Eye on Medicine

Chris Pendergast at an ALS Ride for Life event

When Christopher K. Pendergast was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, he was told he had three years to live. He lived 28 years instead. And what a 28 years they were.

Chris Pendergast

Chris, who died on Oct. 14 at age 71, went on to found the ALS Ride for Life in 1997, raising over $10 million for ALS research. The Center for ALS at Stony Brook Medicine now bears his name. And along the way, he met with everyone from U.S. Presidents to legislators to the manager of the New York Yankees. It was all part of his unending quest to help others.

“I want to make a difference,” said the elementary schoolteacher from Miller Place. “I want the extra few years I have to count for something.”

Did he ever.

Chris knew what he was up against. He disdained the term “survivor,” because he knew he would not survive. Instead, he preferred saying that he had lived with ALS for “X” number of years.

On the day he died, his family issued a media statement, saying, “Our dad, despite all odds, lived life just how he wanted until his last morning. He fought ALS bravely for 28 years and dedicated 23 of those years raising awareness and funds for ALS. He touched so many lives but at the end of the day, he was just ‘our dad’ who happened to do remarkable things.”

It wasn’t just by happenstance.

Over the course of 28 years, Chris advocated for patients with ALS, driven to raise funds for ALS research, awareness and patient care through the Ride for Life. He met with other patients with ALS privately and offered them his insights and his friendship for the difficult journey that he knew lay ahead.

Although a quadriplegic, on a ventilator, and using an eye-gaze computer to communicate, Chris remained active with the Ride in his final days.

“Chris taught us much about the range of possibilities of individuals with ALS, about humanity, and the art of what is possible,” said Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, Senior Vice President, Health Sciences, and Dean, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. “His legacy as a trailblazing ALS advocate through the Ride for Life organization and his work at Stony Brook will last for generations to come.”

Based on his work, Chris received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the ALS Association. The ALS Center at Stony Brook Medicine was renamed the Stony Brook Neuromuscular Disease and Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence in his honor.

“We are proud to have known Chris as a friend, colleague and warrior against ALS,” Dr. Kaushansky said. “We will continue to work to find a cure for ALS, in honor of his life and vision.”


File photo

By Carol Gomes

Carol Gomes

Stony Brook University Hospital (SBUH) continues to earn national accolades for the quality of care we provide to our patients.

The latest distinction comes from U.S. News & World Report, which has recognized us as a Best Hospital for 2020-21 for Neurology and Neurosurgery, and for Orthopaedics.

SBUH ranked No. 41 nationally in Neurology and Neurosurgery, and No. 49 in Orthopaedics. In the regional rankings, SBUH ranked No. 10 in New York State out of more than 200 hospitals statewide.

This is a true testament to the quality of care we provide to our patients. These types of recognitions do not happen overnight and they do not happen by accident. They involve a lot of hard work and dedication by teams that are committed to improving quality of care.

The rankings are based on a combination of factors, including staffing levels, whether a hospital has a Trauma Center, patient survival rates, physician ratings and patient satisfaction.

In addition to Neurology and Neurosurgery, and Orthopaedics, SBUH earned “high performing” ratings for six other adult specialties including Diabetes and Endocrinology; Gastroenterology and GI surgery; Geriatrics; Nephrology; Pulmonology and Lung surgery; and Urology.

To determine the national rankings, U.S. News evaluated more than 4,500 medical centers in 16 specialties, 10 procedures and conditions. In the 16 specialty areas, only 134 hospitals in the United States performed well enough to be nationally ranked in at least one specialty.

These accolades follow on the heels of SBUH being named one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals™ for the past two years by Healthgrades — the only hospital on Long Island to receive this distinction for two consecutive years. Stony Brook was also named one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals™ for 2020 by Healthgrades for stroke care, cardiac care and coronary interventions. The hospital has earned those honors for stroke care and coronary interventions for five consecutive years. It received the cardiac care award for the sixth consecutive year.

Our expert faculty and staff deserve credit for these impressive national recognitions, which demonstrate our commitment to providing world-class, compassionate care for our patients.

Carol A. Gomes, MS, FACHE, CPHQ, IS THE Chief Executive Officer AT Stony Brook University Hospital.

