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Health Care

File photo by Kevin Redding

By Alex Petroski

From the podium at The Emporium in Patchogue Nov. 8, 2016 after his race against Anna Throne Holst (D-Southampton) was officially called and his near-20-point victory was secured, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said he was looking forward to the opportunity to “make America great again.”

Zeldin has become synonymous with President Donald Trump (R) locally, and though he said during an exclusive interview with the Times Beacon Record News Media editorial board he still supports the president, just short of 10 months removed from his re-election, Zeldin also said he is not a “proxy” for Trump, or anyone else. During the 90-minute interview, the congressman preached bipartisanship, addressed the future of health care, discussed Trump’s Twitter account and inflammatory speeches like the one he made in Arizona Aug. 22, criticized the president for his response to the Charlottesville, Virginia, protest and addressed the state of his support for Trump going forward.

Zeldin celebrates his 2016 election night victory in Patchogue. File photo by Alex Petroski

“I don’t give anyone my proxy.”

Despite being a strong supporter of Trump during their parallel 2016 campaigns, Zeldin had a strong response when asked if the president had his unequivocal support.

“I don’t give anyone my proxy,” Zeldin said, though he did say he supports the president and wants him to be successful. He added if he had to vote for Trump again today, he ultimately would. “It’s not 2020, but if you asked me Aug. 25 of 2017 if I was casting a vote right now and he was running unopposed, yeah. If he was running against someone else and there was a compelling reason to go some other direction, then you factor into it.”

Zeldin pushed back on the perception of a large group of his constituents who believe he is the local embodiment of Trump. He cited several examples in which he has been critical of the president, including when Trump made a Holocaust remembrance statement that made no reference to Jewish people, or when he voted in line with many House Democrats against a bill that would roll back internet privacy protections, which Trump ultimately signed into law.

The congressman also reiterated a statement he has made publicly in the past, that the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., other members of the Trump administration and people with ties to the Russian government alleging they had damaging material on Hillary Clinton in June 2016 should have never taken place.

“If you really wanted to ask yourself, is this guy just going to be or has he been some proxy or some stooge who is refusing to say where he disagrees, you would have to ignore like 20 different examples where it’s not even taking my word for it, this is stuff that I’ve said on national TV,” Zeldin said. He surmised the perception he is too tightly connected to Trump comes from people who can’t wait for the day Trump is no longer in office.

Zeldin added although he disagreed with former President Barack Obama (D) on issues, at no point did he view him as anything other than his president.

“There are people who think nothing has gotten done.”

Zeldin pushed back on the idea that partisan gridlock, which has long characterized the country’s perception of Congress, is getting worse or is being amplified by Trump. He said bills are being passed and bipartisan discussions are being had everyday by members of the House.

“People have this perception that when the House is in session and we’re all on the floor together that it’s an old school Aaron Burr duel taking place amongst all members all the time,” he said. “Where everyone’s basically literally trying to kill each other on the floor.”

Zeldin said he isn’t going to sugarcoat it, or try to make the discussions sound all rosy. He pointed to the over 50 bills passed since Trump has taken office as proof of Republicans and Democrats working together to get things done.

He said these topics tend to get overshadowed by what is broadcasted on TV news.

“People get very discouraged when you put on the news and you’re only coming in contact with bad news,” Zeldin said. “It’s almost like [it’s] not even newsworthy to talk about what got done that day. What’s newsworthy is what may be the biggest, most dramatic confrontation or battle that might be going on. That’s the news everyday.”

He attributed heated political rhetoric and the notion Congress is struggling to work together to the business model of the three major 24-hour cable news stations — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

“The information they’re coming in contact with is deliberately targeting them to stir emotion, because that’s how they get traffic,” he said.

The congressman recalled several times when he was slated to do a cable news interview on a particular topic, which the president would be happy to see gain coverage, only to be asked questions about the investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia during the campaign because of a Tweet he sent moments before the interview.

He admitted the president has the power to steer the conversation in the right direction.

“There is no person in the United States of America with more of an ability to drive the conversation,” he said. “I don’t know of the last time we had an individual in the United States of America with a bigger soapbox than the president of the United States.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin calls for funding for two EPA programs relating to the Long Island Sound during a press conference March 13. Photo by Kevin Redding

“He’s willing to sign 50,000 different versions of this bill.”

