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Mather Hospital

St. Catherine Chief Nursing Officer Mary Jane Finnegan gives a flu shot during a free mobile clinic at the end of September. Photo from St. Catherine hospital

They lost patients, sleep and time with their families and yet, through some of the most difficult conditions in over a century, they persevered, brought together by the shared goal of saving lives threatened by the pandemic.

The Times Beacon Record Newspapers is pleased to honor the health care workers who put themselves in harm’s way to offer comfort, cures and solutions for COVID-19.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) described health care workers as “heroes beyond belief.” He added, “There are folks who have gotten sick and died, simply because they were just doing their jobs.”

Unusual Requests

Indeed, in some cases, these health care workers took on tasks that aren’t typically a part of their job description or training.

Tricia Coffey on the phone at Huntington Hospital. Photo from Coffey

Take Kristen Thomas, a registered nurse at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson. A priest came up to her in the halls of the hospital to ask for an unusual favor. A person had died and the family, who couldn’t be by his side, asked for last rites. The priest knew he couldn’t enter the room.

He asked, “Would you mind taking holy water and anointing the patient?”

She approached the patient, made the sign of the cross and prayed, as the priest stood outside the door.

“A moment like that, you never really plan to do that,” Thomas said. “We tried to give the family a little bit of closure. They didn’t get to attend the normal [rituals].”

For the community and health care workers, normal took on new meaning, especially in the first few months of the pandemic, when Suffolk County became an epicenter of the virus.

With family unable to sit by the bedside, nurses often stepped up, holding up iPad and phones so the family could spend time together virtually.

Marilin Dilone, Emergency Department nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital, called the young family of one of her patients.

Marilin Dilone, emergency department nurse at SBUH decked in full PPE gear. Photo from SBUH

His wife “put the baby on the phone — the baby looked like he was maybe 10 months old. The baby was making noises. I swear [the patient] opened his eyes. The wife is crying. Such a moment, we take for granted. He could hear her say, ‘I love you.’ To be able to provide that was very humbling for me.”

Like Dilone and so many other nurses, Robert Collins, a nurse at Mather Hospital ,shared how he held an iPad up to patients whose conditions were deteriorating so they could say goodbye to their families.

He had to stay in the room because some of the patients couldn’t hold the iPad.

“You do that once or twice, it kind of sticks with you,” Collins said.

Deep Connections

The connections the medical staff made to the families of patients extended well beyond the typical interactions.

“We had patients for an extended period of time,” said Patricia Coffey, nurse manager of the Critical Care Unit at Huntington Hospital.

Coffey, who spent 11 weeks actively caring for patients as her managerial duties “went to the wayside,” said the staff talked to families for extended periods of time. She spoke with some families daily, spending as much as two-and-a-half hours each day on the phone.

The nurses felt like members of the family because the normal support system couldn’t provide bedside support.

“You were channeling the family to the patient,” Coffey said. The nurses were “rooting so hard” for the patients.

When one of those patients who was in the hospital died after a long battle, she said it was “unbelievably heartbreaking — you felt like one of your own family members had died.”

She still keeps in touch with family members.

Mather Nurse Robert Collins. Photo from Mather

Coffey said one of her neighbors was admitted to the hospital with COVID and was on her floor. Coffey’s children and her neighbor’s children grew up together and their daughters were friends.

She not only spoke with his wife every day during her 60-hour weeks, but she also called her coworkers over the weekend to ask how he was doing.

The conversations with the neighbor’s wife were “a little hard. I wanted to be honest with her. He was very critical. At the same time, I was trying to be hopeful. It was a hard balance.”

Coffey said he was “one of the lucky ones who survived.”

Dilone of SBUH described how the work was more physically demanding.

She would “try not to ask for people” as she didn’t want to expose others if it wasn’t necessary. “You are taking care of patients more by yourself, turning them and doing chest PT [physiotherapy] — it was physically more demanding,” Dilone said.

Dark Moments

Watching patients who died took its toll, even on people who have been in the medical profession for decades.

MaryJane Finnegan, chief nursing officer at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown, described the unusually high number of people dying from the virus. The hospital was running out of space for the dead. The morgue was filled and an additional refrigeration truck outside also filled quickly.

Mather Nurse Kristen Thomas. Photo from Mather

“One day, eight people died — usually in a week, you can have eight people die, but not eight in a day,” Finnegan said.

Nikki Fiore-Lopez, chief nursing officer at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson said a nurse was present for the death of her mentor. Watching her die was “one of the darkest moments” for the nurse, Fiore-Lopez said.

Many medical professionals encouraged their patients to fight through the worst of the virus.

Stony Brook’s Dilone stayed with a patient whose blood oxygen level kept dropping. She wouldn’t let him fall asleep because she was worried he’d get intubated. She reminded him of his family and that he needed to help himself.

“I felt like Nurse Ratched,” Dilone said, referring to the dreaded nurse from the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Dilone spent hours with this patient. Later, a doctor told her keeping the man awake prevented him from getting intubated.

Unexpected Challenges

With a virus no one had battled before, health care workers had to be flexible, learning about everything from new protocols for admitting patients to the latest and best treatments.

