if she would make any changes to the rehabilitation department as a whole, Beck remained pragmatic.

“There is a lot of opportunity to grow services,” she said. “We are the only inpatient rehabilitation hospital in Suffolk County, so I think we have a lot of opportunities to grow and improve the technology that is available to our patients. I don’t know that change is the word, I just think we have to continue to grow, stay current, and stay topical with evidence based practice.”

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Linda Nuszen, Maryann Natale and Janet D'Agostino, parents who have lost children to opioid addiction, during an event dedicating a new garden at St. Charles Hospital May 18. Photo by Kyle Barr

They say it’s becoming impossible to walk through a crowd and not find at least one person who hasn’t been affected by the opioid crisis. On May 18 a group of more than 50 people, nearly all of whom have lost loved ones, or at least experienced the strain of a loved one having gone through the throws of addiction, gathered at St. Charles Hospital for the unveiling of a new “Remembrance and Reflection Garden” just outside the Infant Jesus Chapel on hospital grounds.

The idea started with Port Jefferson resident Marcia Saddlemire, whose daughter Nicole passed away as a result of opioid addiction in 2015. She said she didn’t want to leave the memory of her daughter as just an opioid addict.

“I was getting angry watching the news, when they say so many died from overdose in Suffolk County this year, I said dammit, she’s not a statistic, she’s a person, she has a name and a life,” Saddlemire said. “All the mothers agree with this, they don’t want to grow up to be addicts. This is not what they wanted from their lives, they had dreams, they had goals.”

Stones dedicated to families affected by opioid addiction in a new garden at St. Charles Hospital. Photo by Kyle Barr

Saddlemire said she didn’t have the connections or know-how to create such a project, so she managed to get in contact with three women — Janet D’Agostino, Maryann Natale and Linda Nuszen — all of whom belong to multiple anti-opioid organizations and support groups. They gathered together to plan and create the new garden.

“We want it to be public — we don’t want to hide it,” said Natale, whose son Anthony died of an overdose. “We want them to know it’s an epidemic. This garden also helps those families who are going through such time with an addict.”

St. Charles Hospital was chosen as the location for the garden because of its existing programs fighting opioid addiction, according to the mothers. The hospital has 40 beds that are allotted for chemical dependency rehabilitation, 10 for supervised detoxification for adults and four for detoxification of adolescents age 12 to 18. Jim O’Connor, the executive vice president of St. Charles Hospital, said administration expects to receive another 10 beds for detoxification services. He said he also expects to develop an outpatient center at the hospital for addicts who need ongoing, comprehensive care in the next several years.

“We are honored that these families have chosen St. Charles Hospital as the site for this very special garden, as St. Charles is committed to hosting hospital programs which combat Suffolk County’s current addiction crisis,” O’Connor said.

Stones dedicated to families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction in a new garden at St. Charles Hospital. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nearly all work for the project was donated by local businesses. The garden includes stones engraved with the names of victims of opioid addiction and quotes from their families. Ron Dennison and his son Alan from Bohemia-based Long Island Water Jet donated their time to create a heart sign featured in the garden. The sign features large words like “forgiveness” and “understanding” along with small words like “pain” and “fear,” to show positive emotions overcoming the negative.

Dennison’s daughter, Sarah, went through the St. Charles rehab program when she became addicted to opioids. She is out of the program now, and she has a daughter named Serenity.

“When your kids are addicted, you deny it, you deny it, you deny it,” the elder Dennison said as he fought to speak through tears. “And then one day you wake up you say, ‘what is going on here.”

Nuszen and her family founded Look Up for Adam, a foundation dedicated to her son who died from an overdose in 2015. Her organization helps to raise awareness.

“So many people don’t know how to show up for our loved ones,” she said. “So many people don’t know how to be themselves, or how to be here for each other. So now that we can come here and have a place where we’re not isolated — so they come here and know they’re not alone, that there are people who care about them.”

A NEW YOU: RSVP Suffolk will host a free Better Choices, Better Health workshop on Mondays, May 7, 14, 21 and June 4, 11 and 18 at the Rose Caraccapa Senior Center, 739 Route 25A, Mt. Sinai from 1 to 3 p.m. This six-week led program will help you self-manage your chronic illness and live a healthier life. The course will address healthy eating, the importance of exercise and relaxation and stress reduction. Highly recommended for people who need to make healthy lifestyle changes before elective surgery.  Please register at the Center or call (631) 476-6431.