Common ground exists between Republicans and Democrats on the future of the federal health care law, according to Zeldin, though he said he’s skeptical of the Senate’s ability to reach a majority on a replacement of the Affordable Care Act. At no point during the 90-minute conversation did the congressman use the phrase “repeal and replace,” though he discussed, at length, some of the issues with the individual market and what it would take to repair it in a way that works.

“Beyond partisanship there’s an ideological difference on the insurance piece, and what do you do with the ACA,” Zeldin said. “They just absolutely, genuinely to their core disagree on certain components of what direction [to go in].”

Zeldin was extremely critical of the process that led up to the ultimately failed Senate vote on health care and stressed the need to return to regular order.

The health care vote revealed three Republican senators as willing to oppose the president on major legislation. As a result of that vote and other circumstances in which Republican senators have spoken out against Trump, Zeldin encouraged the use of the president’s “bully pulpit,” like the way he spoke about Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) during his trip to Phoenix Aug. 22.

When asked if the president is doing enough to grow his base of support rather than just appealing to those he already has in his camp, Zeldin was also critical.

“There are opportunities for him to do more to broaden that coalition,” he said.

He also indicated the president is prepared to compromise on a health care bill.

“He’s willing to sign 50,000 different versions of this bill,” Zeldin said.

“There is no moral equivalency.”

The congressman was most critical of the president on his response to the events in Charlottesville. He repeatedly stated there is no moral equivalency between marchers on the side of the KKK and Nazism and those who attended the rally to oppose hate, a point that was contradictory to statements Trump made publicly on the subject. Zeldin said he did agree though with the president’s point that members of the “alt-right” were not the only one’s who arrived at the Virginia rally for the purpose of inciting violence.

“If you are a good person showing up to that march and you realize once you get there that by being associated at all with that march that you are associating yourself in any way, shape, or form with the KKK or Nazism, a good person, immediately, instinctively completely disengages,” Zeldin said.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said there is need to increase the PPP loan funding, but he and Republicans have disagreed how. File photo by Kevin Redding

With a dramatic thumbs down gesture from U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) in the middle of the night July 28, the GOP-backed health care bill was effectively killed in the United States Senate, leaving the future of health care in the country, state and county a mystery.

“First: I want to thank Sens. [Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)], [Susan Collins (R-Maine)], and McCain for showing such courage, strength, and principle.”

— Chuck Schumer

As a result of the vote, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, remains the law of the land for the time being, despite rhetoric from President Donald Trump (R) suggesting the system is on the verge of collapse. In New York, a universal health care bill progressed past the state assembly and has been in committee since June 2016, awaiting state senate approval and a final signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). A New York State health care bill would supersede federal law.

“First: I want to thank Sens. [Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)], [Susan Collins (R-Maine)], and McCain for showing such courage, strength, and principle,” U.S. Sen. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said on Twitter July 28. The three Republican senators voted in line with the 48 Democrats to effectively kill the bill, despite the GOP majority. “To everyone who called, tweeted, emailed, and raised their voice in any way: thank you. Your stories matter. But we are not celebrating. We are relieved — for the millions of Americans who can keep their insurance and breathe a little easier. Now, it’s time for the Senate to come together in a bipartisan way to fix the problems that exist in our health care system. We can stabilize the markets through funding cost sharing reduction and creating reinsurance programs, which keep premiums, deductibles down.”

U.S. Rep. for New York’s 3rd Congressional District Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) released a proposal July 31 with the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators which Suozzi serves as the vice-chair of, that would “stabilize the individual insurance market,” in the wake of the vote, according to a press release. The plan would create a dedicated stability fund to reduce premiums and limit losses of coverage, repeal the 2.3 percent medical device sales tax that is on all medical device supplies, provide clear guidelines for states that want to enter into regional control of their health care and create more options for customers, and more.

“Americans are desperate for Democrats and Republicans to work together to try and tackle the challenges our country faces,” Suozzi said in a statement. “The Problem Solvers Caucus, by proposing this major bipartisan first step, is like an oasis in a desert of dysfunction. We still have much more to do with health care and other issues and we hope our colleagues will join our efforts in this spirit of goodwill and compromise for the common good.”

“The Problem Solvers Caucus, by proposing this major bipartisan first step, is like an oasis in a desert of dysfunction.”