Chief Nursing Officer at St. Charles hospital Nikki Fiore-Lopez delivers flowers to patients at Christmas with Foundation Board Chair member Doug Casimir in 2019. Photo from St. Charles

The staff had to confront the “speed with which everything changed,” said Dr. Eric Morley, associate professor and clinical director in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine. “Every day, there were new protocols, new ways to deal with things.”

Hospitals had to create a forward triage system to deal with the flood of COVID patients amid all the other potential emergencies hospitals routinely have.

These efforts required hundreds of employees to “get on the same people to sort people out,” Morley said. Training staff to manage the flow of patients required constant communication.

Even some of the smaller elements of managing the crisis took Morley’s time, such as getting new traffic signs to direct people to an alternate site.

Hospital managers were continually confronted with numerous unexpected challenges.

Ken Roberts, president of Mather Hospital, said the hospital had to ensure the PPE was hospital grade and not counterfeit.

“There were a lot of suspicious and unscrupulous suppliers when supply and demand was unbalanced, and everyone was in crisis,” he explained in an email.

Health care workers tapped into their personal skills to connect with patients.

Angel Figueroa, a registered respiratory therapist at SBUH who grew up in New York City and learned Spanish thanks to his Puerto Rican heritage, walked into some rooms and spoke Spanish to patients.

When he greeted patients in Spanish, “I would see their eyes open up [and think], ‘Somebody understands me.’”

They would ask him numerous questions, particularly because the medical information came at them so quickly. 

Mather’s Collins described how the routine changed so dramatically the moment he arrived at work.

Mather President Ken Roberts holds a sign thanking health care workers. Photo from Mather

“Rapid response bells were going off as soon as you walked in,” he said. “You didn’t take your coat off” before patients needed attention. “People were not doing well. That was happening more frequently than before. That was an adjustment.”

On the other side of the struggle, health care workers felt a tremendous sense of relief when patients continued their recoveries at home.

“When people were discharged, the staff was thrilled,” St. Catherine’s Finnegan said. “We’d play the [Beatles] song, ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ A lot of hospitals did that. People would gather as many as possible to wish the person well as they were wheeled out.”

Teamwork

Through the difficulties, though, Morley appreciated the support from the community and the families, along with the teamwork and camaraderie from so many departments and staff that all pulled together.

Roberts expressed similar sentiments.

“I was extremely pleased at the teamwork displayed by all hospital staff during the height of the pandemic,” he said.

The Mather president was also grateful for the letters, cards, donated meals, handmade masks and donated PPE.

“The local communities we serve gave us and continue to give us tremendous support and encouragement,” Roberts said. “That has meant so much to the staff to know that the community was supporting them and recognizing their efforts.”

Stony Brook Respiratory Therapist Angel Figueroa wearing mask and shield. Photo from SBUH

Coffey, from Huntington Hospital, was impressed with how, even amid such extraordinary and challenging times, numerous groups collaborated.

“In many ways there were positive things — the community, the team, everyone working together,” she said. “Parts of it were so uplifting. As hard and as difficult and sad and heart wrenching [as it was], so many other parts, you just saw such humanity. It was amazing.” 

Lasting Thoughts

Finnegan said the staff was incredibly appreciative of all the food local restaurants donated.

In fact, some of them joke that they gained the “COVID-19,” referring to the weight they put on while they were working numerous shifts and benefiting from all the donated food.

Morley “rediscovered” Twinkies during COVID in the break room. He has since been able to lose the weight the snack cakes added.

While gyms were closed, Collins relieved stress by buying a 400-pound tractor-trailer tire that he flipped up and down along his driveway. He also took a sledgehammer and “beat on it.”

The exertion would make him tired enough that the stress would dissipate for the day.

Dr. Eric Morley from SBU participates in COVID testing. Photo from SBU

Ultimately, what made an ever-expanding job — that affected so many aspects of health care workers’ personal and professional lives — manageable was the shared sense of purpose and the inspiration people drew from each other.

“The fact that the staff was out there doing it” helped give her energy, St. Charles’ Fiore-Lopez said. “We had patients to care for, we had shifts. We had days and weeks and months to get through. They put one foot in front of the other and I needed to do the same.”

Morley appreciated the way the Stony Brook staff pulled together during an intense and challenging time.

“Although it was grueling, it was a special thing to go through with that group of people,” he said.

From Helper to Patient, Then Back to Helper

Healthcare workers Feliciano Lucuix, Gene Rogers and Carolyn Germaine share their stories of testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this year, saying that their stories should serve as a warning during this second viral wave. Photos from St. Catherine and Mather

Health care professionals often sympathize with their patients, offering support as they deal with painful and difficult symptoms. With COVID-19, some health care professionals in the local area also became patients themselves. Feliciano Lucuix, Gene Rogers, two patient care assistants at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, and Carolyn Germaine, Director of Nursing for the Transitional Care Unit at Mather Hospital, shared their experiences with TBR News Media.