“Eat well, live well” was the tagline for the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce annual Health & Wellness Fest, which was held April 22 at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson. Attendees were instructed on how to do both by vendors set up at tables in the school’s gymnasium, featuring representatives from Stony Brook Medicine, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, St. Charles Hospital and many others.

“It’s been growing every year, and in the last two years, we were so fortunate as to have St. Charles Hospital provide us with the healthy snacks, and that’s really helped us boost the attendance,” Chamber President Jim Karras said in an interview during the event.

Chamber director of operations Barbara Ransome was also pleased with the number of vendors who turned out to offer advice to interested community members.

“We had no extra tables this year,” she said. “We had over 80 tables this year…I think there were like 45 individual vendors…All of our local nonprofits, we don’t charge them, so we feel like this is giving back to our community.”

Karras said he is proud of what the chamber has built with the annual event.

“There’s a lot of health and wellness events in the area, but I think we’re the only one that has the three major hospitals sponsoring them,” he said. “That makes a big difference.”

Ransome thanked the district for their hospitality.

“We want to put a shout out to our school,” she said. “Fred Koelbel, who is the superintendent of buildings here for the Port Jefferson School District, and for them to allow us to use this great facility, we have elevated this event.”

Other vendors included Jefferson’s Ferry lifecare community, L.I. Botanical Wellness, Save-A-Pet, Paws of War, Port Jefferson Hearing and many more.

As the number of drug-related overdoses on the Long Island grows, one parent refuses to bury his head in the sand.

On the one-year anniversary of his son’s fatal heroin overdose, William Reitzig wasn’t in bed grieving. Instead, the Miller Place parent was on stage at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai asking hundreds of community members to hug one another.

“Hug your loved ones like I hugged my son every day … My hope is that you leave here today with the same mission as my wife and I — that with love and compassion, we have the power to overcome the perils of drug addiction.”

—Michael Reitzig

“Hug your loved ones like I hugged my son every day … don’t let a minute go by without saying ‘I love you,’” Reitzig said to a crowd of emotional parents, extended family members, friends and strangers. “My hope is that you leave here today with the same mission as my wife and I — that with love and compassion, we have the power to overcome the perils of drug addiction.”

That mission resonated throughout Hope Walk for Addiction, an April 22 fundraising event created by Reitzig and co-sponsored by Brookhaven Town and Hope House Ministries — a nonprofit based in Port Jefferson that supports people suffering the disease of addiction.

Reitzig, whose 25-year-old son Billy struggled for years with opioid pills and ultimately died after a one-time use of heroin last April, kickstarted “a war on addiction” by raising awareness, educating about addiction, raising money to help those struggling and unite the community.

“This is [really] for the community — it’s not about me, it’s not about my son, it’s to try and make a difference moving forward,” Reitzig said. “I can’t do anything about the past at this point, but going forward we can all chip in … we’re all in the same boat. Today is about all the families that struggle every day with this disease getting together because this is no longer acceptable and we need to do something.”

The large crowd, mostly loved ones of those battling addiction or those who died from it, collectively walked Cedar Beach’s Nature Pathway in memory of those who overdosed. About a dozen names could be seen on signs along the scenic trail.

“I don’t think people realize how many people are depressed and they don’t know how to handle that and so people self-medicate and that’s part of the issue. Ninety-one young people die every day [from this] and that’s unconscionable.”

—Francis Pizzarelli

Local leaders, self-help experts and bands occupied the stage to address the issue that brought everyone together. Various sponsors, including WALK 97.5 and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, were set up at tables taking donations and educating others, and representatives from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office gave seminars on how to use Narcan, a life-saving nasal spray that can revert the effects of an overdose.

More than 500 people registered for the event, and all proceeds — totaling more than $34,000 at the end of the day — went to Hope House, which currently doesn’t have enough space for the overwhelming amount of people who need its services.

Father Francis Pizzarelli, founder of Hope House, counseled Billy while he was rehabilitating in the facility’s outpatient treatment program for a few months, and ultimately presided over his funeral.

Reitzig worked closely with Pizzarelli, and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), to make the Hope Walk a reality.

“Billy was a loving and caring guy, but like a lot of people today, he had his demons and struggled with that,” Pizzarelli said. “I don’t think people realize how many people are depressed and they don’t know how to handle that and so people self-medicate and that’s part of the issue. Ninety-one young people die every day [from this] and that’s unconscionable. [William] elected to say ‘we’re not going to let this continue, we’re going to do something about it and we’re going to protect the quality of life of all our younger and older people addicted to heroin.’”

