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Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, raised a red flag about the safety of annual family gatherings during Thanksgiving last week on an interview on CBS.

People may have to “bite the bullet and sacrifice that social gathering unless you’re pretty certain that the people that you’re dealing with are not infected,” Fauci told CBS.

Richard Gatteau, SBU Dean of Students. Photo from SBU Website

Doctors at area hospitals and officials at Stony Brook University are offering guidance to residents and students over a month before an annual holiday that often brings people from several generations, cities and states together.

Before they send some of the 4,200 on campus students at SBU home, the university plans to test them for the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The week of Nov. 16, “every resident will be tested,” said Dean of Students Richard Gatteau. “Any positive cases would remain on campus” until the university knew they were negative.

Students remaining on campus would receive meals and would get the same level of care through the holidays that students would normally get if they tested positive during the semester.

Stony Brook expects the student population to decline after Thanksgiving, when all classes and final exams will be remote through the end of the semester.

For the students who plan to return to campus, Stony Brook realizes the logistical challenges of requiring viral tests during the short holiday and will provide tests in the first two days after these students return to their dormitories.

Even before the holiday, Stony Brook expects to increase the frequency of viral testing from bi-weekly to weekly.

Gatteau said the student government plans to educate students who plan to join family during the holiday about procedures to keep everyone safe. This guidance mirrors school policies, such as wearing masks inside when near other family members, keeping a distance of six feet inside and washing hands regularly.

The dean of students recently spoke with Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House’s coronavirus task force who visited Stony Brook to speak with officials about the school’s COVID response. Though Birx was pleased with the measures the university took, she was reportedly more worried about the behavior of extended family than with students during Thanksgiving.

“Her concern is with the older generation not following the rules,” Gatteau said. She wanted students to encourage their grandparents to follow the same procedures because “grandparents will listen to their grandkids.”

Types of Tests

Dr. Michael Grosso, Chief Medical Officer at Huntington Hospital, urged everyone to plan to get tested before coming together for Thanksgiving.

Dr. Grosso said two types of tests are available for students and parents. The first is an antigen test and the second is a PCR, for polymerase chain reaction, test. Grosso suggests that the PCR test is more reliable as the antigen test “misses more cases.”

The test technique is critical to its success. Some false negatives may result from inadequate specimen collection, Grosso said. The deep nasopharyngeal specimen “requires a little skill on the part of the person doing the test.”

Additionally, people getting tested before a family gathering need to consider the timing of the test. They may receive a negative test during a period of time in which the virus is developing in their bodies.

Active testing may have helped reduce the severity of the disease for people who contract it. People are coming to the hospital in some cases before the disease causes as much damage.

In addition to getting tested and monitoring possible symptoms, Grosso urged residents to continue to practice the new, healthier etiquette, even when they are with relatives during the holidays.

“Families need to have conversations” about how close they are prepared to get before they see each other, Grosso said. People need to “decide together what rules [they] are going to follow, and make sure everybody is comfortable with those.”

As for Thanksgiving in the Grosso home, the Chief Medical Officer said he and his wife have five children between them, two of whom will be coming for the annual November holiday. The others will participate, as has become the modern reality, at the other end of a zoom call. Typically, the entire family would come together.

Stony Brook’s Gatteau said he and his partner typically have 20 to 25 people over for Thanksgiving. This year, they are limited the guests to seven people. They plan to keep masks on in their house and will crack a window open so there is air flow.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande slides into third. Photo from SBU Athletics

Stony Brook Athletics launched its latest fundraising campaign asking people to “Believe in the Seawolves” as the university sports program faces an uncertain future.

SBU Athletic Director Shawn Heilbron accepts the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup from America East Commisioner Amy Huchthausen. Photo from SBU

On Thursday, Oct. 8, the university’s Giving Day, Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron held a virtual town hall through Facebook Live to answer questions surrounding the status of Stony Brook Athletics for this school year and for the future. 

“Let’s have the Stony Brook Athletics story of 2020-2021 be the greatest story in our history,” Heilbron said during the town hall. “I think we’re going to do that.”

One of the major concerns, he said, was the financial standing of the university since revenue dropped throughout the COVID-19 crisis, calling it a “dramatic financial impact.”

He mentioned that the program lost nearly $700,000 from basketball, alone, and when the school closed in March, students were reimbursed their student fees which neared a $2 million loss. 