From left, Private First Class Alex Vroman of the New York Army National Guard and Josh Miller, MD, MPH, Assistant Dean for Clinical Integration and Medical Director of Diabetes Care for Stony Brook Medicine, at the coronavirus testing site on Stony Brook University’s campus, where more 48,000 people were tested from March through July. Photo from SBU

By Carol Gomes

Carol Gomes

The pandemic crisis has revealed who we are at Stony Brook Medicine, and we are truly “Stony Brook Strong.”

On Monday, March 2, Stony Brook University Hospital (SBUH) instituted our Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) to manage our response to the pandemic. Today, more than five months later, the system remains in place, operating seven days a week.

It is truly amazing how far we have come. At the height of the pandemic, on April 14, Stony Brook had 359 COVID-positive patients in the hospital. As of last Friday, we had only seven.

Now all our care sites are back in operation, using new safety and cleaning protocols. Our Emergency Departments remain open 24/7 for medical emergencies across Long Island, and we resumed elective procedures at SBUH effective June 1, after meeting state requirements.

From March through Aug. 2, SBUH treated 1,653 COVID-positive inpatients. The four hospitals in the Stony Brook Medicine hospital system formed the backbone of the response across Suffolk County, which had the lowest patient mortality rate across Downstate New York.

To manage the surge in patients, the hospital opened 300 additional inpatient beds, including 180 additional ICU beds. Stony Brook also collaborated with the New York State Department of Health to establish a drive-through coronavirus testing site on Stony Brook University’s campus, testing more than 48,000 people from March through July.

Adjacent to the testing site, Stony Brook set up a Field ER to care for patients referred from the hospital’s main Emergency Department. From March 24 to May 4, the site treated more than 1,885 patients.

Since the pandemic began, our Hospital Purchasing Department has been on top of the issue, scouring the nation and world for supplies. Over a three-month period, we received nearly 10 million gloves, more than 700,000 gowns, more than 750,000 surgical masks, more than 75,000 N95 respirators and nearly 30,000 face shields. We were one of the first hospitals in the nation to reprocess N95 respirators with Battelle Laboratories, with more than 8,000 masks reprocessed for future use if needed.

We know we must remain vigilant, as this pandemic is not yet over, and we face an uncertain future, with a possible second wave, for which we are well prepared. But we also know this much with certainty: we have successfully bent downward the curve of COVID-19 cases across Suffolk County.

Thank you for your continuing efforts to keep the coronavirus in check by following fundamental public health protocols: social distancing, masks and hand hygiene. Together, we will emerge from this pandemic even stronger than before, because together we are “Stony Brook Strong.”

Carol A. Gomes, MS, FACHE, CPHQ, is Chief Executive Officer at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Stony Brook University Hospital

By Carol Gomes

SBU Hospital CEO Carol Gomes. Photo from SBU Hospital

If you were in need of an elective surgery or procedure before COVID-19 and have been delaying it, I want to reassure you that Stony Brook University Hospital is fully operational. 

We have everything in place to ensure that safe and effective care is provided to every one of our patients to meet their healthcare needs — whether it’s for a simple outpatient procedure or a more complex inpatient surgery. We continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and New York State Department of Health (DOH) guidelines and universal precautions to provide the safest environment possible. 

You can also rest assured that the enhanced safety measures to protect our patients and hospital staff to prevent coronavirus spread also remain in place. Some of these safeguards include testing all patients prior to surgery, having patients self-isolate prior to surgery, and requiring all staff and patients to wear masks and be screened for symptoms. 

We also require all hospital personnel to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). And of course, we have hand sanitizer stations located throughout our facilities, and patients in the hospital who test positive for COVID are separated in a designated area to minimize risk from other patients.

At Stony Brook University Hospital, we perform, on average, 100 to 120 surgeries daily. This includes a diverse area of specialization, including general surgery, orthopaedics, neurosurgery, surgical oncology, cardiac surgery, trauma, kidney transplants, urological procedures, gynecologic surgery and several other specialties. 

From the time you schedule your surgery, to pre-op, and every phase through post-op and beyond, our goal is to ensure your safety every step of the way, while our surgical specialists and their teams provide the quality care you need to restore your health.