This is a time to come together as a community, Pizzarelli added, and celebrate the hope Reitzig embodies.

“We need to help stop the stigmatized feeling that comes with addiction. The users feel alone as it is, they don’t feel proud of themselves. They are good people that made one bad decision.”

—Sue Meyers

“I don’t think I’ve met more resilient, strong, dedicated and passionate people in my whole life as I have in William and his family,” Bonner said. “He’s changing the future of so many people by doing this. We’re losing a generation to addiction and this is an opportunity to lift each other up and strip the layers of shame back. It’s all around us and no community is safe from it.”

Patty Eiserman, of Sound Beach, wore a shirt bearing the face of her nephew David Smallwood, who died in 2013 when he was just 22. She said her goal is to educate children as young as possible so they don’t start using.

“I don’t want to say it’s impossible to get them clean,” she said, “but it’s very, very hard.”

Manorville resident Melanie Ross, whose brother died last year after a 10-year battle with addiction, said the situation ravaged the family. It was the first time she’d attended an even like this.

Sue Meyers, a Setauket resident, said she was walking for her son, Michael Moschetto, a Ward Melville graduate who died in December at 28.

“It’s in his name, but I’m also here to help show support for other people and donate as much money as I have in my pockets,” Meyers said. “We need to help stop the stigmatized feeling that comes with addiction. The users feel alone as it is, they don’t feel proud of themselves. They are good people that made one bad decision. I think events like this really give people hope and a sense of direction.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that analyzes health policies, has created an interactive map so Americans can compare changes in their premiums and tax credits from the Affordable Care Act to the American Health Care Act. Image from the Kaiser Family Foundation Website

Republicans in Congress have vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, since its inception in 2010, and after much adieu, a bill has finally been introduced to take its place.

The American Health Care Act has been met with opposition from both parties, while elected officials and hospital administrators weighed in on what the changes might mean for North Shore residents.

The most notable changes in the new health care plan compared to the existing one include an elimination of the individual mandate, which required all Americans to purchase health insurance or be subject to a fine — a sticking point for many Republicans on Obamacare; a cut of federal Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood for one year; adjusting tax credits based on age instead of income; and shifting Medicaid expansion set forth by Obamacare to the discretion of states instead of the federal government, among many others.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to deliver health policy analysis to the public, has created an interactive map on its website to illustrate the estimated changes in premiums paid and tax credits for several demographics from the ACA to the AHCA.

“This is bad news for New York. … We cannot support this legislation in its current form.”

—Kevin Dahill

Tax credits, or the amount a taxpayer can offset what is owed in federal income tax, are a component of both the current health care law and the proposed replacement, though their implementation is very different.

According to the map estimates, a 27-year-old living in Suffolk County making $30,000 per year would receive about 50 percent less in tax credits in 2020 if the new bill became law. A 27-year-old making $40,000 per year would see the tax credit slashed by only 14 percent, but a $10,000 raise would net that same 27-year-old an approximate additional 52 percent in tax credits under the AHCA compared to the ACA.

A 40-year-old Suffolk County resident making $30,000 annually would receive 24 percent less in tax credits, while a 40-year-old making $50,000 would see a 128 percent boost in tax credits. Additionally, a 40-year-old making $75,000 annually would receive $3,000 in tax credits — under Obamacare no tax credits would be received.

Similarly, a Suffolk County resident who is aged at least 60 and earns $75,000 per year would receive a $4,000 tax credit under the proposed bill, despite being ineligible for a tax credit under Obamacare. A 60-year-old making $30,000 annually would receive a 2 percent increase in tax credits.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who has said in the past he would like to maintain certain aspects of Obamacare, like allowing people aged 26 or younger to remain on their parents’ health plans and coverage for people with preexisting conditions, weighed in on the Republican plan in an emailed statement through spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena.

DiSiena reiterated Zeldin’s stance on kids remaining on parents plans and coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions, though she added he believes a smooth transition from the ACA to the new plan is the most important thing.

“Obamacare has resulted in higher premiums, higher deductibles, lost doctors and canceled policies, among many other challenges,” she said. “Deductibles are so high, many people now feel like they don’t even have insurance anymore. One-third of the counties in our country only have one option left under the exchange. That’s not choice. That’s a monopoly.”

“Deductibles are so high, many people now feel like they don’t even have insurance anymore. One-third of the counties in our country only have one option left under the exchange.”