Feliciano Lucuix

Feliciano Lucuix, whose last name is pronounced like “lou quicks,” battled through COVID-19 in the first few weeks after the pandemic hit Long Island. A patient care assistant at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, she was in a restroom in March with a COVID-19 patient who vomited on her. Days later, she said she had a high fever and struggled to breathe.

Feliciano Lucuix, a patient care assistant at St. Catherine hospital, was a COVID patient herself earlier this year. Photo from St. Catherine

When her symptoms started, she had a 99.7-degree fever and pain throughout her body. She lost her sense of smell and her fever climbed to 102.8. She took a COVID test, which would take three days to provide results.

Before her diagnosis, she reached a point where she couldn’t tolerate losing her appetite and having her throat “feel like sandpaper,” she said.

Lucuix, who never smoked and practices yoga twice a week and swims, drove herself to the hospital, where she remained for six days, from March 24 through March 30. During that time, her daughter and son couldn’t visit.

Her son called every day and spoke to the nurses. Lucuix said he didn’t believe her when she said she was okay. The son also spoke with the doctor, who said his mother’s condition was improving.

While she endured challenging symptoms and discomfort, she appreciated the help and attention she received.

“Everybody take care of me wonderful,” said Lucuix, who was born in Argentina to an Italian mother and a French father and speaks Spanish, Italian, English and some French.

Even after she left St. Catherine, she couldn’t return to work for 37 days, as she traversed the slow road to recovery.

During Lucuix’s rehabilitation, her son, whose wife had his first child and Lucuix’s fourth grandchild, urged her to consider retiring.

Lucuix couldn’t wait to return to the COVID floor at St. Catherine. She has used her experience to offer patients on her floor empathy and support.

“I tell my patients, I take their hands, I say, ‘Listen, I was in there, too. I know what you’re feeling,’” she said. “I know you’re scared. I know you’re feeling you can die. If I can do it” then the patient can, too.

COVID-19 continued to affect her in other ways, even after her fever broke and she started to recover. Lucuix had headaches and started to lose her hair. She also had trouble sleeping, as viral nightmares interrupted her rest. Her doctor recommended that she speak with a therapist.

“I feel more comfortable every day,” she said.

Lucuix does what she can to protect herself, including taking vitamins, using personal protective equipment and washing her hands regularly.

Lucuix shares her experiences with her coworkers and her patients. She has also donated her antibody-filled plasma twice.

“I donated blood so other people can survive,” Lucuix said. “I’m proud to do that.”

Lucuix’s daughter, who works as a Patient Care Assistant, is following in her footsteps. Her daughter has applied to nursing programs to study to become a registered nurse. Lucuix with her granddaughter about considering the same field.

They would “like her to follow” in their footsteps, Lucuix said.

Lucuix said she is prepared to help patients during the second wave, which started to hit the Long Island community amid the colder weather and as families and friends gather in smaller groups.

“I’m ready to fight again,” Lucuix said. “I want to be strong for my patients, strong for my family.”

Gene Rogers

A patient care assistant at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, Gene Rogers started to feel ill March 23. He had a 101-degree temperature and was told to take a few days off, drink plenty of fluids, and take Motrin. He locked himself in his room, in case he had COVID, preventing his wife Bethan Walker-Rogers, their 16-year old son Phoenix and 10-year old son Charlie and even his dogs from having any contact with him.

St. Catherine Patient Care Assistant Gene Rogers suffered in th ER during his own bout with COVID. Photo from St. Catherine

Two days later, he was so uncomfortable that he decided he needed to go to the hospital. Walker-Rogers asked if she wanted her to drive him, but he said she should stay home and take care of their younger children. The Rogers also have an older child, Maya, who is 21.

As he drove, Rogers said he felt the car swerving when he passed a police officer.

“I was shocked he didn’t pull me over,” Rogers said.

When he arrived at St. Catherine, his temperature had spiked to 103.8.

Mary Jane Finnegan, Chief Nursing Officer at St. Catherine, offered Rogers reassurance.

“I don’t remember the whole thing about the ER that night,” Rogers said. “I remember [Finnegan] coming over to me and saying, ‘We’re going to take good care of you.’”

Like Lucuix, Rogers had no appetite. He was also having trouble breathing. The nurses kept telling him to lay on his stomach.

He had an odd sensation in his feet and was achy. He was in the hospital for eight days.

Rogers felt that the entire staff lived up to Finnegan’s promise. When he had a fever of 104.1, the nurses put ice packs under his arms.

“I’m putting them at risk while they are taking care of me,” he thought to himself on the bed. “Everyone I see, I try to say, ‘Thank you.’”

Walker-Rogers works in the dietary department at St. Catherine. Even while he was in the hospital, she couldn’t visit. She did walk by and look in the window, but she wasn’t allowed in.

Rogers entered the hospital on March 26 and was discharged April 3.

Although he was eager to return to work, a low-grade fever and, eventually, double pneumonia, kept him out for seven weeks.

Yet again, he isolated from the family and his dogs, who were scratching at the door regularly to see him.

During the worst of his condition, Rogers lost 35 pounds, which, he said, he has since regained.

Rogers added he never considered leaving his profession or St. Catherine.