— Tom Suozzi

The New York State Assembly bill for the 2017-18 session, which is currently in committee, would establish The New York Health Act, to create a single-payer health care system.

A single-payer system requires a single-payer fund, which all New Yorkers would pay into to cover health care costs of an individual, instead of through private insurers. In a single-payer system every citizen is covered, patients have the freedom to choose their own doctors and hospitals, and employers would no longer be responsible for health care costs. Suozzi attended a March rally in Huntington in support of a single-payer system for New York.

The U.S. Senate version of the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives in May  would have resulted in drastic cuts to Medicaid funding for New Yorkers. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to deliver health policy analysis to the public, nearly $92 billion in funding would be cut from New York’s Medicaid expansion dollars between 2020 and 2026.

The predominantly Republican support for the repeal of Obamacare stems from expensive premiums and an individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance for all Americans with a fine for noncompliance.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office was no more optimistic about the GOP health care bill than the Kaiser Family Foundation. A July 20 report from the CBO on one of the many versions of the now-failed senate bill predicted 17 million Americans would be uninsured by 2018 had the bill passed, in addition to increases in premiums.

The second attempt passes House, will head to Senate for further scrutiny

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin weigh in on the AHCA, which passed the house last week. File photos

The battle to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, was left in the hands of the House of Representatives for a vote last week, and two representatives for the North Shore had differing opinions on the bill. The American Health Care Act passed in the House by a slim 217 to 213 margin, though before it becomes law it must also pass the Senate and ultimately be signed by President Donald Trump (R).

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) for New York’s 1st Congressional District was among those in favor of the bill, fulfilling a campaign promise of his own and the vast majority of Republican lawmakers across the country since Obamacare was enacted in 2010.

“Almost everyone agrees that our current system is deeply flawed,” Zeldin said in a statement. “The American Health Care Act provides relief from billions of dollars of crushing taxes and mandates enacted under the ACA. Additionally, the bill repeals the individual and employer mandates, taxes on prescription and over-the-counter medications, health insurance premiums and medical devices.”

“The revised version of the AHCA passed by the House is not sound health reform. … Access to insurance is meaningless if premiums are unaffordable and the coverage is not comprehensive.”

— Kevin Dahill

Zeldin also sought to dispel “outright lies” being perpetrated on social media and elsewhere about the new bill, the first incarnation of which he was slow to support unless important amendments were added, he said in March. One thing he specified as a misconception is the idea that people with pre-existing conditions might lose coverage, or that millions will be left uninsured.

“The bill protects people with pre-existing conditions, and gives states greater flexibility to lower premiums and stabilize the insurance market,” he said.

Critics of the bill have noted it was not subject to scrutiny by the Congressional Budget Office prior to the vote, and in the first version that nearly reached a vote in March, the CBO suggested about 24 million people were in danger of losing their coverage.

An amendment to the bill the second time around introduced by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan), would establish funds for a “high risk” pool, which would be used to provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

“The high-risk pool plan is an attempt to cover up for another provision in the bill, via an amendment by New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur (R), that would allow states to easily waive protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions in the individual market if they experienced a gap in coverage,” according to the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute.

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), of New York’s 3rd Congressional District, was among those critics. He voted against the bill.

“I’m disappointed that House Republicans chose not to work with Democrats to create a common-sense bill,” Suozzi said in a statement. He also called on the Senate to disregard the legislation and focus on working toward a bipartisan solution.

“It will result in skyrocketing premiums, higher out-of-pocket costs, a discriminatory age tax and will steal from Medicare,” he said. “And all of this was done without an updated Congressional Budget Office score to determine how much the new amendment to the bill will cost taxpayers.”

Suozzi also addressed what it might mean for New Yorkers.

“For New Yorkers, this legislation leaves 2.7 million people without proper access to health insurance,” he said. “$4.7 billion will be cut from our state’s Medicaid budget, putting seven million people who rely on Medicaid services and other important programs at risk. This is a bad bill for New Yorkers, plain and simple.”

The bill establishes limits on federal funding for state Medicaid programs beginning in 2020. States that exceed the cap would be subjected to reduced federal funding in the following fiscal year, according to the summary of the bill.

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.