Carol A. Gomes, MS, FACHE, CPHQ is the Chief Executive Officer at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Frequently clean household surfaces, especially high-touch surfaces such as handles, doorknobs, appliances, etc. Photo from METRO

By Susan V. Donelan, MD, FSHEA

Susan V. Donelan, MD, FSHEA

During the coronavirus pandemic, everyone has been trying to ready themselves and their households for a possible long stay at home. Stories abound about toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages, not to mention water, milk and bread. Even ice cream is in short supply.

To be well prepared, experts recommend having a two-week supply of food on hand, including pet food, plus a 90-day supply of prescription medications and a thermometer. Another part of prudent planning is to prepare for the possibility that a member of your household will become infected.

Your goal should be to prevent one family member’s exposure from becoming multiple exposures that spread the virus throughout your entire family. Here are some safe practices to take:

• The exposed person should wear a surgical mask, if available, to prevent airborne respiratory droplets from infecting others. If a surgical grade mask is not available, a homemade one should be used.

• Regardless of whether the exposed person is wearing a mask, other family members should stay at least six feet away from the exposed person. Those who must come in closer contact should also wear surgical masks when caring for their loved one.

• If possible, the exposed person should sleep alone in a separate bedroom and use a separate bathroom from the other members of the household.

• Common areas such as dens and kitchens should not be shared as long as the exposed person is infectious, if possible. Common surfaces should be regularly sanitized; commercial products are sufficient. Shared spaces should be well ventilated (e.g., keep windows open), when possible.

• Meals should be eaten in separate locations. If possible, create separate cooking and food storage locations for the infected family member. Use separate linen and eating utensils for your loved one. Dishes and utensils should be placed into the dishwasher and are safe to handle once the washing and drying cycles are completed. If a dishwasher is not available, wash dishes and utensils in hot, soapy water while wearing dishwashing gloves. 

Photo from METRO

• Caring for someone with mild to moderate symptoms of coronavirus is similar to caring for someone with the flu. Give them supportive care, fluids, soups and over-the-counter cough medicines and pain relievers to ease symptoms. Have them take their temperature regularly. 

• If someone at home with coronavirus begins to have chest pain, is unable to complete sentences due to breathlessness, has dusky skin, is unable to eat and drink, or has other concerning signs of getting worse, they should be brought to the local emergency department for further evaluation.

• Perform hand hygiene after any type of contact with your loved one. The exposed person should clean and disinfect surfaces daily that are frequently touched in the room where he or she is staying. They should also clean and disinfect their bathroom and toilet surface at least daily.

• Clean the person’s clothes, bed linens and bath and hand towels using regular laundry soap and water at the hottest permissible setting. Use a dryer if available. Use gloves when cleaning surfaces or handling clothes or linen soiled with body fluids. 

• Healthy members of the household should frequently clean household surfaces, especially high-touch surfaces such as handles, doorknobs, appliances, etc.

Establish a communication link with your healthcare provider ahead of time, know where your closest hospital is, and have a checklist of emergency supplies if you need to take your loved one to the hospital. If they are so sick or weak that they can’t eat, drink or go to the bathroom, call a doctor.

Detailed guidance about caring for people at home is available from the World Health Organization website: www.who.int/publications-detail/home-care-for-patients-with-suspected-novel-coronavirus-(ncov)-infection-presenting-with-mild-symptoms-and-management-of-contacts

The best advice? Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Get rest, eat well and exercise however you can. Maintain social distancing. Pay close attention to hand hygiene, and keep your hands off of your face. We all have a role to play to stop the spread and protect each other during this global pandemic.

Susan V. Donelan, MD, FSHEA is Medical Director of the Healthcare Epidemiology Department and Assistant Professor, Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Medicine.

Stony Brook University Hospital. File photo

By Carol Gomes

Carol Gomes

I often tell people that Stony Brook University Hospital and I grew up together. The hospital first opened its doors in 1980, as the region’s first academic medical center. And just five years later, I was hired as a clinical laboratory scientist. Since then, the hospital has grown exponentially. And so has my role. Today I have the honor and privilege of serving as its Chief Executive Officer. We’ve both come a long way! 

During its first year in operation, SBU Hospital employed 800 people. We now employ over 7,000 and are part of an 818-bed healthcare system. Through all the change and growth, one constant has remained, allowing Stony Brook University Hospital to achieve excellence, including recognition as one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals™ for 2019 and 2020.