“The people here are like my second family,” said Rogers, who has been at St. Catherine for 35 years. “I see them more than I see my own family.”

Rogers’s mother, Janice Foote, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, suggested that it might be time to retire or to do something else.

He said he had to return.

“I love my job,” Rogers said. “I enjoy what I do. I couldn’t wait to come back.”

When he started to work, Rogers said he was short of breath from running around.

Recalling the uncertainty and difficulty he and his family faced when he was sick, Rogers said his wife asked him what she’d do if anything happened to him. During the worst of his experience, Rogers said his oldest daughter Maya got so upset that she had to leave and take a walk.

As for how the experience affected him professionally, Rogers said, “you definitely look at it from a different perspective, being in someone else’s shoes.”

Rogers described himself as the type of person who is always asking if a patient needs something else.

“It look at it even more now, after being to that point” with his own illness, Rogers said.

Rogers’s daughter Maya, a junior at St. John’s University in Queens, is following in her parents’ footsteps. A biology major, she aspires to be a physician and is leaning towards emergency medicine.

Carolyn Germaine

Of all the tangible and intangible gifts Carolyn and her husband Malcolm Germaine have exchanged during the over four decades they’ve known each other, this had to be the worst.

Carolyn Germaine, the Director of Nursing for the Transitional Care Unit for Mather, had to make it through high fevers and extreme nausea during her fight with COVID-19. Photo by Stu Vincent/Mather

Director of Nursing for the Transitional Care Unit, Carolyn Germaine contracted COVID-19 in March and, soon thereafter, passed it along to Malcolm.

Her husband was choking at night and, despite being a nurse, Carolyn Germaine felt helpless, particularly in the earlier phases of the disease when health care workers weren’t using steroids that have become a part of more effective treatment.

“I feel terrible he got sick,” Germaine said. “It’s not something you ever want to bring home with you.”

Germaine’s battle with COVID-19 started March 23, when she developed a fever and aches all over her body that felt like every one of her joints had arthritis. By the 26th, she had a positive diagnosis. When she started to feel better, she thought she might return to work.

The next morning, she woke up with a 103-degree fever and, like so many other COVID patients, struggled to catch her breath.

“Nurses are bad patients,” Germaine said. “We think we can manage everything ourselves.”

Nonetheless, by Tuesday, the 31st, she recognized that the oxygen in her blood, which she tested on her own at home, was dropping to the low 90s. She went to the ER, where she convinced her colleagues to let her return home.

Another hospital official called and said, as Germaine recalled, “What are you doing? You need to come back.”

She was admitted on Tuesday evening, where she struggled through the most extreme discomfort she’s ever had. Her nausea, fatigue, and brain fogginess made her so uncomfortable that she asked her doctor to knock her out.

“It’s terrifying because you are isolated, and you want to stay isolated,” Germaine said. She didn’t want any of her friends or staff members to come into the room, where she could expose them to the virus that was challenging her system.

Germaine described the care she received as “exceptional.” The staff at Mather regularly checked in on her, even if it was just from the door. Struggling with thirst, she received numerous drinks at the door.

She knew the staff managed through extreme stress. Even in her brain fog, she could hear all the code blues and rapid response alerts all day.

“I’ve been in the hospital for 33 years and that doesn’t happen,” she said. “If there’s a code blue or rapid response, those are rare occurrences.”

While she was trying to recover in the hospital, Germaine said she was incredibly short of breath, even when she made the short walk from the bed to the chair. She forced herself to go back and forth, which she knew was better than remaining in bed all day.

Germaine vomited so frequently that she lost 15 pounds in the five days she was hospitalized.

“I didn’t think I was ever going to feel better,” said Germaine, who also lost a sense of smell that has only partially returned nine months later.

When she finally left the hospital, it took her five weeks to return to work. Germaine credits her daughter Laura, who lives with Carolyn and Malcom and is a social worker at Northwell, with taking care of her parents. Somehow, despite being around them through the worst of it, Laura, who is hoping for a “normal” wedding next summer, didn’t get sick.

During that period, the Germaine’s first grandchild, Greyson, was born April 12. She and her husband couldn’t visit him in person right away.

An avid walker who runs up and down the stairs at the hospital, Germaine needed a few more months to feel more normal.

She said she has also felt some sense of survivor’s guilt, because she wasn’t able to help out at the hospital when the need was the greatest.

Germaine said the staff has already been dealing with the effects of the second wave.

Within a 90-minute period recently, the hospital had four rapid responses, which means a dramatic change for patients, either because of oxygen levels dropping, a change in mental status, a drop in blood pressure or anything that might require immediate attention.

The rapid response call brings a whole medical team to the bedside.

The hospital would normally have a few of these in a week but having four in 90 minutes is extraordinarily stressful.

“People who don’t work in the field do not understand the amount of stress that the staff is feeling,” Germaine said. “It’s the entire staff. It’s every department that works here. It’s a very unpredictable time.”

Unlike the first wave, when other states sent medical teams to help in Suffolk County, those states are in the midst of their own crises, which means that no help will be coming, she said.

Germaine urged people to wear masks, remain socially distanced and limit any gatherings, even during the holidays.