According to a map on the website of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to deliver health policy analysis to the public, issuing tax credits based on age instead of income will result in some lower income Americans paying more for coverage.

“Generally, people who are older, lower income or live in high-premium areas receive less financial assistance under the AHCA,” analysis of the bill by the foundation said. “Additionally, older people would have higher starting premiums under the AHCA and would therefore pay higher premiums. Because younger people with higher incomes and living in lower-cost areas would receive more financial assistance and would have lower starting premiums on average, they would pay lower premiums on average.”

Kevin Dahill, president and CEO of Suburban Hospital Alliance of New York State, an organization that represents the advocacy interests of Long Island health systems including St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown, and John T. Mather Memorial and St. Charles hospitals in Port Jefferson, issued a statement regarding the House bill.

“The revised version of the AHCA passed by the House is not sound health reform,” he said. “About 70 percent of Medicaid spending in our state covers care for the elderly and disabled, including children. These people will still need care. And even more disheartening is the amendment to cut $2.3 billion in Medicaid funding by shifting the cost burden from the counties to the state. This amendment was advanced by [Republican] New York  Congressmen [John] Faso and [Chris] Collins and it leaves a huge hole in New York’s budget. … Access to insurance is meaningless if premiums are unaffordable and the coverage is not comprehensive.”

Dr. Gerard Brogan Jr., executive director at Huntington Hospital, said he would put the ACA and AHCA in the same category as flawed legislation during a phone interview. He also reiterated Dahill’s concerns that the changes put a large number of people at risk of losing their access to adequate care because of changes to Medicaid.

“There are portions that are either not derived from sound assumptions or won’t accomplish what are the issue that we need to deal with,” he said.

Rally participants listen to a speech Saturday in Huntington. Photo from Ron Widelec

With changes in health care looming thanks to the election of President Donald Trump (R), the issue took center stage in Huntington this past weekend, as more than 350 Long Island residents participated in a rally Feb. 25 to support the Affordable Care Act and advocate for a single-payer plan bill in Albany.

Organized by the group Long Island Activists with help from Our Revolution and the New York Progressive Action Network, the rally joined together residents from all nine New York State Senate districts.

Ron Widelec, a member of the LIA steering committee, said the event was intended to help educate more New Yorkers about the strengths of a Medicare for all system, as he said many misconceptions about the plan have been spread.

A single-payer or Medicare for all plan “is the only plan that actually brings us to a place where health care is a human right,” Widelec said in a phone interview. “We would see better results and it would [cost] less per person. We can cover everyone for less.”

A single-payer system requires a single-payer fund which all New Yorkers would pay into to cover health care costs of an individual, instead of through private insurers. In a single-payer system every citizen is covered, patients have the freedom to choose their own doctors and hospitals, and employers would no longer be responsible for health care costs.

The ACA established standards for health care in America when enacted in 2010, though it does not supersede state laws relating to health care.

Congressman Tom Suozzi speaks at the event. Photo from Ron Widelec

Martha Livingston, professor and chair of the Department of Public Health at SUNY Old Westbury said a Medicare for all system would be an improvement to the current system.

“We know from experience looking everywhere else it works better and costs less,” she said in a phone interview. The World Health Organization conducted a study on American health care in 2014, and cited one of the reasons the U.S. health system has high costs and poor outcomes includes a lack of universal health care.

“No one would have to make the tough choice between the cost of an EpiPen and feeding their family,” Widelec said, referring to the increase in cost of pharmaceutical products patients can’t opt to go without. Mylan Pharmaceuticals, the drug’s maker, drove the price of EpiPen up about $500 in recent years — some six times. Turing Pharmaceuticals did the same with Daraprim, a drug used by cancer and AIDS patients — although that price tag increased to $750 a pill from $13.50.

The Journal of the American Medical Association has confirmed the U.S. faces this trend of large increases in drug prices, more so than any other countries.

“Per capita prescription drug spending in the United States exceeds that in all other countries, largely driven by brand-name drug prices that have been increasing in recent years at rates far beyond the consumer price index,” the study said.

Livingston agreed the current system is flawed.

“Really what we want is fairness,” she said. “We’re the only country that doesn’t negotiate with insurance companies. We need to get rid of the profiteers standing between us and [health care].”