“Ticket sales, donations, corporate partnerships … you could imagine the impact there,” he said. “The trickle down comes from the state to the school to us, and many universities across the country are dealing with it.”

He said it was close to $5 million in revenues lost. 

“We’ve made some tough decisions, many staff positions are being left unfilled,” he said. “We’re very concerned about our future … schools across the country are cutting sports, these are difficult decisions that are hard to come back.”

The new fundraising campaign coined “Believe In the Seawolves” comes from asking people to do just that. “Believe in our value and commitment to this university,” Heilbron said. “If we can get people to get behind that we can come out of this stronger … It’s more than a campaign, I want it to be a movement.”

But just because COVID-19 guidelines aren’t allowing sports to be played as of right now, Heilbron they are not cancelled, just postponed. He added that fall sports were moved to the spring, which will make for a very active season. 

“It’s going to be quite an active period for us,” he said. “We’re just starting to look at what those schedules will look like and will be announced very soon.”

He said that utilizing this time now will be a springboard for next fall, and are keeping safe in doing so.

The athletes who are participating in practices now, like basketball, have a regimented screening process before hitting the court. 

“Student athletes come through one entrance, have their temperature checked and then they get a wrist band,” Heilbron said. “They can’t come in if they don’t have the wristband.”

Although it is an uncertain time for the student athletes who worked to play at Stony Brook University, Heilbron said the first day of fall semester was a good one. 

“It literally was an energetic lift in our department that they needed,” he said. “It was good to have the family back together.”

The university announced after Thursday’s Giving Day campaign, more than 240 donors combined to contribute gifts exceeding $200,000 to go towards athletics. The campaign will continue to fundraise throughout the remainder of the year. 

Drivers need to proceed with caution when they spot deer on the side of roadway. File photo by Rich Schiavone

Deer grazing near roadways may look innocent but they can pose a possible hazard — even a deadly one — for drivers.

As fall arrives, the animals’ presence becomes an even greater danger. A higher percentage of deer are now more likely to dart out into the road as they are in the midst of their rutting season, which runs from October through December. Driving during dusk and dawn exacerbates the problem with reduced visibility.

According to a press release from AAA Northeast, there were 36,445 animal crashes in New York State in 2019, and the number of crashes has increased over the past five years. Suffolk County was found to have the third highest amount of animal crashes with 1,415. In 2019, Brookhaven had 423 animal crashes while Smithtown had 120.

The data was taken from the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, an affiliate with the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs, which does not cite which animals were involved in the crash. However AAA Northeast said in its press release that “data from New York and other states previous years found deer were involved in 88 to 98 percent of crashes.”

“Striking a deer can be extremely dangerous, with the animal possibly going through the windshield, seriously injuring or killing the driver and passengers,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., spokesman for AAA Northeast.

AAA Northeast recommends drivers brake gently and avoid swerving when encountering any animals.

“Going to the right could send the vehicle into a ditch, tree or light pole,” the AAA Northeast press release said. “Swerving to the left could result in a lethal head-on crash. Even hitting the brakes hard could send the front end of the vehicle into a nosedive, promoting the animal rolling up the hood and through the windshield.”

Other tips from AAA and insurance companies include:

● Be extra cautious when you see a deer-crossing sign along a roadway. The sign means that there have been deer-vehicle collisions near the sign location.

● Decrease speed when you approach deer near roadsides as they can bolt out or change direction quickly. If you see a deer, look for others as they are herd animals and usually travel in groups. Especially during rutting season when a buck may be chasing a doe.

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

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

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

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recommends not getting out of your car and approaching an injured animal as they can strike out with their legs or hooves. In Brookhaven, residents can call the Animal Shelter at 631-451-6950 to report deceased deer on the road or curbside. Town employees cannot remove animals found on front lawns, backyards or on driveways.

Elizabeth, Evie, Madelynn and Kevin Kennedy preparing at their home for Thursday night’s virtual Wave of Light to remember their lost daughter and sister, Grace Ann. Photo byJulianne Mosher

Elizabeth Kennedy lost her second child when she was 26 weeks and six days pregnant.

On Feb. 25, 2018, she heard the words from her doctor that no mother wants to hear, that their unborn child Grace Ann’s heartbeat could not be heard. Struck with grief, Kennedy, a Rocky Point resident, felt she needed to find an outlet to help her cope with her loss, so she began researching different infant loss support groups. Through her online search, she found the Star Legacy Foundation.