—Lee Zeldin

DiSiena also sought to dispel what she called misconceptions being perpetuated about the new bill and what the policy might do to people’s coverage. She said no one will be kicked off Medicaid under the new bill, premiums might rise in the short term but are expected to be 10 percent lower by 2026 than their current levels, and the claim by the Congressional Budget Office that 24 million Americans covered under Obamacare would lose coverage can be attributed to people who were forced to purchase health care opting to go without.

DiSiena added Zeldin is generally supportive of the bill as written but intends to monitor proposed amendments.

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) was far less supportive during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” March 14.

“We have to continue to point out that 24 million people are going to be kicked off, that their premiums are going to go up, that there’s a transfer of cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and raising premiums on senior citizens and others,” he said in the interview. “This is really a life and death thing.”

Suozzi’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Kevin Dahill, president and CEO of Suburban Hospital Alliance, an organization that represents the advocacy interests of Long Island health systems including St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, issued a statement regarding the House bill March 13.

“The House bill neither truly repeals nor meaningfully replaces the Affordable Care Act,” Dahill said. “This is bad news for New York. … We cannot support this legislation in its current form.”

Chief Medical Officer at Huntington Hospital Michael Grosso said in an email his facility will continue to hold itself to the highest standards regardless of the federal health care law.

“That said, we must bear in mind as an informed citizenry that when effective, preventive health care is delayed or denied, society pays the price several times over,” Grosso said.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the bill today, March 23. House Republicans introduced several amendments to the original legislation earlier this week.

File photo

A motor vehicle crash Feb. 18 in Rocky Point killed a woman from Port Jefferson and seriously injured her husband. Suffolk County Police 7th Squad detectives are still investigating the incident.

Florin Tilinca was driving a 2014 Jeep on Route 25A and was preparing to stop for a red light at the intersection of Fairway Drive at about 12:20 p.m. when a 2015 Subaru traveling in the westbound lane of Route 25A crossed into the eastbound lane and struck the Jeep.

The driver of the Subaru, Lucio Costanzo, 73, of Port Jefferson, was airlifted via Suffolk County Police helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital in serious condition. His wife, Stephanie Costanzo, 73, who was a passenger in the vehicle, was transported to John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson where she was pronounced dead. Tilinca and his 16-year-old son were transported to St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson with non-life-threatening injuries.

The vehicles were impounded for safety checks. Anyone with information on this crash is asked to call the 7th Squad at 631-852-8752.

 

By Kevin Redding

While many young people look to television, YouTube videos and sports arenas for a glance at their heroes, a 23-year-old Shoreham resident sees hers every night around the kitchen table.

In Rachel Hunter’s own words in a heartfelt email, her parents — Jeffrey Hunter, a respiratory therapist at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital in Patchogue, and Donna Hunter, a neonatal nurse practitioner at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson — are “the hardest working, most loving, supportive and beautiful people” she’s ever known.

Jeffrey Jr., Jake, Rachel, Jeff Sr., and Donna Hunter at Rachel’s graduation party in June of last year. Photo from Rachel Hunter

“My parents exude the meaning of character, integrity, respect, responsibility, kindness, compassion and love,” Hunter said. “I can honestly say I’ve never seen two adults that are more amazing standards for human beings.”

Newfield High School sweethearts, the Hunters have been providing care and service for people across Long Island, consistently going above and beyond to ensure their patients are as comfortable, safe and as happy as possible.

For Jeffrey Hunter, 55, whose day-to-day job is to be responsible for every patient in the hospital — from making sure their cardiopulmonary conditions are steady, to drawing blood from arteries, to being on high alert as a member of the rapid response team — the passion for helping people comes from his upbringing in Selden.

“We lived a simple life, and I was always taught to treat people with dignity and respect … the way you would want to be treated,” he said. “I try to practice that every day of my life, not only in work, but with my daily activities.”

He said while the job can be emotionally harrowing at times — working at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital for 31 years, Hunter establishes close relationships with patients who end up passing away after fighting conditions that worsen over time  — but it’s worthwhile and extremely rewarding when he can help somebody and bring relief to family members.

“Just to see the look on someone’s face if you can make them feel better, even just by holding their hand … it’s the simple things and it really doesn’t take much, but I think the world needs a lot more of that these days,” he said. “I’m just a general people-person and try to comfort patients in their time of need. It can be really dangerous and sad at times, but I just try to remain hopeful.”

“Just to see the look on someone’s face if you can make them feel better, even just by holding their hand … it’s the simple things.”