That constant, the source of our greatest strength, is in the people who work at our hospital every single day and give it their all. And with their expertise, they provide the compassionate care that helps patients heal. If it weren’t for the healthcare professionals who are the fabric of the organization, we wouldn’t be a high-quality, patient safety-award-winning organization.

Did you know that when we first opened, Stony Brook University Hospital was one of the few hospitals in New York State with a nursing staff that consisted entirely of registered nurses? 

Or that in 1981, the first kidney transplant on Long Island was performed at our hospital? 

The reputation of our hospital as a research center also began to gain momentum around that time. In 1982, it was announced that the discovery of the spirochete responsible for Lyme disease was made by a Stony Brook team led by Jorge Benach, PhD. A decade before, Stony Brook University researcher Paul Lauterbur, PhD, created the first multi-dimensional image using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). His 1971 discovery made it possible to get a clear look inside the human body without surgery or x-rays. Dr. Lauterbur would go on to receive the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

We have so many proud moments and milestones. Our Burn Unit, opened in 1984, is now designated as the regional center for burn care and known as the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center. In 1988, our hospital was named the regional AIDS treatment center – one of only two in the state at the time. In 1989, I remember watching the first Suffolk County Police helicopter touch down on the hospital’s helipad to provide transport of the critically ill or injured to the hospital from throughout Suffolk County.

At the start of 1990, the hospital was designated by New York State as a Level I Trauma Center. That same year, the hospital opened its Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP), which became another New York State-designated service. All of the hospital’s state designations are still in place today.   

In 2001, on the heels of our 20th anniversary, we began to lay the foundation for growth. The different phases of construction, renovation and rebuilding have resulted in a multitude of new services, programs, faculty and facilities that continue to serve and benefit our communities today and into the future.

Advanced Specialty Care, our multispecialty center in Commack that opened in 2017, offers more than 30 medical specialties. Our Medical and Research Translation building, Stony Brook University Cancer Center and 150-bed Hospital Pavilion, which includes a new facility for Stony Brook Children’s Hospital opened in 2019.

And this year, our Children’s Hospital — the first and only children’s hospital in Suffolk County — is celebrating its 10th year, while combining the best practices in modern pediatric medicine with a child- and family-first philosophy. 

I can’t wait to see what the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years bring!

Carol A. Gomes is the Chief Executive Officer of Stony Brook University Hospital. 

20190102.01_New Childrens Signage and Lobby

By Margaret McGovern, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Margaret McGovern

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital offers the most advanced pediatric specialty care in the region, which means that the smallest babies, the sickest children and the most complex pediatric traumas all get sent to Stony Brook Children’s. 

Since 2010, when Stony Brook Children’s was first formed, we’ve been committed to the nearly half a million children in Suffolk County whose pediatric health care needs were underserved. Our goal was, and still is, to provide sophisticated pediatric care close to home for the many families who previously had to travel long distances.

Now with the completion and opening of our new building earlier this month, we are able to expand our capabilities to meet the growing health care needs of children and their families across Long Island. 

More than 180 pediatric specialists

As the leading children’s hospital on Long Island with more than 180 pediatric specialists in more than 30 specialties, we offer a full range of medical services to support the physical, emotional and mental development of infants, children and young adults. We also can provide leading-edge care for just about every diagnosis — from a simple fracture to a kidney transplant.

Groundbreaking clinical trials

Stony Brook Children’s also provides cutting-edge research, child-sized technological innovations, clinical trials and breakthrough techniques to benefit pediatric patients as Long Island’s only children’s teaching hospital.

A child-first, family-first philosophy

The new hospital was designed with patients at the center of our thinking and planning, to promote their safety, well-being and healing. It’s the only children’s hospital on Long Island with all single-patient rooms, which allows us to combine the best practices in modern pediatric medicine with a child-first, family-first philosophy. The hospital’s design and amenities are supported by research that shows that a child-friendly environment contributes to better outcomes for children.

Each room of the new hospital includes patient, family and health care provider areas. State-of-the-art hospital beds capture and download patient information directly into the patients’ charts. Every room contains a proprietary security system, interactive televisions, in-room refrigerators, kid-focused menus as well as multicolored wall lights controlled by patients to give them a greater sense of control over their environment during what can be a frightening time for them and their families.