“I’ve gotten in touch with other women and families who have lost babies and it’s been such a relief to know that I’m not in this alone,” Kennedy said. “It has made me want to let other people know that they are not alone, either.”

When she found the strength through the organization, she knew she had to give back and help other women who have gone through the same thing.

“It has made me want to let other people know that they are not alone, either.”

— Elizabeth Kennedy

Last year, through the nonprofit, Kennedy took the initiative to try and make Oct. 15 a county-wide Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Awareness Day. The month of October was proclaimed as “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month” by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.

Earlier this year, she met with Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who sponsored the resolution. The legislator said Kennedy’s story moved her in a personal way.

“Many other families in our county have experienced this kind of tremendous loss,” Anker said. “I hope that designating this day will help provide necessary support to those who are grieving and remind them they are not alone.”

The resolution was approved unanimously by the Suffolk County Legislature Oct. 6. Anker said the day will increase awareness of the causes and impacts surrounding pregnancy and infant loss. It is also a means to improve understanding as well as offer support and potential resources for those who grieve the loss of a pregnancy or infant.

According to the Star Legacy Foundation, thousands of families in the United States experience pregnancy and infant loss each year. In the U.S. there are approximately 24,000 stillbirths, or one in 160 births a year. In addition to stillbirths, current research suggests that between 10% and 20% of medically confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“It’s not just the experience that’s traumatizing for families,” Anker said. “It’s everything after, too.”

Kennedy is also using her new platform to establish a support group collaboratively with Stony Brook University Hospital.

“I want to put as much information out there as possible so when people go through this, they don’t just crawl into a ball and feel that they’re by themselves,” she said. “To be able to talk to these people and have somebody who understands what you went through, to cry with them, remember our babies with them — it just needs to be out there more … it needs to be talked about. We need to change the stigma.”

On Thursday night, Anker joined people across the country and hosted a virtual “Wave of Light” on Facebook Live and through Zoom. With Kennedy’s family online, and several other local families who experienced such a loss, they lit a candle in honor of the children who are not here today.

During the candle lighting ceremony, Kevin Kennedy, Elizabeth’s husband, spoke on behalf of his wife.

“We’re all grieving the loss of a baby or a friend’s baby,” he said. “Every one of these candles has a name attached to it … a life’s flame blown out too soon, and it’s our responsibility as survivors to honor and remember them all.”

Although getting over her loss is not easy, Kennedy said she finds comfort in knowing maybe this happened for a reason — that losing Grace will help get the message out to families to know they are never going to be alone.

“I hope people catch on to this now and realize we’re not hiding anymore,” she said. “We’re not going to hide our babies; we’re going to be okay.”

Emily Sugarman and Sean Ryan celebrated the birth of their new baby girl Lily. Behind them stands Dr. Gus San Roman, who helped deliver both Lily and Ryan, separated by 26 years. Photo from St. Charles
Emily Sugarman and Sean Ryan celebrated the birth of their new baby girl Lily. Behind them stands Dr. Gus San Roman, who helped deliver both Lily and Ryan, separated by 26 years. Photo from St. Charles

The same hospital, the same doctor, the same day and month. With all that, there’s very little separating this father and baby girl, save a few years.

Sean Ryan and Emily Sugarman, of Rocky Point, are the new parents of little baby girl, Lily Sugarman-Ryan, who was born Oct. 6 at St. Charles Hospital. Funnily enough, that is the same date and the same place where Ryan was born 26 years ago. Young Lily was also delivered by the same doctor, Dr. Gus San Roman, who delivered her father.

Ryan, a construction superintendent, and Sugarman, a nurse at Peconic Bay Medical Center, were originally anticipating the birth of their first child Sept 23. Though Ryan, who, as a kind of joke, told his wife throughout the pregnancy he knew the baby would be born on his birthday. She wasn’t buying it, knowing it was rare she would deliver her baby so long after the due date.

St. Charles Hospital officials said that after September came and went, doctors decided it was time “to give the baby an eviction notice.” Ryan said his first thought wasn’t hinging on the date, but instead about his girlfriend’s and unborn child’s health.

Though indeed, in the weeks before going to the hospital, Ryan said in chatting with his mother and describing where and with what doctor their daughter would be born.

San Roman did not know it was the husband’s birthday, but they scheduled Sugarman to arrive at the hospital that Tuesday evening. She was originally set to be induced then give birth the following day. At the last minute, the time was moved to that morning, but still there was no given she would be born on that day either.