Despite the anxiety, tension and memory of her own hospitalization, Germaine said she never considered leaving the hospital or her profession.

“Nothing is more satisfying than taking care of patients and helping families,” Germaine said. “You’re made to do it. I can’t imagine not doing it.”

Having the virus affects Germaine’s approach to her job.

“Every personal experience makes you a better nurse,” Germaine said. “You can go to patients and their families from a place of knowledge.”

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

The Thanksgiving COVID-19 numbers are here and they are skyrocketing.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) was joined by health and emergency response officials in a media call Dec. 3 to brief the public on the increase in positive coronavirus tests since the holiday last week.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“We are expecting to see more than 1,100 positive cases in Suffolk County, with a positivity rate of about 6%,” he said. “We have not seen a number of 1,000 cases a day since last April.”

To put it in perspective, Bellone said, Suffolk County was averaging below 200 new cases per day last month. The number has now jumped to nearly 500 positive cases on average per day.

The spike in hospitalizations is also drastic, jumping to 57%. Bellone said that 287 people have been hospitalized — an increase of 21 people. He said 50 of those people are in ICUs.

“That is the highest number since the end of May,” he said. “If we continue with this current pace by Christmas, we’ll have over 1,000 people in the hospitals with COVID-19.”

Bellone noted that at Suffolk County’s peak in the spring, when the region was the epicenter of the virus, there were 1,658 hospitalizations.

Kenneth Kaushansky, Dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, said the number of COVID patients or suspected COVID patients was up to 85.

“Every day for the last week or so, we’ve seen 10 more patients in our hospital,” Kaushansky said on a conference call about vaccinations on Thursday. “It’s coming back at us.”

Kaushansky urged residents to stay away from parties, wash their hands, and to continue wearing masks.

Marilin Dilone, an Emergency Department Nurse at Stony Brook, said the second wave is “slowly happening. We’re seeing it again.”

She anticipates a smooth transition if the numbers continue to rise.

“We know what to expect,” Dilone said.

Dr. Eric Morley, Associate Professor and Clinical Director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Stony Brook, described the staff as “battle tested.”

The hospital planned to open the forward triage unit, which the hospital used to separate suspected COVID patients during the first wave of the virus, next week.

On Monday, Mather Hospital President Kenneth Roberts said the hospital was at 64 percent occupancy, so it is “nowhere near capacity.” The hospital also has surge plans in place so that it can accommodate many more than 248 patients.

Robert Collins, a nurse at Mather for the last seven years, said the staff has learned from the difficult experiences through the spring.

“The benefit this go-round is that we’ve done it once,” Collins said. “We’re more familiar with treating it.”

St. Catherine Hospital has 30 COVID positive patients, which is 15% of their inpatient volume, while St. Charles has 11 COVID patients, which is 6.5% of the inpatient volume. Mather is still at 64% occupancy, which is the figure from earlier this week.

“The second wave and the post-Thanksgiving surge we talked about, we warned about, is here,” he said. “Luckily, we’ve taken a proactive approach.”

But Bellone said that although maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask outside is essential to staying safe, small gatherings are becoming the new super spreader.

“Now we know that small gatherings among families and friends have the highest transmission rate of all the events that we’ve seen,” he said. “So I cannot stress enough the concern about small indoor gatherings, where individuals and almost naturally let their guard down a little bit.”

Bellone said that Long Islanders must remain vigilant throughout the upcoming holiday season, while a vaccine is on the horizon.

“It is our actions over the next 30-plus days, that will be critical to our continued recovery,” he said. “That will be key to making sure that we keep our kids in school, keep our schools open, and keep our businesses open.”

He added that two new community-testing sites were launched in Huntington and Patchogue. So far, 349 people have been tested at the Huntington site.

Additional reporting from Daniel Dunaief

Mather Hospital changed its visitation policies Nov. 23. File photo by Alex Petroski

This story was updated Wednesday to include Stony Brook University Hospital.

Amid increases in the percentage of positive tests for coronavirus, Northwell hospitals including Huntington Hospital and Mather Hospital have changed their visitor policies.

Effective on Tuesday, Nov. 24, Mather Hospital has suspended patient visitation, including the Emergency Department and Transition Care Unit.

The exceptions for visitors include patients for whom a support person is considered medically necessary, including people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities and patients with cognitive impairments, including dementia.

Additionally, patients in imminent end-of-life situations may be allowed a family member or legal representative as a support at the bedside. The Department of Health defines imminent end-of-life as a patient who may die within 24 hours.

Pediatric visits in Emergency Departments are limited to one parent or guardian. Adolescent psychiatry, meanwhile, is limited to one parent or guardian between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Visitors must meet several criteria at Mather. They have to be 18 years old or older, have not been exposed to COVID-19 and be screened for symptoms. Visitors also have to wear appropriate personal protective equipment. Those who don’t wear such PPE won’t be permitted in the hospital.

Visitors will have to stay in the patient room during the visit. When they leave the room, visitors will remove their PPE, wash their hands and leave the hospital. Visitors should not be in the room during aerosol-generating procedures.

Patients can choose who can and can’t visit and may select priority support people.