Aside from informing Long Islanders about the benefits of a Medicare for all system, the rally also focused on creating a game plan to help grow support for the New York Health Act, a bill passed in the 2015-16 New York State Assembly session but not in the New York State Senate.

The Assembly bill for the 2017-18 session, which is currently in committee, establishes the New York Health program, a single-payer health care system.

“The Legislature finds … all residents of the state have the right to health care,” the bill states. It acknowledges ACA helped bring improvements in health care and coverage to New Yorkers, however there are still many left without coverage. The legislation explicitly labels itself as a universal health plan with the intention to improve and create coverage for residents who are currently unable to afford the care they need.

“No one would have to make the tough choice between the cost of an EpiPen and feeding their family.” — Ron Widelec

If New York passed the law, residents would no longer have to pay premiums or co-pays, employers would not have to be responsible to provide health care — which currently costs business more than $1 billion annually, and all patients would be covered and could chose whatever doctor or hospital they wanted.

According to a new study by Gerald Friedman, chair of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Economics Department, the cost of New York Health Act would be $45 billion less than what New York currently spends.

“Individuals often find that they are deprived of affordable care and choice because of decisions by health plans guided by the plan’s economic needs rather than their health care needs,” the bill states.

The New York Health Act is also in committee in the state Senate, where it has significantly less support.

“We want to flip some state Senate seats,” Widelec said. Participants also broke up into their state Senate districts to discuss plans of action to garner support for the bill in each area and put pressure on their elected leader at the end of the rally.

Steve Cecchini, a rally participant, said  many people are clearly in support of the bill.

“The only thing I learned was a lot of people were excited to hear about the New York Health Act,” he said in a phone interview. “One of the goals was to get people the tools they need to understand the act and talk about it. It’s really about getting enough support from the constituents. It’s ridiculous what we’re not getting and what we’re overpaying for right now.”

Widelec said there is a lot of misinformation about what a single-payer plan is, as many approach it as a socialist concept. But he affirmed the current system in not working and needs to be improved. According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. trailed more than 30 countries in life expectancy in 2015, and in a 2000 report by WHO, America was ranked 37 out of 191 countries for health care performance.

“It’s really exciting to see people inspired and activated,” Livingston said. “It’s looking to me like Long Islanders are eager to make a difference.”

The 3rd Congressional District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) spoke at the rally, after meeting with the Long Island Activists group in January and signing a pledge to sponsor a single-payer bill if the Democratic Party retakes control of the Congress. He has said until that time he will continue to defend the ACA.

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John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson has plans for more robotics-assisted surgeries following a successful total knee replacement done using the technology. Photo from Blue Belt Technologies

By Joseph Wolkin

North Shore natives in need of a total knee replacement can now get a revolutionary surgery right in their own backyard. In July, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital became one of the first in the United States to conduct a robotic-assisted total knee replacement surgery.

Laurie Mullens, a patient at the hospital, hopes she is on her way to being pain-free, following a groundbreaking surgery she received at John T. Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson in late July. She said she has dealt with painful arthritis in her knees for more than a decade.

The 63-year-old Farmingdale resident thought she tried everything to alleviate her knee pain. Mullens was frustrated, as the pain was not allowing her to walk properly. She lived with what she described as severe and sharp pains in her knees, and when treatments failed to reduce her pain, Mullens opted to have knee replacement surgery.

On March 17, Mullens had her first knee replacement surgery at Mather. While recovery time after the surgery usually takes six months to a year, after four months she said she wasn’t feeling positive about her improvement. When the pain continued, she went back to Mather.

Dr. Brian McGinley, who graduated from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, did something different with Mullens. Instead of performing the surgery with only human hands, he opted to have a robot assist in the operation. While the hospital has used robot assistance in partial replacement procedures for about a year, no one had used one for a total knee replacement yet.

“I control the data put in the computer, and I set the parameters of which I want to cut the ends of the bone. The robot allows me to match those parameters by one millimeter of my plan because it is so specific.”

—Brian McGinley

“It’s robotic-assisted surgery, so the robot is controlled by a computer,” McGinley said. “I control the data put in the computer, and I set the parameters of which I want to cut the ends of the bone. The robot allows me to match those parameters by one millimeter of my plan because it is so specific. When I’m cutting the surface of the bone, it turns off if I go more than one millimeter outside where I set it on the computer.”