As the soon-to-be mother was going into labor, just minutes before the new daughter was set to be born, San Roman was told he was the same doctor who delivered Ryan.

Lily was born at 6:26 p.m. Oct. 6, weighing 8 pounds and 3 ounces. 

Sean said the doctor was astonished and asked, “Are you sure it wasn’t my brother?” Dr. Gerardo San Roman, Gus’ brother, is also an obstetrician. When hospital records were checked, the proof was there. Dr. Gus San Roman delivered Sean Ryan Oct. 6, 1994, at St. Charles Hospital. As Sean and Emily prepared to bring their baby girl home a few days later, they said it would be a joy to have a dual birthday celebration in all the years to come. 

Now that Ryan and Sugarman have returned to their Rocky Point home, the husband said his daughter has been “an angel,” and that “she just eats and sleeps and goes to the bathroom.” He added that he appreciates everything St. Charles did to help them, and that they’ll likely be back in the future for the next
little one.

San Roman, himself the father of six daughters, reportedly beamed as he gave parenting advice to the proud new parents. 

“A new addition to one’s family is always a wonderful event but, to have your daughter’s arrival as your birthday present is utterly amazing,” he said. “I am honored that the generation of babies whose births I assisted now trust me to assist at their own. Lily’s birth will be one that I will always remember.”

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Residents on Long Island and elsewhere can’t call their doctor’s offices and ask to receive all of the same treatment that sent President Donald Trump (R) from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center back to the White House and the campaign trail.

Dr. Luis Marcos said SBU was planning to participate in the second Regeneron trial, but a general lack of COVID patients scrapped that idea. Photo from SBU

After officials said he tested positive for COVID-19 Oct. 2, the president received a combination of the antiviral drug Remdesivir, an antibody cocktail from Regeneron, and the steroid dexamethasone.

Remdesivir has become more widely used in hospitals on Long Island.

The last two months, “all patients admitted to the hospital may qualify for Remdesivir according to the clinical judgment of your doctor,” said Dr. Luis Marcos, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University.

The patient population that is most likely to benefit from Remdesivir includes residents who are over 60, have diabetes with hypertension and have been admitted to the hospital with mild pneumonia.

Patients who have liver disease or kidney failure may not be prescribed the intravenous drug.

Typically, Remdesivir, like other antiviral drugs, benefits patients who have contracted COVID-19 within a week, because the medicine stops the replication of the virus.

Patients who received Remdesivir after an infection that lasted more than 10 days may not benefit as much because the drug won’t reverse damage done to the lungs.

The side effects of antivirals typically last one to two days.

Dexamethasone is also available and used in hospitals including Huntington Hospitals and Stony Brook.

As a steroid, dexamethasone has “multiple side effects,” said Dr. Michael Grosso, Chief Medical Officer at Huntington Hospital. “It is only given when the benefit is expected to significantly outweigh the risk and so there’s going to be that assessment in every case,” Dr. Grosso said.

Patients with diabetes are likely to experience “more trouble with their blood sugar control if they’re receiving dexamethasone,” Grosso added.

Dexamethasone can also produce sleeplessness and, in some cases, psychiatric disturbances, doctors added.

The monoclonal antibody cocktail from Regeneron the president received has had limited use, mostly through clinical trials and in compassionate care cases. It has not received approval from the Food and Drug Administration, although it has applied for emergency use authorization.

Stony Brook was planning to participate in the second trial of Regeneron, with Dr. Bettina Fries, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, as the principal investigator and Dr. Marcos as the co-principal investigator. The hospital did not participate because it didn’t have enough cases.

Marcos said the cocktail of antibodies block the virus actively causing inflammation.

The good news with the Regeneron treatment is that the side effects appear minimal, Marcos said.

Regeneron is unlikely to reverse the damage in the lungs caused by the virus. In managing patient care, doctors try to slow or stop the progression of pneumonia from the virus.

Marcos said patients who are asymptomatic or have minor symptoms shouldn’t race to take the more widely available Remdesivir or Dexamethasone because 99% of patients with COVID infection do not have pneumonia. Those patients with a mild upper respiratory infection may not need anything but Tylenol.

Patients who are developing more severe symptoms can come to the hospital to determine the best medical response.