A view of the front entrance to Huntington Hospital on Park Avenue in Huntington. File photo

Huntington Hospital

Meanwhile, at Huntington Hospital, all visitation, except for extraordinary circumstances, is suspended, effective Nov. 30.

The hospital has experience an increase in cases, although the total numbers remain low, with fewer than 20 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday.

“Social Distance and mask wearing by the community is critical,” Nick Fitterman, Executive Director at Huntington Hospital, said through an email.

One support person for patients in the Center for Mothers and Babies may remain throughout the hospital stay.

Outpatient Radiology services are canceled, effective Nov. 30.

Huntington Hospital’s surgical services are fully operation. The staff will take COVID-negative surgical patients through the hospital’s safe pathways.

The hospital strictly enforces universal masking, protective eyewear, hand hygiene and social distancing.

“We remain confident in these practices, and that they will protect our patients from COVID-19 while in the hospital,” Fitterman said.

File photo

Stony Brook Hospital

Starting on Friday, Nov. 27, all visitation is suspended except for patient support persons or family members and/or legal representatives of patients in imminent end-of-life situations.

Hospitals will permit a patient support person at the bedside for patients in labor and delivery, pediatric patients patients with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities or patients with cognitive impairments including dementia.

Wading River resident Bill McGrath donates blood at the NYBC location in Terryville. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Local hospitals are in need of blood, and they are joining forces with New York Blood Center to get the word out that a donation could save a life. 

Dr. James Cassin, dental resident at St. Charles Hospital’s Dental Clinic, donating blood Nov. 10 at St. Charles Hospital’s Blood Drive. Photo from St. Charles

According to Andrea Cefarelli, senior executive director at New York Blood Center, because of the current pandemic, there is a huge shortage across the country with no sign of any more supplies incoming.

“This is a chronic deficit in blood donations so we’re trying to raise awareness,” she said. 

Cefarelli explained that before the pandemic, 75% of blood donations came from the community. 

“We came to you in your place of work, place of worship and schools,” she said. “It was super easy to donate blood.”

According to its Facebook page, NYBC provides lifesaving blood products and services to nearly 200 hospitals in New York, New Jersey, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and parts of Connecticut and Pennsylvania. 

But because of COVID-19, people aren’t going out to donate, especially since blood drives at schools, colleges, offices and other community groups have been canceled. 

“Post-pandemic we’re running far fewer community blood drives and so it’s not quite as convenient,” Cefarelli said. “We have a deficit of 8,000 donations per month.”

According to NYBC, New York’s health care system requires 1,500 donations each day to treat patients ranging from trauma victims to newborns to cancer patients. The lack of blood donations is “particularly dangerous given the looming uncertainty surrounding the pandemic’s trajectory over the course of this winter,” she said.

Pre-pandemic, NYBC would host 550 community blood drives every month, but it is currently hosting just 280 blood drives per month.

To make up for lost blood, NYBC has teamed up with local and regional hospitals including Northwell Health and Catholic Health Services of Long Island to spread the word and ask people to donate. 

“The lack of blood donations has caused shortages of blood types to be available in our blood bank which provides lifesaving blood to all the patients we serve within the community,” said Jon Zenker, the administrative director of Huntington Hospital’s laboratory. “We urge all members of the community who are able to donate blood to help us overcome this critical shortage so that we can continue to serve our patients and provide them with the highest quality of care.”

Greg Slater, a spokesperson with Catholic Health Services, said they have taken extra safety precautions to make people feel comfortable during COVID times. 

“It takes a little bit of time to do, but it can be a lifesaving thing for someone else,” he said. 

Cefarelli said the lack of first-time donors is also down because of the lack of blood drives in school. She is encouraging young people to lend a helping hand. 

“If you bring a son or daughter who’s a first-time donor, who doesn’t have that school experience, we’re welcoming that,” she said. “Making it a fun and safe experience is super important to us.”

She’s also reminding people that blood drives are safe and can be hosted in a socially distanced fashion. 

“We have churches, businesses and even some schools realizing that we can host a blood drive that is safe and socially distant,” she said. “We want other organizations to consider hosting a drive.”

Right now, donors can make an appointment online at any NYBC blood collection center. Upon arrival, their temperatures are checked, and masks are required. 

Stony Brook University Hospital is also accepting blood donations at their own personal blood bank. According to Linda Pugliese, blood bank donor recruiter at the hospital, every day (except for Sunday) is a blood drive there. 

“All of the whole blood and platelets that are donated in the hospital blood bank, stay at the hospital, and help provide patients with the blood products they need,” she said. “Donating at the Stony Brook University Hospital Blood Bank is truly an example of community service.”

Since they are not affiliated with NYBC, SBUH’s blood supply is currently stable, but their demand has reached pre-COVID-19 levels. “There is a critical need to meet the challenges for blood donations created by the pandemic,” she said. 

Cindy Court (left) from Mather and Susanne Igneri (right) from Lustgarten accepted the donations from Yacht Club members Gary Passavia, Chuck Chiaramonte and Karl Janhsen. Photo from Mather Hospital

The Port Jefferson Yacht Club, just by the nature of their craft, know how to navigate turbulent times.