McGinley opted to use the robot for the entire surgery, as opposed to the partial usage common at Mather.

“They didn’t really tell me anything other than it was there to assist them in doing the surgery,” Mullens said. “It’s just assisting him, so I didn’t have to worry it wasn’t done by a surgeon.”

The surgery featured the Navio Surgical System, which utilizes hand-held robotics. When done with the system, the procedure is meant to produce precise results for knee replacements.

“We’ve been working on this project for two years, and we’ve been using computer-assisted surgery at Mather for many years,” McGinley said. “Now, we have the next-step technology to have surgery that’s robot-assisted. It’s completely safe because we’re still in control, performing the function with the assistance of the robot. There are no real major errors that can be placed in the system. If the power fails, we still have our traditional instruments that we can use.”

According to Blue Belt Technologies, creators of the Navio Surgical System, the robotic devices have led to reports of improved accuracy and repeatability of implant placement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 757,000 knee replacement surgeries in the United States in 2011.

While the end goal is to make the surgery quicker, Mullens’ surgery took 15 minutes longer than Dr. McGinley would have liked.

“It’s a little slower right now because we’re still trying to figure out the methodology during the procedure,” McGinley said. “I’m expecting to get that time down in the operating room.”

Since her July 20 surgery, Mullens said she has experienced aches and pains similar to the aftermath of her first operation.

“It’s to be expected because I had both knees done,” she said. “It’s very swollen and it’s an uncomfortable recovery. That’s the way it goes. But I’m recovering very quickly — as quickly as to be expected.”

The technology is currently being studied to see what can be improved in order to make it more efficient and eventually more widely used. According to McGinley, the doctors who are using the robot are coming together to see if it is a valid treatment option for patients.

Thanks to the efforts of Angela’s House Founder and Executive Director Bob Policastro, the Angel of Hope statue has been in Eisenhower Park since 2008. The Angel of Hope: A Walk to Remember event on May 7 will conclude at the statue. Photo from Angela’s House

By Alex Petroski

The pain of losing a child may never go away, but it can be soothed by the support of others who know what it is like. Parents will have that opportunity on May 7 when the Hauppauge-based nonprofit organization Angela’s House, which was founded in 1992, hosts the first Angel of Hope: A Walk to Remember.

Thanks to the efforts of Angela’s House Founder and Executive Director Bob Policastro, the Angel of Hope statue has been in Eisenhower Park since 2008. The Angel of Hope: A Walk to Remember event on May 7 will conclude at the statue. Photo from Angela’s House
Thanks to the efforts of Angela’s House Founder and Executive Director Bob Policastro, the Angel of Hope statue has been in Eisenhower Park since 2008. The Angel of Hope: A Walk to Remember event on May 7 will conclude at the statue. Photo from Angela’s House

The walk will take place Mother’s Day weekend at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, where the nonprofit’s Angel of Hope statue has stood since 2008 as a comforting symbol to parents who have lost children.

Angela’s House assists families caring for children with special health care needs that are medically fragile, chronically ill or living with a life-threatening illness, according to their website. Founder and Executive Director Bob Policastro said the event would be a nonreligious, yet spiritual gathering.

“I would say different from our support group or even a counselor, the difficulty of those environments [is] you have to be ready and have to talk about your pain and that kind of brings about peace as you talk it through,” Policastro said in a phone interview Friday about the walk and what those interested in attending should expect. “This one I feel has kind of an easier tone to it in the sense that you’re coming to a ceremony and the comfort of seeing others that have also gone through all of this will give people great peace knowing that they’re not alone. They can talk to people if they want to but if they don’t want to that’s fine.”

The purpose of the event is not to raise funds, according to Policastro, though there is a $25 charge per person to participate.

Policastro said the date was a strategic choice by Angela’s House trustees and volunteers.

“Mother’s Day is always one of those potentially difficult times of the year,” he said. “That will be a good way to kind of help try to bring them peace, almost like a support group. To get together and be around others that have also experienced loss, it’s very comforting.”

Policastro and his wife Angie started the foundation after the death of their daughter Angela. The Angel of Hope is a reference to the book “The Christmas Box” by Richard Paul Evans in which a character frequently visits the grave of her daughter, which is marked with an angel statue. Statues like the one in Eisenhower Park popped up across the country after the release of the book in 1993, Policastro said. He was instrumental in bringing the statue to Eisenhower Park.