“If you have fever or you don’t feel that great, of course, come to the Emergency Room, we can evaluate you, and decide what to do next. For mild, mild cases, I don’t think we should be using Remdesivir,” Grosso said.

Chris Pendergast celebrates his 70th birthday at 89 North Music Venue in Patchogue with family and friends. Photo by Elliot Perry

Founder of ALS Ride for Life and renowned North Shore figure Chris Pendergast passed Oct. 14 surrounded by friends and family. He was 71.

ALS Ride for Life reported Monday that Pendergast was starting to receive home hospice care. The organization announced his death Wednesday afternoon.

Authors Dr. Christopher Pendergast and Christine Pendergast

Pendergast, a Miller Place resident and former Northport elementary teacher had lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for 28 years, when doctors diagnosed him they thought he only had a few years to live.

Not only did he defy those odds, but he would spend more than two decades after his diagnosis raising millions for ALS research and spreading awareness for the disease that, over time, paralyzes a person and eventually leads to their death.

Chris’ wife, Christine Pendergast, said beyond all the work he’s done over the past two decades in advocacy and fundraising, her husband will be remembered by her and her family as a loving father.

“While everybody is remembering Chris as an ALS advocate and fighter, at the end of the day he was my husband, our children’s father and our grandson’s poppy,” she said.

He became an icon and symbol for the North Shore for never giving up. Even as he lost the ability to speak and had to communicate with an eye to speech device, his determination never seemed to relent. Just this year, Pendergast, alongside his wife Christine, released the book “Blink Spoken Here” about his life since his diagnosis in 1993.

Jeffrey Sanzel, the artistic director at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, wrote the review for Pendergast’s book for TBR News Media.

“What a life and what a contribution,” Sanzel wrote in an email. “An exceptional human being.”

ALS Ride For Life started when Chris Pendergast embarked on a ride with his electric scooter from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to Washington, D.C., 22 years ago to raise awareness about the disease and raise funds for research. After a few years, the ride was contained to New York — from Riverhead to the Bronx — where participants stop by schools along the way that take part in the organization’s presentations throughout the school year.

Janice Rohlf, the first vice president for ALS Ride for Life based in Stony Brook, has worked with the group since they first went to the Stony Brook campus on the ride back in the ’90s. She has been on the board for 15 years.

“Through the ALS Ride for Life Chris taught thousands of school children how to face adversity,” she said in an email. “Those of us who worked with him and his wife, Christine, were far better people for the experience. Miraculously they maintained their love, family and faith during the 27 years they lived with ALS. They are true examples of unparallelled leadership.”

Ray Manzoni, the chairman of the ALS Ride for Life board, knew Chris for many years, as both their kids went to school together in Miller Place. It was one day after both he and Pendergast were together after Mass that the educator told Manzoni he was likely to die in a few years, and that he wanted to raise awareness for the disease.

Since then, the organization has raised over $10 million for advocacy and research. Their yearly Ride for Life trips were later accompanied by visits to close to 90 school districts on Long Island.

“Anyone who knew him, I believe he helped us all to live a better life,” Manzoni said. “He was a teacher of gifted and talented kids, and he took this terrible disease and turned it into amazing positive life.”

His roots on the North Shore ran deep, so much so that he became renowned in local school districts. He travelled from classroom to classroom, auditorium to auditorium, helping young people from elementary on up understand ALS, but more importantly, serve as a role model for what bravery truly looked like. Manzoni said students would often embrace Pendergast after these talks. As the years fell by, young students who were inspired by the Ride for Life founder would internalize his message. The board chairman said one time, an EMT stopped by the side of the road during the annual ride and told Pendergast how his example inspired them to want to help others.

“If you had the honor of meeting him, riding or walking next to Chris in his ALS Ride for Life from Montauk to Manhattan, or hearing his story of determination, you walked away a better person,” Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano wrote in a statement. “He left you with the lasting impressions that made you want to be more tolerant, kinder, more understanding and compassionate towards others. His fight against the devastation of ALS left you inspired, knowing him filled your heart and being in his presence left you humbled.”

Chris Pendergast, center, during a visit to Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School in Miller Place back in 2019. Photo from MPSD

Jack Soldano, a Miller Place student and founder of Comics for a Cause, which has donated to ALS Ride for Life, wrote to social media that Pendergast served as an inspiration for his work as well.