— Jeffrey Hunter

Rachel Hunter recalled a day when her father came home from work and told her about an older man in the hospital who felt abandoned and forgotten by his kids, who never called or sent birthday cards.

“I held back tears as my dad told me he sent him a birthday card this year,” she said. “Many leave their workday trying as hard as possible to forget about the long, stressful day, but not my dad. He left work thinking ‘what else can I do? How else can I make a difference?’”

Donna Hunter, 54, said her passion for providing care to neonates, infants and toddlers and emotional support and compassion for their parents and families started when she found out her own parents had full-term newborns who died soon after delivery.

She graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in nursing and received a master’s degree as a perinatal nurse practitioner from Stony Brook University. When fielding questions from people asking why she didn’t go through all her schooling to become a doctor, she says, “because I wanted to be a nurse and do what nurses do.”

“I’m one of those very fortunate people that love the career that I chose,” she said. “Every time I go to work, I’m passionate about being there, I’m excited, and it’s always a new adventure for me.”

Highly respected among staff for the 26 years she’s worked at St. Charles, she tends to newborns in need of specialized medical attention — from resuscitation and stabilization to rushing those born critically ill or with a heart condition to Stony Brook University Hospital.

Donna Hunter during the delivery of her cousin. Photo from Donna Hunter

“Babies are the most vulnerable population, but are incredibly resilient,” she said. “Babies have come back literally from the doors of death and have become healthy, and to be part of that in any small way is very satisfying.”

Maryanne Gross, the labor and delivery head nurse at St. Charles, called her “the calm voice in the room.”

“Donna is who you want with you if you’re having an issue or in a bad situation,” Gross said. “She’s an excellent teacher and just leads you step by step on what you need to do to help the baby. She’s great to be around and I think she was born to do [this].”

Hunter has also dedicated herself to creating a better future regarding neonatal withdrawal, saying the hospital is seeing more and more babies in the Intensive Care Unit affected by their mothers’ opioid use.

She recently gave a 45-minute seminar on the subject at a chemical dependency symposium by St. Charles outlining the newborn’s symptoms, treatment options and what it means for future health. She not only wants to help the baby but also the mother, providing resources to help them recover successfully.

Even with all their accomplishments in the field, Jeffrey and Donna Hunter consider family their top priority. With three children — Jeffrey Jr., 27; Jake, 24; and Rachel —  they take advantage of every opportunity they have to be together.

“It’s a juggle as to who’s working, who’s got to go to a meeting, but we make it happen,” Donna Hunter said. “We even take time to play games at our kitchen table … a lot of families don’t do that anymore. We’re very fortunate.”

John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson is set to join Northwell Health. File photo from Mather Hospital

No one wants to be sick enough to require a hospital visit, but North Shore residents learned last month they live near three of the best facilities in the Long Island/New York City area if that day should come.

Data compiled by Medicare based on patient surveys conducted from April 2015 through March 2016 and released in December ranked John T. Mather Memorial Hospital and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, as well as Stony Brook University Hospital, among the top seven in overall rating, and the top nine in likelihood patients would recommend the hospital to a friend or family member.

A patient receives care at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, one of the top hospitals in the Long Island/New York City area based on patient survey data. File photo from Mather Hospital

Overall patient satisfaction ratings were based on recently discharged patient responses to survey questions in 10 categories, including effectiveness of communication by both doctors and nurses, timeliness of receiving help, pain management, cleanliness and noise level at night, among others.

Mather finished behind just St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn of the 27 hospitals considered in the New York/Long Island area in their overall rating. St. Charles ranked sixth and Stony Brook seventh. Mather was also the second most likely hospital for a patient to recommend to a family member or friend, with St. Charles and Stony Brook coming in eighth and ninth places, respectively. St. Francis also topped that category.

Stu Vincent, a spokesperson for Mather, said administration is proud to be recognized for its quality.

“The driving force behind everything we do at Mather is our commitment to our patients, their families and the communities we serve,” he said. “We know people have many choices in health care and we continually strive to ensure that our hospital exceeds their expectations through our employees’ commitment to continuous quality and patient satisfaction improvement.”

A spokesman from St. Charles expressed a similar sentiment.

“At St. Charles, the quality of care that we provide to our patients is first and at the center of everything we do,” Jim O’Connor, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at St. Charles said in a statement. “That commitment to quality is evidenced by these wonderful patient satisfaction scores and the successful number of high level accreditations St. Charles received recently.”

Stony Brook hospital spokeswoman Melissa Weir emailed a statement on behalf of hospital administration regarding its rank among other area facilities.