The walk is less than a mile long and will follow a path around Salisbury Lake in the park, concluding at the statue. The New Apostolic Church and the Willow Interfaith Woman’s Choir will lead those in attendance in a song, and a nondenominational spiritual ceremony will also be held.

Those seeking more information are instructed to visit www.angelashouse.org/angel-of-hope/.

St. Johnland Nursing Center in Kings Park is celebrating a milestone this year. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

For a century and a half, the name St. Johnland has been synonymous with helping people from all walks of life. Established in 1866, the Society of St. Johnland is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2016.

In 1866, the Society served as a home for veterans and orphans from New York City, but eventually developed into a self-sustaining industrial village.

Today, the St. Johnland Nursing Center is located on the North Shore near Smithtown Bay in Kings Park and serves as a long-term skilled nursing facility caring for about 300 people every day.

Over the course of 150 years, the role of the facility has changed, but their mission remains the same, according to a press release about the anniversary: “To create a caring and supportive environment committed to the highest standards of quality health care … to uphold the principles of human dignity and worth … affirm the right of every individual to maintain the optimum quality of life.”

St. Johnland Director of Development Cathie Wardell, who has been at the nursing center for 13 years, reflected on the impact St. Johnland has had on the community and people in need.

“The level of care for the people whose care is entrusted to us is very high and it’s amazing to see everyday,” Wardell said in a phone interview.

The nursing center shifted its focus from children to the elderly in the 1950s. Today, their primary focuses are providing care for people with Alzheimer’s, dementia and traumatic brain injuries.

“The fact that this institution has survived and persisted for 150 years focusing on different demographics, the fact that we are 98 to 99-percent full all the time, that we have evolved over the years to make the changing needs of the community with our specialty units and adult day care programs is significant and noteworthy,” Wardell added.

In honor of the anniversary, the society will hold four events during 2016. For all of June, historical photographs of St. Johnland will be on display at the Kings Park Library.

On June 18, people who grew up at the facility around 70 years ago will gather for a reunion.

On Oct. 27, a dinner will be held at Watermill in Kings Park to honor the Fire Department and EMT Squad, and on Nov. 18, town historian Brad Harris will deliver a lecture on the history of the Society.

For more information about the anniversary or any of the events, call 631-663-2457 or visit www.stjohnland.org.

Mather Hospital is set to join Northwell Healht. Photo from Huntington Hospital

It’s out with the old and in with the new at Huntington Hospital.

As of 2016, North Shore-LIJ Health System changed its name to Northwell Health as part of a rebranding and marketing campaign for the largest private employer and health care provider in New York across 21 hospitals including Huntington Hospital. The institution just finished its first month after a major facelift to the health system, and staffers said they were excited about the changes to the structure.

“Being highly visible and clearly understood within and beyond the New York metropolitan area requires strong brand recognition,” Michael J. Dowling, president and chief executive officer of Northwell Health said in a press release. “The Northwell Health name is a reflection of our past and a beacon of our future. It’s unique, simple and approachable, and better defines who we are and where we are going.”

Huntington Hospital first joined the North Shore-LIJ Health System in 1994, and has been able to expand its resources and services available to medical staff and patients because of this partnership. With this name change, Northwell Health administrators said the health system intends to build recognition and distinguish the organization “in a cluttered health care market,” according to a press release. Dropping a specific reference to Long Island was also an intentional move to broaden the scope of the coverage area, officials said.

“Our trustees recognized the need for a more consumer-friendly name that did not confine us geographically and reflects our emergence as a regional health care provider with a coverage area that extends beyond Long Island,” Northwell Health Board of Trustees Chair Mark L. Claster said in a press release.

Administrators from Huntington Hospital said they see the name change as a positive step forward.

“There’s a general excitement in the hospital over it,” said Susan Knoepffler, chief nursing officer and vice president of nursing at Huntington Hospital. “It has given us a new opportunity to put our hospital and the health system out there to the public.”

Knoepffler said the name change helps bring a focus to the preventative side of medicine and overall wellness that the hospital aims for.

Gerard X. Brogan, executive director of Huntington Hospital, echoed Knoepffler’s sentiment.