“It was on one of these school visits where I first met Mr. Pendergast,” Soldano wrote. “On that day at a middle school assembly he inspired me to broaden the reach of Comics for a Cause to donate to the Ride for Life, but after getting to know him and reading his book, he has inspired me to try and defy the odds every way I can.”

Paul Weisman, a member of ALS Ride for Life, was diagnosed with the disease in January of 2013. Getting introduced to Ride for Life, he started going out with the nonprofit’s founder during their school trips. He would go on to also go to some districts without Pendergast. The organization and its founder gave him a real purpose, “something to strive for, something bigger than myself to raise as much awareness to fight this disease.”

“Meeting Chris, he gave me hope, that that three to five years might not be true, that there may still be life here,” Weisman said.

Pendergast had four mantras: never give up, never lose hope, always remain optimistic and be willing to defy the odds. Weisman loved that last one so much he had it tattooed on his left arm. Upon showing his new ink to the Ride for Life founder, Weisman said his mentor and friend smiled.

“Chris could smile and light up a room,” he said. “We all want to do something with our lives, but he certainly did.”

Below are some selected quotes from what he wrote to TBR News Media last year. You can find the full article here.

“During the Columbus Day weekend of 1993, I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease,” Pendergast wrote a Your Turn published by TBR News Media last year. “Most people now know it is an incurable and uniformly fatal disease. Average life expectancy still hovers near the two or three-year mark. Lucky ones can live longer. A rare few survive longer than 10 years.

“… Do I wish I never got ALS? Honestly, I am not sure. I am certain that at some point in almost everyone’s life, a fatal disease will arise. The timing and circumstances vary but the ending does not. I have no corner on the market — everyone will get a turn. My turn came earlier than expected and became more public.

“It has been a great life so far. I wonder what new adventures and joys lie around the bend. Besides the joys to come, there are also the challenges and corresponding sorrows. However, I have faith and optimism that everyone one in my life will collectively help me triumph.”

A service will be held in Pendergast’s memory Sunday, Oct. 18 at the O.B. Davis Funeral Home in Miller Place from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. There will be a 60-person max occupancy, but those looking to pay respects will be rotated as needed. There will be a service that same day at 8:30 p.m. For a live stream of events, visit OBDavisMillerPlace.com.

A Funeral Mass will take place Monday, Oct. 19 at 10 a.m. at the St. Louis de Montfort Roman Catholic Church in Sound Beach. Socially distanced seating will be available at the main church and a live stream viewing with socially distanced seating at the chapel to the right of the main church. There will be an FM Broadcast available for listening from the church parking Lot.

The family requests donations be made to ALSrideforlife.org and Hope House Ministries at HHM.org.

To allow the family to mourn, representatives of ALS Ride for Life have asked people send all inquiries to [email protected]

This article was updated Oct. 16 to add more quotes from those who knew Chris Pendergast.

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With the approaching emotions of the holidays, Suffolk County residents may face persistent and unwanted changes in their lives, from not seeing a cherished family member to remaining confined to the same house where they work, live, eat and study. Between now and the end of the year, TBR News Media will feature stories about the impact of the ongoing pandemic on mental health. The articles will explore how to recognize signs of mental health strain and will provide advice to help get through these difficult times. This week, the article focuses on youth.

In a normal year, when school is out, the number of referrals Dr. Sharon Skariah, Director of Child Adolescent Psychiatry at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, declines during the summer.

Dr. Sharon Skariah says parents should recognize their own issues in order to help their children. Photo by Sharon Skariah

That’s not the case this year, as children continued to seek help for mental health challenges caused by the loss of a parent, the loss of financial or health security and the decline in social contact amid social distancing.

“We’ve been seeing significant anxiety and depression,” Skariah said. “Part of that is the prolonged time that [children] have been out of school.”

Skariah expects that the ongoing pandemic losses and restrictions will likely continue to cause those figures to increase.

Several mental health professionals shared their dos and don’ts for parents with grieving children.

Grieving Dos

For starters, Skariah suggests that parents should recognize their own anxiety and depression.

“If they find that they are themselves overwhelmed with the chaos of the pandemic, they should be aware that their own anxiety and mood can play a role in their children’s behavior,” she said.

Dr. Meghan Downey, clinical psychologist and Director of Northwell Health’s OnTrackNY, urged people to maintain a routine.

“Often, a holiday can exacerbate our stress levels,” Downey said. “Changes to our routine can increase stress. Continuing with the same sleep wake routine, normal eating and [finding time] for joy and relaxation provide a good foundation for managing grief.”