Other child-friendly features include separate child and teen playrooms, common areas, including an outdoor garden, and a classroom with Wi-Fi so students can keep up with their studies.

There’s also a new Ronald McDonald Family Room to offer a welcoming place for family respite, comfort and support.

Uplifting local artwork that soothes and inspires 

We’ve enjoyed the support of Long Island’s artistic community in providing artwork with a Long Island nautical theme, complete with a play lighthouse and wall-sized live feed from the Long Island Aquarium. It’s truly an outstanding art collection for the entire community living in harmony with the building’s architecture and reflecting the healing mission of Stony Brook Children’s.

To learn more, visit www.stonybrookchildrens.org.

Dr. Margaret McGovern is the Knapp Chair in Pediatrics, dean for clinical affairs and Renaissance School of Medicine physician-in-chief at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Local officials and health professional are urging residents to get this year's flu shot. Stock photo

By Saul Hymes, M.D.

Dr. Saul Hymes

Make sure you and your loved ones are ready for the flu season by getting vaccinated. While the best time to get vaccinated is October or November, you can get vaccinated before the flu season and even in December or later. We don’t yet know what type of season we will encounter, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Cold or flu: How can you tell?

Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses and tends to be more severe than a cold. A cold is caused by a different virus and has milder symptoms. People with the flu will usually have fever, muscle aches and more fatigue.

The flu can also cause very severe complications including pneumonia and can lead to hospitalization and death. More mild cases may be indistinguishable from a cold and the duration can be the same (about 5-7 days). There may be times when you’re uncertain if you have the flu or a cold, so it’s good to know that there’s a test to diagnose the influenza virus, which most doctors’ offices and ERs are able to perform.

Treating the flu vs. a cold

Both are treated with rest and lots of fluids, while the pain and fever associated with either can be treated with medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Influenza may also be treated with a direct antiviral medication, Tamiflu. However, depending on risk factors and the person’s age, not all people with influenza need Tamiflu. This should be discussed with your physician. 

Who is at risk? 

People who are over the age of 65, adults and children with conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease need to get a flu shot. Pregnant women and people who live in facilities like nursing homes are also encouraged to get a flu shot. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone six months of age and older should get their yearly flu vaccine. There are documented benefits from this, including reductions in illnesses, related doctors’ visits and missed work or school. Even an imperfect vaccination can contribute to fewer hospitalizations and deaths from influenza. 

Dispelling the myths

Some people think that the flu shot can cause the flu. Not true. While some people get a little soreness or redness where they get the shot, it goes away in a day or two. And the nasal mist flu vaccine might cause nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat and cough. But the risk of a severe allergic reaction is very rare — it’s less than one in four million. 

Others say the flu shot doesn’t work, which is also not true. Most of the time, the flu shot will prevent the flu. In scientific studies, the effectiveness of the flu shot has ranged from 70 to 90 percent when there’s a good match between circulating viruses and those in the vaccine. 

Habits that can help

Help keep the flu at bay. Avoid those who are ill. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, then cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder (not into your hands). Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Stay home from work if you’re sick. Keep your children out of school and after-school activities if they’re sick.  

At Stony Brook University Hospital, we also encourage visitors who may be experiencing symptoms not to visit their loved ones in the hospital until they are healthy. 

If you would like to get a flu shot, we can refer you to a provider in your area. Call Stony Brook Medicine’s HealthConnect at 631-444-4000 or visit your physician or local pharmacy.

Dr. Saul Hymes is an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and specialist in pediatric infectious disease at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

The use of Narcan is demonstrated on a dummy during a training class. File photo by Elana Glowatz

At Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine, a new generation of doctors and dentists are involved in a novel approach to managing the opioid epidemic. The training includes instruction from reformed narcotic users, who act as teachers.

A 25-year-old woman recently explained to the first-year students how she became addicted to opioids at the age of 15, when a friend came over with Vicodin prescribed by a dentist after a tooth extraction.

Addiction, she said, is like having a deep itch inside that desperately needs to be scratched.

“There was nothing that could stand between me and getting high,” said the young woman, who wants to remain anonymous. “Most of the time it was my only goal for the day. At $40 a pill, I quickly switched to heroin which costs $10.” 