“It serves to sum up what our mission is,” he said in a phone interview. “We are focusing on how to promote wellness throughout the community. It’s really something we feel is the core of our mission as a community hospital.”

Reflecting on the history of Huntington Hospital, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Brogan said the objective of this hospital has always been to provide medical care for the public and commit to helping people stay well.

‘The focus is to provide the community with the best healthcare right in their own backyard, and this will help make the community aware of the tremendous resources they have access to,” Brogan said.

Some question why district’s proposed plan covers less

Northport High School. File photo

After a lengthy battle, Northport-East Northport school district’s security greeters have been offered health care benefits. But the fight may not be over.

Although the district has presented health insurance plans to the nine full-time greeters, some say the plans are expensive and don’t treat them the same as other district employees.

The duties of a greeter, also known as a security monitor, include monitoring who is coming and going from a school building, assisting in late arrivals and early releases and helping parents get forgotten items to the students, among other day-to-day tasks that may arise. The position was established about 10 years ago, according to the district supervisor of security, and the district employs one full-time greeter for each of their six elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school.

Under the plans, the district would pay 60 percent of the greeters’ health coverage, according to Diane Smith, the greeter who has led the charge for benefits.

Contracts on the district’s website indicate that it pays 75 percent of superintendent Robert Banzer’s coverage, 82 percent for administrators, 79 percent for teachers and 86 percent for security guards.

Diane Smith has been asking for health care benefits for her and her fellow employees for months. Photo from Smith
Diane Smith has been asking for health care benefits for her and her fellow employees for months. Photo from Smith

Smith said she is grateful the district granted greeters health care coverage —“I’m happy to get that, it’s fabulous to have any kind of a break,” Smith said in an email — but she wants treatment equal to fellow employees, specifically security guards.

When asked about the difference between greeters and security guards, the district said in a statement, “Security guards and security monitors are civil service appointments. Both positions require security certifications and the ongoing completion of security training.”

As is, the employee contribution for the greeters’ proposed insurance on a family plan “will cost us exactly every other entire paycheck,” she said. “How did they come up with that [number]?”

Smith’s salary is $20,000.

According to Smith, the greeters were offered more affordable plans, one of which would have covered 75 percent of health care costs, but they wouldn’t have provided coverage for families. She said in addition to working as a greeter full time, she has been working a second job part time to pay for private health insurance for herself and her two kids.

“Each year the district examines its policies in an effort to further benefit our valued employees,” Banzer said in a statement through the district’s public relations firm, Syntax. “Through prudent budgeting and research with our providers, we are pleased to offer multiple health care coverage options to our greeters. Although the district has not provided this coverage in the past, as it is not required, we felt it was an important step to make this available to them.”

Despite her criticism, Smith expressed gratitude.

“It’s still really good,” she said in a phone interview Monday. “I would not turn it down. It would help my income for sure.”

Smith had a meeting with a district insurance specialist on Wednesday to get some more questions answered and ultimately decide on a plan.

According to her, the greeters must sign up by Feb. 1 to begin getting coverage.

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Uerda Zena and mom Barbara are all smiles while in the U.S. to repair the girl's heart defect Photo from Joe DeVincent

Simple but necessary medical procedures we receive in the United States are often something we take for granted, but they are miracles to many people around the globe.

Take, for instance, the case of 4-year-old Uerda Zena, a girl born in Kosovo with a heart defect. Rotary volunteers across Suffolk County and the North Shore recently brought her to this country through their Gift of Life program so she could receive a lifesaving heart operation. Uerda had a hole in her heart the size of a nickel, but the procedure to repair it was not available in her home country because the hospitals there do not have the resources to train their staff.

Uerda’s case is not an isolated one. Young children from developing and disadvantaged nations around the world, including in Eastern Europe, much of Africa and South America, do not have access in their home countries to medicine and surgical procedures they desperately need.

Several global organizations have made it their mission to provide procedures like the one performed on Uerda, but Americans tend to forget that those organizations are necessary at all. If an American child is born with a cleft lip or a detectable heart defect, it is fixed as soon as possible and without the child needing to trek hundreds of miles — or thousands, in the case of Uerda.

We should be grateful for all the lifesaving procedures we have at our fingertips. And maybe instead of spending some of our money on a discounted plasma screen television on Black Friday, we should donate to causes like Gift of Life.