Based on prior group traumatic events, like the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the SARS virus, Skariah said the restoration of order happens over time and depends on personal and predisposing factors.

She urged families to be genuine and open and actively listen to what children say. Downey suggests children need to feel that they are allowed to mourn.

A support network can and should consider showing empathy, care and concern. Approaching people when they are calm, rather than in a distressed state, can provide some mental health relief.

People who are experiencing grief also can benefit from staying connected, even through holiday letters, phone calls, or a card, Downey said.

When Downey gives presentations to children and educators in school, she advises people working with young children to allow them to play death, to display their emotions through play.

Grieving Don’ts

Telling children platitudes like “time heals all wounds” may not be helpful for someone who is “acutely grieving,” Skariah said.

Downey added that telling children that a loved one is “sleeping” or that they should “stop crying, other people might get upset” provides mixed and confusing messages.

Telling children that “at least [the person who died is] not in pain anymore, they are in a better place” often doesn’t help and distracts people from feeling their emotional intensity, Downey said.

Downey cautioned youths, and their adult guardians, to manage over-indulgent behavior, such as with food or with excess spending.

While those indulgences provide temporary relief, they can also contribute to feelings of guilt, which can exacerbate grief, Downey cautioned.

Bradley Lewis, Administrative Manager for School Based Mental Health Services for South Oaks Hospital, said he has received numerous requests during the pandemic for support related to COVID-19.

Lewis said Downey’s presentations to some of the 11 school districts went beyond the thought of death, but include losses in other areas, like access to friends, senior awards dinners, and graduations.

“A lot of families appreciated the opportunity to learn more about grief and loss, to understand the different types of grief their children might be going through,” Lewis said.

With parents, Lewis urges parents to “end the stigma of mental health,” he said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said health services could be deeply affected without funds. Photo by Julianne Mosher

After weeks of warnings and missives about an upcoming budget shortfall, Suffolk officials finally published this upcoming year’s budget, one that has to take into consideration an apparent $437 million deficit over the next two years. Cuts won’t be instituted until the middle of 2021.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) revealed a 2021 recommended operating budget of $3.197 billion, representing $33 million less than the current year’s budget. It is a reaction to a total revenue shortfall of $325 million in 2020.

In a proposed budget released Oct. 9, the county would be letting go 500 full-time employees. The county exec said it would also mean a reduction in health care and mental health services, the loss of two full classes of trainees at the police academy and the elimination of 19 bus routes. 

Most cuts will be implemented July 1, 2021. County officials said this gives time in case some federal aid is received in the future.

“We have submitted a COVID-19 budget with cuts that would have been unimaginable just a short time ago,” Bellone said on a call with reporters Oct. 13. “These cuts should not happen, these are cuts that are devastating in many ways and would in effect undermine our recovery.”

The budget accounts for a sales tax loss from 2019 to 2020 of an estimated $131.7 million. The anticipated sales tax for 2021 is still $102.5 million less than 2019’s figures.

Among other losses across the board, the one increase seems to be property taxes from a real estate boom on Long Island. Suffolk County received $4 million more than last year, and anticipates $18.6 million more in 2021 than this current year.

In expenditures, contractual expenses and employee benefits are also set to marginally increase.

The county expects a negative fund balance for 2021 of about $176.98 million. Overall, Bellone said Suffolk could be looking at a cumulative $460 million deficit within the next year.

This year’s budget was originally set to roll in back in September, but it has since been delayed until the start of this month. The projected budget also may be another general cry for help to the federal government. Suffolk officials also decry the withholding of state aid to the tune of $1.9 billion to local municipalities.

Cutting employees would save about $25 million next year. The bus route cuts, along with reductions to the Suffolk County Accessible Transportation bus service affecting a total of 2,500 riders of both systems, will save $18 million. The police class cuts will save approximately $20 million, while a 50% cut across the board for contract agencies, which include substance abuse clinics, mental health providers, domestic violence shelters and gang prevention programs, would save another $8 million in 2021 and annualized savings of $16 million.

The budget also shows an overall 1.9% increase in taxes for the police district, though that remains under the New York State tax cap.