It’s why even despite the pandemic and setbacks to its 11th annual Village Cup Regatta, the group still managed to raise $40,000 which is split between Mather Hospital and the Lustgarten Foundation, which funds pancreatic cancer research.

Normally held in September, the regatta is a competition between teams for the Village of Port Jefferson and Mather Hospital. Whichever team wins gains the coveted trophy and bragging rights for the year, but the real purpose is to generate funds for pancreatic cancer research and cancer treatment. Last year the function raised $91,000 

Chuck Chiaramonte, a past commodore for the yacht club who helps head the annual regatta, said they were pleasantly surprised to see just how many people still donated even in a time where many are experiencing financial hardship.

While the event is two-fold, one being the club’s outreach to the community to share their love of sailing and the other being its fundraising efforts, only one of those could be focused on this year because of the pandemic, Chiaramonte said.

“When COVID hit, there was no way we could ask club members to have a lot of people crammed into the cockpit of their boats, and so we thought we would have to cancel,” Chiaramonte said. “But then later on we were thinking, pancreatic cancer is as bad as ever, we thought we could still hold the charitable portion.”

The regatta still happened this year, but in a smaller capacity. Instead of boats crowded with people, each sailing craft was only allowed a max of two persons. Normally the event has Mather racing against the village, just using club members’ boats. Calling it the Village Cup “COVID Race” this year, club members still raced carrying banners of sponsors and others who donated to the event, though the village/hospital competition was dropped.

Though it may have raised less than previous years, and even in the midst of so much tragedy due to the pandemic, cancer and specifically pancreatic cancer still weighs heavy on so many club members’ minds, with so many friends and family having been lost to the disease. And this year, with COVID-19, club members knew they had to do as much as they could to help the hospital that went through hell during the pandemic’s height. 

Kenneth Roberts, the president of Mather Hospital, thanked the yacht club for its support.

“We are grateful to the Port Jefferson Yacht Club and their continuing commitment to Mather Hospital, even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Roberts said in a statement. “This is a wonderful example of how we will get through this, together.”  

Chiaramonte said the yacht club plans to return for the 12th annual regatta in 2021, this time, hopefully, back to its normal self.

File photo

Suffolk County Police said a man died in a head on crash in Port Jefferson Monday afternoon.

Police said Kenneth Regan, 63 of Mount Sinai, was driving a 2005 Buick westbound Sept. 14 on North Country Road when he attempted to make a left turn into a parking lot located at 70 North Country Road next to the Wells Fargo Advisors building and across from Mather Hospital. His car then collided with a 2013 Toyota being driven eastbound by Leanne Schreiber, 37 of Miller Place, at around 2:45 p.m.

Regan was transported to Mather Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Schreiber was taken to the same hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. A passenger in Regan’s vehicle was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

Both vehicles were impounded for safety checks and the investigation is continuing. Detectives are asking anyone with information on the crash to call the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652.

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

As the number of COVID-19 patients continue to decrease on Long Island, local hospitals say they are working to ensure that the public and patients feel safe walking through its front doors while keeping a safe and clean environment. 

Kenneth Roberts, president and CEO of Mather Hospital, stressed the importance of seeking out medical care.  

“It is safe to come back — whether it’s coming to the hospital or going to the doctor’s offices,” he said. “People shouldn’t neglect reaching out to their healthcare providers.” 

The hospital has been implementing the use of tele-medicine during the pandemic, but Roberts said there is only so much you can do remotely and that some things need to be done in person. 

“Being a part of the Northwell Healthcare system, we’ve put into place new processes and procedures at the hospital,” the president of Mather Hospital said. 

For hospital employees, they must attest that they are free of COVID-19 symptoms when coming into work, temperature checks are done before each person clocks in. 

Roberts said all employees and doctors are required to wear face masks. Those on the frontlines who may be in contact with potential COVID patients are required to wear face shield in addition to the n-95 masks. 

Another change at the hospital is the return of visitors. 

“We’re allowing two visitors per patient,” Roberts said. “Before they’re able to come in there will be required to answer a series of questions and their temperatures will be checked.”

As of now, those who need to go to the emergency room are being asked to remain in their cars until a hospital employee comes to them. 

Roberts said patients that come in on an emergency basis who may have COVID-19 symptoms will be tested immediately. The hospital will be administered a test and be able to get a result back in three days. 

In an effort to keep the facilities clean and safe, Mather Hospital will be utilizing PurpleSun devices, which use ultraviolet light to kill germs and provide rapid disinfection. 

Roberts said the patient feedback so far has been good and that a lot of them have confidence in the doctors and “have no fears.” 

With the restart of elective surgeries in May, the hospital has seen more people coming in to get important procedures done. 

“We’ve had over 1,000 operations that were scheduled, now we are playing catch up,” the president of the hospital said. 

Each patient scheduled for surgery will receive a phone call from a hospital employee and they will conduct a preprocedural interview gathering health history as well as a screening  for COVID symptoms or exposures. 