The university’s Assistant Dean for Clinical Education Dr. Lisa Strano-Paul, who helped coordinate the session, said that “patients as teachers” is widely practiced in medical education. This is the first year reformed narcotic users are participating in the program.

“People’s stories will stick with these medical students for the rest of their lives,” she said. “Seeing such an articulate woman describe her experiences was impactful.”

Gerard Fischer, a doctor of dental surgery candidate from St. James, took part in the patient-as-teacher session on narcotics.

“You learn empathy, a quality people want to see in someone practicing medicine,“ Fischer said. “People don’t choose to become addicted to narcotics. So, you want to understand.”

After working in dental offices over the last several years, he’s noticed that habits for prescribing painkillers are changing.

“Dental pain is notoriously uncomfortable because it’s in your face and head,” he said. “No one wants a patient to suffer.” Pain management, though, requires walking a fine line, he added, saying, “Patient awareness is increasing, so many of them now prefer to take ibuprofen and acetaminophen rather than a prescription narcotic, which could be a reasonable approach.”

Hearing the young woman tell her story, he said, will undoubtedly influence his decision-making when he becomes a practicing dentist. 

An estimated 180 medical and dental students attended the training last month. Overall, Strano-Paul said she’s getting positive feedback from the medical students about the session. 

The woman who overcame addiction and shared her insights with the medical professionals, also found the experience rewarding. 

We respect her request to remain anonymous and are grateful that she has decided to share her story with TBR News Media. For the rest of this article, we shall refer to her as “Claire.” 

Faith, hope and charity

“I told the doctors that recovery has nothing to do with science,” Claire said. “They just looked at me.”

Claire was addicted to drugs and alcohol for seven years and went to rehab 10 times over the course of five years. 

“I did some crazy things, I jumped out of a car while it was moving,” Claire said, shaking her head in profound disbelief.

She leapt from the vehicle, she said, the moment she learned that her family was on their way to a rehab facility. Fortunately, she was unharmed and has now been off pain pills and drugs for close to six years. She no longer drinks alcohol.

“Yes, it is possible to recover from addiction,” Claire said. 

People with addiction issues feel empty inside, Claire explained, while gently planting her fist in her sternum. She said that once her counselor convinced her to pray for help and guidance, she was able to recover.

“Somehow praying opens you up,” she said. 

Claire was raised Catholic and attended Catholic high school but says that she’s not a religious person. 

“I said to my counselor, “How do I pray, if I don’t believe or know if there’s a God?” 

She came to terms with her spirituality by appreciating the awe of nature. She now prays regularly. Recovery, she said, is miraculous.

Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step regimen, first published in 1939 in the post-Depression era, outlines coping strategies for better managing life. Claire swears by the “big book,” as it’s commonly called. She carefully read the first 165 pages with a counselor and has highlighted passages that taught her how to overcome addictions to opioids and alcohol. Being honest, foregoing selfishness, praying regularly and finding ways to help others have become reliable sources of her strength.

Spirituality is the common thread Claire finds among the many people she now knows who have recovered from addiction.

The traditional methods of Alcohol Anonymous are helping people overcome addiction to opioids.

Medication-assisted therapy

Personally, Claire recommends abstinence over treating addiction medically with prescription drugs such as buprenorphine. The drug, approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration since 2002, is a slow-release opioid that suppresses symptoms of withdrawal. When combined with behavior therapy, the federal government recommends it as treatment for addiction. Medication alone, though, is not viewed as sufficient. The ultimate goal of medication-assisted therapy, as described on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website on the topic, is a holistic approach to full recovery, which includes the ability to live a self-directed life.

“Medication-assisted therapy should not be discounted,” Strano-Paul said. “It improves the outcome and enables people to hold jobs and addresses criminal behavior tendencies.”

While the assistant dean is not involved with that aspect of the curriculum, the topic is covered somewhat in the clerkship phase of medical education during sessions on pain management and when medical students are involved in more advanced work in the medical training, she said. 

The field, though, is specialized.

The federal government requires additional certification before a medical practitioner can prescribe buprenorphine. Once certified, doctors and their medical offices are further restricted to initially prescribe the medicine to only 30 patients annually. Critics say no other medications have government-mandated patient limits on lifesaving treatment. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, considers the therapy to be “misunderstood” and “greatly underused.” 