Bellone has constantly reiterated Suffolk’s need for federal funds over the past few months, holding press conference after press conference to reiterate loss of services because of COVID-19-induced budget shortfalls. Republicans in the Legislature, however, have consistently attacked the executive for what they have called fiscal mismanagement over the past few years, citing Suffolk’s bond downgrades and a report from Tom DiNapoli (D), the New York State comptroller, saying Suffolk was the most fiscally stressed county in the state in 2019.

Bellone, on the other hand, claimed he inherited in 2012 a $500 million deficit but that the County finished 2019 with a surplus. He added the county would have been on track for $50 million surplus in 2020 that would have wiped out the accumulated deficit prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suffolk did receive $257 million in CARES Act funding in April, as well as an additional $26.6 million for public transportation. Officials have said most or all that funding has been spent or earmarked, and it does not help cover overall losses.

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Rocky Point Fire District residents file into the district offices in Shoreham to cast their votes. Photo by Kyle Barr

RPFD is going ahead with a new $1 million bond after a community vote Tuesday, Oct. 13, with a narrow margin of just 18 votes. 

The community in the Rocky Point Fire District, which covers the Rocky Point and Shoreham hamlets, voted 271 to 253 on new funds to finish the Station 2 firehouse construction project on King Road.

Officials have previously said that because of a delayed start, expanding construction costs and the pandemic they do not have the funds to complete the original $7.25 million project. District officials cited the projects late start, as well as increased costs due to the ongoing pandemic for why they needed these new funds. 

“We are all very pleased that a majority of our residents came out and supported the project,” David Brewer, vice chairman of the board of fire commissioners, said in a statement. “We are equally pleased that some of the misinformation and inaccuracies posted on some social media sites didn’t adversely affect the outcome of the vote. From the beginning, the board of fire commissioners has been committed to providing our members and residents with a safe and modern firehouse. Our goal remains unchanged and that is to complete this building despite many financial setbacks and delays, and we thank all of our supporters.”

Social distancing and mask wearing rules were enforced, though the district did not allow people to cast absentee ballots, citing the extra time it would take to count those ballots as well.

In a Zoom call last week relating to this vote, officials said the new bond will cost residents an average of $18 more per year on their fire district taxes, though they could not relate how many years it may take to pay off the new bond.

Officials expect the project to be finished around the end of the year.

More Details on the Station 2 Firehouse Project

The district originally asked the community to support a $8.5 million bond in 2017, where $7.25 million would go to the construction of the new firehouse. Fire District Chairman Anthony Gallino said they originally included about 7% contingency of over $500,000. This new $1 million bond is looking at a 25% contingency of about $250,000. Gallino added that any unused funds of the new bond will be put to paying down the bond.

“We realized that [the original contingency] was not enough to cover obstacles, so we put a little more in there for this building,” Gallino said. 

On Saturday, Oct. 10, district officials made a full breakdown of the project budget available. Documents show the district lacked $752,310 to complete the firehouse. That number is out of a remaining $1.5 million on a firehouse that is 75% complete. The district still has $500,000 in contingency bond funds and $293,814 left in money taken from the general fund.

There were issues on the project from the start, officials said during the call. The project manager they originally hired put out bids which were routinely around $1 million over budget. In August 2018, the district terminated its contract with its original construction manager. In February 2019, they hired a new project manager, Devin Kulka, the CEO of Hauppauge-based Kulka Group, and were able to get started with asbestos abatement in May 2019 and demolition followed in June. Materials and labor costs, especially with New York’s prevailing wage, also increased from when the bond vote was passed. The pandemic made things even more complicated. 

Documents show there were items that came in way over what they were originally budgeted for several years ago, resulting in the $752,310 shortfall. HVAC, for example, was slated for $600,000, but is now awarded at $925,000. While a few items came slightly under budget, those overages make up the total of the project’s $1.5 million excess.

Kulka said during the Zoom call there was one contractor company that went under during construction due to COVID-19. He confirmed a surety company would be cutting a check for the cost between the work the contractor already did and what it wasn’t able to complete.

Gallino said materials costs increased by 10%. Some community members questioned what the cost could be on what has already been constructed, which now resembles a cinder block exterior, but officials said the price of prevailing wages kept costs high.

Currently the station 2 company is housed in the old Thurber Lumber property on King Road, which is owned by local developer Mark Baisch. The developer allowed the company into the property free of charge but plans to turn that property into a slate of 55-and-older rental pieces and would need the fire company to be out by the end of the year.

This article was updated Oct. 15 to include extra information and a quote from the fire district.