“We are constantly looking for ways to improve, and are continuously developing new approaches to ensure that our patients have the best experience while they are in our care,” she said. “One of our goals is to achieve top decile performance with a focus on matters such as improving communication, reducing noise, addressing pain management and implementing nurse leader hourly rounding and hourly comfort checks.”

Mather’s ratings were at or above average for New York and nationwide in nearly every category as well as the likelihood to be recommended by a patient. St. Charles beat New York averages in nearly every category and was above the national average in likelihood to be recommended. Stony Brook was also above average compared to the rest of the area in most categories.

All three hospitals received their highest scores in communication by doctors and nurses, along with their ability to provide information to patients for effective recovery at home. All three hospitals were given their lowest ratings in noise levels at night and in patient’s understanding of care after leaving the hospital.

For a complete look at the ratings visit www.medicare.gov/hospitalcompare.

Putting one foot in front of the other never looked so inspiring.

A freak sledding accident in Vermont in 2009 left Greg Durso, 31, of Stony Brook unable to use his lower body from his stomach muscles down. With the help of St. Charles Hospital’s rehabilitation center, he stood and walked across a room Dec. 13 in front of his family and dozens of hospital personnel for the first time since his accident.

Greg Durso, who is paraplegic, walks at St. Charles Hospital Dec. 13 with help from an Indego exoskeleton. Photo by Alex Petroski
Greg Durso, who is paraplegic, walks at St. Charles Hospital Dec. 13 with help from an Indego exoskeleton. Photo by Alex Petroski

Durso was aided by a clinical trial product called the Indego exoskeleton, which is a wearable robotic frame. St. Charles is one of nine hospitals in the United States conducting the clinical trial, and the only one on Long Island. Durso is the first patient at the hospital to take the technology for a spin.

“It’s just an incredible feeling to be up there and be walking again — putting weight on your legs,” Durso said after his groundbreaking stroll. “Each step is kind of like a leap of faith … a month ago I probably couldn’t have told you I’d be here today, so when I heard about this, I was so happy to have the opportunity to do this.”

Indego is the second FDA-approved exoskeleton device used for lower limbs. The device weighs about 26 pounds, and requires no backpack or external wires, as other similar devices have in the past. Currently the machine is operated by Durso’s chest muscles, but future incarnations of the device will allow electrical stimulation in the muscles so that a patient’s own legs will make the machine work, according to St. Charles Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Medical Director Jennifer Semel. The FDA gave the machine clearance in March.

“The future is really limitless,” Semel said in an interview. “It’s really exciting to see people who haven’t been able to stand up in several years not only to be at the same height as their peers, but to be able to walk. It’s really uplifting.”

Semel said Durso has been using the device for about a month, and last week required a walker in addition to the exoskeleton to get around. He progressed to crutches for his Dec. 13 walk. Semel said the plan is for Durso to continue using the device for several months to gain a better understanding of the health benefits and the impact it has on a patient’s gait.

“I think I was a little skeptical because you realize people always tell you there’s going to be advances, there’s going to be this and that in the future,” Durso said. “But when you see this — I actually get up, I actually walk, I gave my sister a hug for the first time in eight years face to face — it’s pretty emotional and empowering, and it’s just exciting to see where the future is going to go with this technology.”

It was an emotional day for the members of the Durso family in attendance. Durso’s older sister, Jessica Giovan, fought back tears trying to describe seeing her brother walk again for the first time in eight years.

‘It’s just an incredible feeling to be up there and be walking again — putting weight on your legs … each step is kind of like a leap of faith.’

— Greg Durso

“I just saw him look so proud and happy,” she said. “He works so hard at everything he does, so to see him put one foot in front of the other, literally, was just unbelievable … the person you see now is the person he has always been. He has not, for one second, wavered in his personality since the accident. In fact, he has only increased his perseverance and his humor, and he lives everyday to make everyone around him feel like it’s okay.”

His dad, Richard Durso, said he couldn’t have imagined he’d be sitting where he was, watching his son walk, when he heard the news of the accident eight years ago. He credited his son’s positive attitude for keeping him on track. His mom, Jean Durso, called what she saw “unbelievable.”

Durso has competed in Iron Man races and marathons in his life — the former both pre and post accident — and said he hopes to be able to regain some of that lifestyle in the future.

“I love to do athletic things. I mean, it could be anything. I just want to be out there, have fun and live my life the way I want to do it,” he said. “For me that’s enough.”

The Indego devices cost about $80,000 each.

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