Once that evaluation has been completed, patients receive two separate in-person pre-surgical testing appointments. The first appointment may include lab tests, EKG and x-rays. The second appointment is for COVID testing and is scheduled 48 hours prior to the procedure. Patients are instructed to self-quarantine leading up to their surgery.  

“They’re going really well, a lot of the patients are grateful to get these procedures, but they also want to shorten their length of stay as much as possible,” Roberts said. “We want to continue to provide a safe place for our patients.”

Comsewogue 2020 Valedictorian Daniela Galvez-Cepeda and Salutatorian Gianna Alcala. Photos from CSD

Two young women lead the top of the class at Comsewogue High School. Valedictorian Daniela Galvez-Cepeda and salutatorian Gianna Alcala have near-identical grade point averages, but both have far different plans for their futures.

Galvez-Cepeda finished the year with a weighted GPA of 102.42. During school, she spent much of her time as student government co-president and French Honor Society president, a member of varsity track and field and Athlete Helping Athletes. In addition, she is a National Hispanic Recognition Scholar, Women in Science and Engineering team member at Stony Brook University and a National Merit Scholar Commended Student. 

In her free time, she said she was a junior volunteer at Mather Hospital, where since 2017 she answered visitors’ questions at the front desk in both English and Spanish and provided them with comfort when needed. She also shadowed nurses on their rounds with patients.

She said her best memory of high school was her work setting up a donation drive the school organized in 2017 to help the people in Puerto Rico hurt by Hurricane Maria.

“I walked back and forth from the parking lot, unloading cars and trucks and bringing donations into our school’s auditorium,” she said. “My district neighbors were so generous that we filled up our whole auditorium with donations in only one day.”

In the fall, Galvez-Cepeda will be attending Williams College in Massachusetts where she will double major in math and physics on the pre-med track. She said her goal is to be a trauma surgeon, but she added she is excited to explore other options down the road.

Alcala is moving on to college with a 102.26 weighted GPA. She is a National Merit Scholarship Commended Scholar, Women in Science and Engineering at Stony Brook University, Art Honor Society president, Science Honor Society treasurer, as well as a member of the cross-country, Country Farms equestrian team and band.

She said her experiences with WISE and Art Honor Society were especially important to her high school career, though her favorite memory was traveling abroad with classmates to Spain, France and Italy.

Though she thanked her friends, family and teachers for inspiring her, she added that Galvez-Cepeda, her friend and competitor for the top academic spot, was also a huge inspiration.

“For the past seven years, Dani has been my most brilliant competitor and one of the most kind and generous people I’ve ever known,” Alcala said. “Without her impact on my life, I wouldn’t be half the person I am today.”

The salutatorian will be attending the University of Southern California, Viterbi School of Engineering to study environmental engineering. She said she wants to work toward a more sustainable world, especially in the textile industry. 

Though the coronavirus cut off in-person learning prematurely for the 2020 senior class, the high school’s academic leaders said though they lacked physical contact with teachers and peers, the important thing is to persevere.

“High school is the foundation that is setting you up for the success that is to come in your life,” Galvez-Cepeda said. “So, enjoy your time with your friends while learning new things in a safe space together.”

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Rohan Singh and his brother Rishabh holding the masks they have been making on a 3D printer. Photo from Singh

Young Belle Terre resident Rohan Singh, at home during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, told himself he needed to do something to help the surrounding community using GoFundMe and a 3D Printer.

Singh’s father, Ravi, is a doctor working in Patchogue, and so from both him and the news in general, he said he heard about the general lack of personal protective equipment from hospitals all around Long Island. He said, speaking with his dad, he learned of his father’s old colleague from college, who now works at Japan-based company Aizome Bedding. The business originally created pillows and beds, but has since transferred to making N95 masks. 

These masks, in today’s world costs $2.50 each. To get 1,000 of these would require $2,500. Taking to GoFundMe, Rohan made up the amount by donations in five days. He said he plans to distribute the masks to Mather Hospital and Long Island Community Hospital in Patchogue, the medical center his father works closely with.

“After talking to my dad, I asked what I can do to help,” he said.

Looking to do more, Singh looked into 3D printing. The first time using the device, he said it was difficult at first, but now with six masks under his belt he is joining the legions of people looking to help hospital workers by producing his own PPE. Each takes about five hours to print, and so far he has produced six masks. 

“This isn’t the first time Rohan has tried to make  a difference. When he was in fifth grade, he won the Suffolk County Social service award for collecting and distributing left over pencils for an orphanage in India,” Singh’s mother Priyanka said. “He manned a Farmers Market stall in Port Jefferson selling Samosas to raise money for a prosthetic foot camp as a sophomore in high school. So during this pandemic it didn’t surprise us that he wanted to use his time in quarantine to try and help people in the front line.”

The Port Jeff high school student said he is also looking long term.

“I want to think of the bigger picture, think of something more like industrial alternative masks that don’t take up as much time to print,” he said.

Singh’s GoFundMe can be found here. More and more people are reaching out and doing their part to support hospitals in their time of need. Visit here to see how locals have been making handmade PPE for hospitals and keep up with TBR News Media to see how locals are giving back to healthcare workers.