In New York state, 111,391 medical practitioners are registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe opioids and narcotics. Only 6,908 New York practitioners to date are permitted to prescribe opioids for addiction treatment as at Aug. 31.

Strano-Paul for instance, pointed out that she can prescribe opioids, but is prohibited from prescribing the opioid-based drug used for addiction therapy. 

The narcotics education program is still evolving, Strano-Paul said. 

New medical student training now also includes certification for Narcan, the nasal spray antidote that revives opioid overdose victims. 

“It saves lives,” Strano-Paul said. 

In Suffolk County in 2017, 424 people died from an opioid overdose, which was 41 percent higher than the state average, according to a study titled “The Staggering Cost of Long Island’s Opioid Crisis.” The county is aware of 238 potentially lifesaving overdose reversals as of June 30 attributed to Narcan this year alone. Since 2012, Narcan has helped to save the lives of 3,864 people in the county. 

As for Claire, now a mother, she delivered her children through C-section. In the hospital, she was offered prescription opioids for pain. 

“No one will ever see me again, if you give me those pills,” she said.                

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital on July 23. Photo from SBU

By Carol A. Gomes

With the latest addition of Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital, Stony Brook Medicine further expands its role as a leading integrated health care system delivering increased care options to benefit our patients across Long Island.

The Stony Brook Medicine health care system now consists of Stony Brook University Hospital (SBUH), Stony Brook Children’s Hospital (SBCH), Stony Brook Southampton Hospital (SBSH) and Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital (SBELIH). The system includes more than 1,200 physicians on the full-time faculty in the Renaissance School of Medicine and nearly 200 additional employed physicians in the community. Our ambulatory footprint is comprised of more than 100 outpatient care sites, strategically located to enhance convenient access to care.

The hospitals in the Stony Brook Medicine health care system will work together to provide access to the full range of health care services to East End residents, locally in the community and at SBUH, a world-class tertiary medical center. By combining our resources, we will match patients with the right type of care in the right facility.

Our objective is to improve coordination of complex episodes of care for our patients while at the same time improving efficiency and lowering the cost of care. To deliver this seamless care, we are making considerable incremental investments to facilitate caregiver communication, including integration of electronic medical records.

We look forward to further realizing the benefits of combining a large academic medical center with community-based hospitals. The latter offers unique academic and training opportunities for our residents and fellows. As clinical campuses and training sites, SBELIH and SBSH will help increase the number of physicians, specialists, allied health professionals and nurses on Eastern Long Island choosing to explore opportunities to practice medicine in community settings.

For example, Stony Brook Medicine already hosts a psychiatric residency program at SBELIH, and a new Mastery in General Surgery Fellowship program provides surgical fellows with four months of community hospital experience.

Stony Brook has also improved access to prehospital emergency care on the North Fork, with two EMS “fly cars,” staffed by paramedics who serve as first responders on the scene of emergencies. In the future, telehealth connections will be established between the emergency departments of SBUH and SBELIH, and on Shelter Island, to further improve direct access to Stony Brook Medicine specialists.

Fortunately, Stony Brook Medicine has a long history of working collaboratively with both of our community-based hospital partners to meet the needs of patients on the East End. Formalizing the relationship with SBSH two years ago and now adding SBELIH to the system will allow us to work even more closely together to improve access to medical and surgical services, as well as specialty care, and to offer new community-based health programs.

We look forward to creating even closer ties in the future as we further develop our integrated healthcare system, with the patient at the center of everything we do.

Carol A. Gomes, MS, FACHE, CPHQ is the Interim Chief Executive Officer of Stony Brook University Hospital.

Pictured above, at the Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital ribbon-cutting ceremony, held on July 23, from left: New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.; Paul J. Connor III, Chief Administrative Officer, Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital; Greenport Mayor George Hubbard; Thomas E. Murray Jr., ELIH Board Chairman; Scott Russell, Supervisor, Town of Southold; Michael A. Bernstein, PhD, Interim President, Stony Brook University; Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, MACP, Senior Vice President, Health Sciences, and Dean, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University; Al Krupski, Suffolk County Legislator; Margaret M. McGovern, MD, PhD, Vice President for Health System Clinical Programs and Strategy, Stony Brook Medicine; and New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle.