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Port Jefferson

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Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant. File Photo

On a daily update video, Mayor Margot Garant announced the village would be closing all on-street Main Street weekend parking starting Mother’s Day weekend, May 9 and 10.

Main Street in Port Jefferson empty of traffic on a weekday. Photo by Sapphire Perara

The mayor cited the two hospitals within village bounds, St. Charles and Mather, with “hundreds of residents on the front lines on a daily basis.” Two weeks ago, Suffolk County Police said they issued a summons answerable to the village to a man they said allegedly wasn’t obeying social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic. The mayor said at the time people in Harborfront Park were being “belligerent” to code enforcement and police alike and were refusing to both wear masks and keep apart.

Reports of groups of motorcyclists gathering together on main street, and other pedestrian traffic with people not wearing masks, have left officials concerned that residents and visitors are possibly spreading COVID-19 as warmer weather incentivizes more outdoor activity. 

All businesses are limited to curbside pickups on the weekend. Code enforcement will be patrolling “in an army,” the mayor said, to enforce social distancing directives, as well as checking in on businesses to make sure they are also following guidelines stating no sit-down eating.

On Sunday, the village is bringing back the farmers market, this time in a new location in the parking lot behind what was once the Gap clothing store, just north of Arden Pl. New guidelines dictate cars can only pull one way in and one way out, and all visitors must be wearing a mask. Only one person is allowed at a stall at a time. Guidelines may change, the mayor said, if rules aren’t followed.

“It’s going to be a test — it’s going to be up to you,” she said.

Otherwise, village beaches remain open to Port Jeff residents, and all cars are asked for residents’ identifications before they can park.

 

Richard Hoey’s son Kevin lives in a Central Islip residential home, and he said its high time facilities like his son’s receives targeted testing. Photo from Hoey

Port Jefferson resident Richard Hoey’s son Kevin lives in a Central Islip residential home for the developmentally disabled. Kevin is diagnosed as intellectually disabled with Down syndrome, autism, behavioral disorders and is developmentally delayed. His mobility is confined to a wheelchair. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, 21-year-old Kevin has been largely confined to the facility. Family has only been able to communicate with their son via video chat, in which Hoey said Kevin’s attention span is “minimal.” 

“Kids in residential homes, they are all not able to protect themselves.”

— Richard Hoey

“Look to see him, he doesn’t recognize inside that little square TV screen,” Hoey said.

The issue, the parent said, is simply not knowing. Though he said the facility, Eaton Knolls, one run by United Cerebral Palsy of Long Island, has largely been communicative of current goings-on, two staff and one resident have tested positive for the virus. Though staff has been wearing personal protective equipment, they have been “low on the totem pole” in receiving masks and gloves.

“Kids in residential homes, they are all not able to protect themselves,” Hoey said. “They have no idea the dangers with sneezing, coughing or licking things. And they’ll never have any idea about it.”

The Port Jeff resident and his family have created a Change.org petition saying that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) should take similar action to Massachusetts and mandate testing at long-term care facilities, such as residential, veteran and nursing homes, for all staff and residents. 

The petition, change.org/p/andrew-m-cuomo-save-my-son-s-life-new-york-group-homes-need-mandatory-covid-19-testing, has already raised over 1,000 signatures since it started Friday, May 1.

The site is operated through the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, which sets the rules and regulations for facilities such as UCPLI. 

Camille Schramm, the director of development and public relations for UCPLI, said her company, which was mandated to close every service except for the residential homes since March 17, has struggled to get their hands on the necessary PPE. Through donations and requisitions they’ve managed to procure enough masks and gloves for now, but they have struggled to receive the necessary number of gowns.

Otherwise, facilities like hers “should be in the top 10” of long-term care organizations that need targeted testing. Residents cannot simply go to the local pharmacy to get tested, a plan the governor said is currently in the works. Many have major communication problems and mobility issues. Many are confined to wheelchairs.

UCP would not release the number of people at their 31 facilities who have tested positive for the virus, citing resident and family confidentiality, though she said they have fared better than others in the field.

“We’ve been hit, but not as hard as some of the other agencies on the Island due to the safety protocols and precautions we have in place,” Schramm said. 

Currently, the policy for staff who present symptoms isthat they are sent home for at least two weeks and they require a doctor’s note to be allowed back in. After learning of a positive case, UCPLI brought in a company to clean and sanitize the facility, which Schramm said is “costly, especially considering the number of homes we have.” 

For residents that start to show symptoms, they are self-isolated in their rooms. Though if they start to display problems with breathing, they are sent to hospitals where many remain because many also have compromised immunities. 

“They are part of an underserved demographic population that are very challenged by something like this,” Schramm said.

At the end of March, Massachusetts deployed National Guard technicians to long-term care facilities to attempt to test all workers and residents across the state, though things have only ramped up since then. After an April 27 $130,000 state funding plan, the National Guard has completed more than 28,000 tests at 525 care facilities in Massachusetts, according to The Boston Globe. Though the Bay State is ranked 10th in overall nursing home population, currently New York is ranked at the top with over 101,000 patients.

The OPWDD issued a statement saying testing is being prioritized for people receiving supports from OPWDD or service providers who display symptoms, adding that the state “continues to expand testing opportunities as new tests and locations become available.”

“OPWDD is taking the threat of COVID-19 to the people we support and the broader community very seriously and has activated our emergency response team to closely monitor all reports of possible contact within our system across the state,” the statement read. “All staff are fully trained on infection control practices and OPWDD has released guidance to staff and voluntary provider agencies regarding visitation, PPE use and quarantine protocols at our facilities. OPWDD monitors levels of PPE in all of our community residences, both state and provider operated, and has created a 24-hour emergency services number for providers and staff to contact when issues arise.” 

Residential facilities, mostly nursing homes of adult care facilities, have come under severe scrutiny since it was revealed a huge portion of COVID-19-related deaths have come from these places that house some of the most at-risk populations. As of May 5, New York State reported nearly 20 percent, or 4,813 deaths, in New York have come from these locations. Suffolk County has suffered 593, but many suspect COVID-19 deaths have gone unreported at these locations, and deaths may be even higher.

Hoey said targeted testing is the best way to stymie the growing number of deaths at these facilities.

“That will knock down the death rates,” he said. “The only reason [Cuomo is] not doing it because there’s no pressure for him to do this. “

Junior attack Xavier Arline drives to the cage for the Wildcats in the Suffolk Class C county final against Mount Sinai last year. With spring season cancelled, there will be no chance for a rematch. File photo by Bill Landon

High School seniors are normally under a lot of pressure come their last year of classes. It’s a time where students have to be thinking about where they want to go after graduation, what they want to do, all mixed in with a sense of finality to their grade school careers. For students involved in sports, it means the last season and the last chance they will have to take their team to county championships or maybe even states. 

Ward Melville second baseman Matt Maurer makes the scoop in a League I matchup against Central Islip last year. The team was hoping for even better this year, before the spring season was cancelled. File photo by Bill Landon

Then on April 22, Section XI made the announcement cancelling the spring sports season.

“After much discussion and consideration, the Athletic Council of Suffolk County has voted unanimously to cancel the spring sports season for 2020 at all levels,” Tom Combs, the Section XI executive director wrote in a statement. “The decision was not an easy one to make, however in what the world is experiencing at this time, it is the most prudent decision to make.”

With the cancellation of the spring sports season due to the ongoing pandemic, those same students now see any hopes of making it to playoffs dashed. Some teams, like the Ward Melville baseball team, might have been looking at their best season yet after making it to Suffolk County championships last year.

“Though we lost in the Suffolk County championship, the juniors were a big reason why they got there in the first place,” said Ward Melville baseball coach Lou Petrucci. “When we heard the news I talked to all the captains, and we talked to the seniors and juniors. They’re upset, but the spin we have to put on it is every time you play a baseball team you have to play it like it’s your last.”

Scott Reh, the Mount Sinai director of athletics, echoed the sentiment that the decision is going to most impact seniors, who he said the decision was “totally out of their control.” Though he and other athletic directors understood why it was done.

“At the end of the day, it’s very important because people are losing their lives, their jobs and the list goes on and on, “ Reh said. 

Mount Sinai girls lacrosse head coach Al Bertolone said his team has been “training every day since school closed,” and that he hosts video meetings with the team and individual groups daily. 

Though the news was hard, Bertolone said they had already participated in a car parade that ran past Mather and St Charles hospitals, which included the entire varsity team, parents, a fire truck, local police and some alumni as well.

“As far as we are concerned the games might have been canceled but our team is still going strong,” he said.

They are planning another car parade for Senior Day, May 14. 

Charles Delargey, the director of PE, health and athletics at the Rocky Point school district, said the girls lacrosse team hosted a senior parade for their 10 seniors last Saturday, and the boys lacrosse has plans to do something similar this weekend. 

Mount Sinai sophomore, then freshman Mackenzie Celauro slides home in game last year. File photo by Bill Landon

At 8:20 (20:20 military time) on Friday, May 1, districts will be turning on the lights and score board of their school football fields. The event is supposed to celebrate the sports teams in their 2020 season, with several schools planning live streams including comments from coaches.

In addition to several videos that coaches and students have put together, homes throughout the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District are displaying ‘Home of a Wildcat Senior 2020’ lawn signs to share in the school spirit. The district is also promoting the NYSPHSAA Mental Health Awareness Week from May 4-8 with social media messages. Plans are also in progress to honor all athletes at the annual athletic awards event which will be held virtually in the coming weeks. 

“Our coaches are in contact with our athletes to help to maintain optimistic attitudes and keep physically active during this time,” said SWR Director of Physical Education, Health, Athletics and Nurses Mark Passamonte.

School sports directors have been doing their best to keep spirits high. Adam Sherrard, the Port Jefferson School District athletic director, shared a video to his Twitter showcasing baseball players practicing, intercutting the video so it seemed the players were tossing the ball to each other.

Port Jeff is planning to host its regular sports ceremonies, including pictures of seniors in their uniforms in May and the signing ceremonies in June, but this time having to bring up each player individually for photos.

Indeed, practicing at home has become the new norm. Players have taken videos and pictures of themselves in their workouts and practices and posted such things to their coaches and teammates in phone messages and online.

Still, many students mourn the loss of their lost season — for some their last. As the bearer of bad news, coaches have done their best to offer consolation and hope for the future.

Matt DeVincenzo, the athletic director at Comsewogue School District, helped craft a video that was released Friday, April 24, on the district’s Facebook going through all the spring sports teams and specifically mentioning the graduating players, thanking them for all their hard work.

“Everyone’s pretty devastated,” DeVincenzo said. “Everyone saw the writing on the wall, and all the kids are affected, but our hearts really go out to the senior class. Unfortunately, they were robbed of last season in high school.” 

Port Jefferson senior Aidan Kaminski, then a junior, looks for an open lane last year during the Class D county final. He will not be able to finish his final senior season. File photo by Bill Landon

The unanimous decision from the Section XI board was a tough one, DeVincenzo said, but all acknowledged the impossibility of hosting sports during the ongoing pandemic.

But beyond the spring season, many still question what will happen in the summer, fall and winter.  All agree it’s still too early to tell.

For students participating in college sports, the National College Athletic Association said students graduating in spring will be eligible for collegiate scholarships as long as they still meet the course number requirements and show a 2.3 or higher GPA in those courses. The NCAA’s evaluations will not look at separate reviews of spring or summer distance learning during COVID-19 closures.

The question whether the coronavirus will impact sports in summer and fall is still up in the air, but with coaches not even aware if students will be back in school by the end of May, that question is leaning heavy on the minds of school athletics. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said April 24 he would later be announcing whether schools would remain closed, but as of press time has not yet made the decision. 

Delargey said when the news arrived last week, students were of course disappointed. On the other end, it was also a showcase of how students can show compassion.

“On a call with the softball team where the coach broke the news, after everyone spoke, one of our youngest kids on the team said to the seniors, ‘just want to let you know what an inspiration you’ve been to me.’” he said. “For a young kid to do that that’s amazing says what sports is all about.”

St. Charles Hospital in Port Jeff plays "Here Comes the Sun" every time a patient is discharged during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Kyle Barr

St. Charles Hospital ICU nurse Kacey McIntee, walking through the halls of a hospital in the midst of a pandemic, is just one of  scores of RNs who have watched their world flip the wrong way around. 

Where once the hospital had one Intensive Care Unit, now it has three. Every time she gets to work, she slips into hospital-issued scrubs and she’s assigned to one of the three units. Every single bed is housing a patient on a ventilator, nearly 40 in all. She’s bedecked in a mask, hair covering and face shield. 

Nursing Assistant Martha Munoz is working at St. Charles Hospital during the pandemic

Typically, the ratio is two ICU patients to one ICU nurse. However, now there are cases where she cares for up to three patients, alongside a helper nurse. She starts her day by looking at her assigned patients’ charts, and then spends the rest of her 12-hour shift doing her best to keep these patients, many in such dire straits, alive.

“A lot of times you can kind of expect something is going to go bad just based on blood values alone,” she said. “We mentally prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario with our patients.”

It’s a common story among many medical centers, but local hospitals St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown and Port Jefferson’s St. Charles, both in the Catholic Health Services system, have been on the front lines of fighting the virus for longer than others, having seen their first COVID-19 positive patients March 8.

Jacquelina VandenAkker, a 33-year veteran respiratory therapist at St. Charles and Port Jeff resident, said while the past week has shown what seems to be a plateauing in the number of new cases, the first 10 days of the virus “was hell. You didn’t know the end of it.”

“We felt it was literally such a war zone. You knew you could be a victim to it because you don’t understand it,” she said. 

Hospital officials confirmed there were a number of staff who have contracted COVID-19, but declined to release the number of employees  who have been infected, citing that staff did not want it known if they’ve been previously infected. 

“We see a lot of deaths,” the respiratory therapist said. “I take the same unit. I know my patients. We start to understand the disease a lot more.”

McIntee, a Sound Beach resident, knows the pain and suffering of the COVID-19 patients suffering. It’s hard not to become entangled in the lives of these people, knowing the pain of suffering when the family can only communicate via tablet computer and online video chats.

“Nurses are really, really good at coping mechanisms,” she said. “One of the most useful ones is humor and the other is detachment. We cannot picture our loved ones in the bed — if we hear that one of our loved ones is sick with COVID, all bets are off, we are a mess.”

When it comes to that, when what has universally been the once inconceivable is happening moment to moment, McIntee said they rely on their fellow nurses.

“It’s almost as if we’re all in war together, and we have this bond for life that we will always be connected together, that we had these experiences that really nobody else in the world can experience except during this time,” she said.

The Initial Wave and Beyond

Jim O’Connor, the president of St. Charles and chief administrative officer of St. Catherine of Siena, said hospitals faced initial difficulties but hope things continue to look up. 

“Both St. Charles and St. Catherine had their first COVID-19 patient on the same day,” he said. “We struggled to keep up with it and the personal protective equipment we needed in that first week. Thankfully we seem to have gotten our sea legs.”

Dr. Jeffrey Wheeler, the director of St. Charles Hospital Emergency Department

Only about 25 percent of patients who are diagnosed require hospitalization, but of that 25 percent, 50 percent require ICU care, and many of them require a ventilator, O’Connor said.

Even before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) mandates shutting down all essential businesses, hospital admin said they saw what they call a “surge” of patients. 

Bonnie Morales, the director of infection prevention for St. Catherine, said she and other specialists at hospitals around Long Island had started preparing for the “what ifs” a few weeks before it finally came, but even then, it was hard to estimate just how much it would overtake the entire health care system. 

“I would have to say we were prepared, but that line list [of staff procedures] I went back to in the beginning, has grown from a page to three pages long,” she said.

The precautions for reducing infections became one of the most supreme considerations with both patients and staff, she said. Morales, a Selden resident, said the average patient on “transmission-based precautions” which were before only meant to help patients and staff avoid contact, has now gone from 20 to 30, up to over 100 that are currently on these transmission-based precautions because of the virus.

The hospitals had what the admin called a surge plan, but as the St. Charles president put it, “a man plans, and God laughs.” Learning just how many beds they would have to increase to was staggering, but he thanked the admin team who worked with barely little notice to start the process of acquiring more beds and space.

After Cuomo announced an executive order mandating hospitals increase their bed capacity by at least 50 percent, St. Charles and St. Catherine have boosted the number of beds to 243 in St. Charles and 296 beds at St. Catherine.

Mike Silverman, the COO at St. Catherine, said early on the hospitals decided to close access to the public. It was something that was unpopular to start, but in hindsight has been a smart decision.

Silverman only joined the hospital little more than two months ago and has had a trial by fire in the truest sense of the phrase.

“I don’t think anybody thought this was going to happen,” he said. “There was no playbook for this … It’s a lot of people doing what needs to be done,” he said.

O’Connor said the hospitals hit a high in the number of patients in the previous weeks, but since they have been climbing, inch by strenuous inch, off of that peak. Since the start of the outbreak, St. Charles has gone from eight ventilators to nearly 37 at peak. St. Catherine had 35 at peak. Each hospital has transformed its space to accommodate the massive number of critical patients by creating two new ICUs in each. All elective surgeries have been suspended and those workers have been moved to aid COVID-19 patients. 

“There’s definitely some angst,” Silverman said. “We know how many people are dying in the state, and we would see this many deaths in a week. It’s tough, whether it’s at work, whether its friends or friends’ families.”

Michelle Pekar, in purple scrubs, is part of the St. Charles Emergency Department. Photo by Marilyn Fabbricante

Both admin and health staff agreed the community has done an incredible amount of support for the health care workers. There have been consistent donations of meals, snacks and drinks. There have been a rollout of homemade masks and PPE supplies as well, along with cards and notes thanking the health care workers for all they do.

Still, to say it hasn’t taken an emotional toll would be wrong.

“It has been very tough on the staff because there is a very high mortality rate for people on ventilators,” O’Connor said. “What compounds it we weren’t allowed to have visitors so that really adds a whole different isolation for the patient and the families.”

The hospital has been using tablet computers to connect patients with family members at home, but it has also meant having to give them difficult news about those family members remotely.

“They have their own fears understandably about it. They have their own families they go home to that they worry about spreading it to,” he said. “I give them so much credit for them to put themselves at risk to be in a room with someone with a contagious disease.”

There have been moments of hope throughout the day in between the darkness. Every time a patient comes off a ventilator, the hospital plays “Breathe” by Faith Hill over the loudspeaker. When a patient is dismissed from the hospital, they then play the classic Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun.”

Hospitals’ PPE

O’Connor said the hospitals sterilize the PPE used by hospital workers at the end of each shift, and after the N95 is used three times then it is discarded, though if it becomes “soiled or contaminated” then it is discarded before that. Normally, such masks are not designed to be reused, but with supplies tight, hospitals and other medical centers have been looking to get as much use out of equipment as possible.

Susie Owens of St. Charles Hospital delivered a special message to her colleagues in chalk. Photo from St. Charles Facebook

“We know it is not a perfect system,” O’Connor said. “Nobody expected to have this patient volume, but I think we’ve done a good job, but is it perfect? No.”

The federal Office of Emergency Management has added to supplies, along with donations from companies and other local individuals. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has made guidelines for decontaminating such equipment, and hospital administration said they are following those guidelines. Catholic health systems announced earlier this month they had created an ultraviolet light sterilization system for masks in CHS hospitals.

The New York State Nurses Association has taken issue with the hospital’s practice of reusing such PPE as N95 masks after they’ve been sterilized. The union points to mask manufacturer 3M, who said there were no disinfection methods that would kill the virus and maintain effectiveness, though the CDC’s website cites numerous sources related to the positive results of disinfecting such masks.

Though a union representative could not be reached by press time, nurse representatives have spoken to other news outlets saying that both hospitals lacked PPE supplies, and that unlike systems, nurses in St. Charles and St. Catherine were made to wear gowns for an entire shift that are meant to be disposed of after one patient encounter.

McIntee said at the start of the pandemic, things were confused with PPE, with the CDC changing its guidelines constantly. Regarding gowns, she said hospital workers have a choice, they can either spray down reusable gowns with a cleaning solution in between patients, use disposable blue/plastic gowns, or the so-called bunny suits, the full-body white suits with a hood. With face shields, there are no other choices than rinsing it with solution.

Now, McIntee said if a worker wears an N95 mask continuously throughout the day in a 12-hour shift, they can discard them. If they wear them intermittently throughout the day, then they are bagged and sent to be sterilized at night. Sterilized masks then can be worn intermittently three more days before they are discarded.

“Not once have I ever had an issue with the N95 masks being told ‘no, you can’t have one,’” she said. “I’ve always been able to have access to any PPE I wanted … Now I think we have a system down, and it’s less anxiety.”

St. Catherine April 22 accepted a donation of gowns and masks from the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, and Morales said the bevy of donations they have received have truly helped in the fight against COVID-19. The hospital has received donations of tie back and bunny suits.

Regarding St. Catherine staff reusing gowns, Morales said “We are giving out supplies for the staff to utilize and they have what they need in order to take care of their patients.”

O’Connor said the hospitals have been doing multiple things to aid the front line workers, including bringing in agency staff and repurposing staff from outpatient to inpatient services to add more hands on deck. The hospitals have developed quiet rooms for staff to catch their breath, and Silverman said St. Catherine has a service where staff can purchase basic items, they have little time to get from working long days during the pandemic. 

“It would be very foolish for us to not keep our staff safe,” O’Connor said. “Why would we possibly not be doing anything we can to keep them safe?”

Village Fears Future Coronavirus Closure Protests

Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson. File photo by David Luces

Though the majority of local residents are doing their best to practice social distancing and comply with state executive orders, Suffolk County police said others have been belligerent and uncooperative in suppressing the spread of coronavirus.

Police said 6th precinct officers responded to Main Street in Port Jefferson Sunday, April 19, at around 1:30 p.m. There was a report of a large group of people not practicing social distancing. 

Police said one individual refused a request to social distance or put a mask on. He was taken to the Sixth Precinct and was released with a civil summons returnable to the Village of Port Jefferson for failure to comply with the executive order.

Port Jefferson village Mayor Margot Garant said in the April 20 trustees meeting that Sunday saw large groups of people down in Port Jefferson, with many congregating on Main Street and in Harborfront Park. Many were not wearing masks. The park along the waterfront was temporarily closed after the incident when cops arrived.

“Sunday was a very difficult day in the village — it was a sunny day and people had cabin fever,” the mayor said. “Between groups of motorcycles, people showing off muscle cars …  we did have to close down Harborfront.”

She said such actions by locals and visitors means they could be spreading the virus not only to others, but also to police and code enforcement, which she said should be especially respected now since they are “part of the front line.”

The fear, village officials said, was a kind of political backlash and further gatherings. In other states, there have been protests about closures of businesses and amenities. While nearly every state, both Republican and Democrat-led, now has some sort of lockdown laws in place, these protests have taken on a political edge to them, with President Donald Trump (R) in some cases explicitly supporting the rallies, despite health officials warning it may spread SARS Cov-2 even more.

Some of these protests have blocked roadways and reportedly even restricted health care workers from getting to hospitals.

“Knowing there are certain groups that are causing rallies, this will not be getting better for us,” Garant said. “This situation is not going to get better for us, this is a destination village.”

Currently, the village is working on staggered shifts, and suspects some projects slated for 2020 may be put on hold, though the Toast stairway project is moving ahead, with only sprinkler systems yet to be installed.

Otherwise the village has instituted a spending freeze, and any expenditures have to go through administration staff before they get approved.

The mayor added village tax bills are still being generated, and will be due June 1.

 

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From left to right across the top, Rich Klefsky, the senior vp of retail and banking for SFCU, Micah Schlendore, the assistant vp for retail member experience at SFCU, John Urbinati, the owner of Fifth Season; bottom row, left to right, Mayor Margot Garant, Community Outreach Manager for St. Charles Hospital John Perkins, SFCU President Ralph Spencer, Port Jeff chamber president Mary Joy Pipe, BID President Roger Rutherford, Manager of the Steam Room Vincent Seiter. Photo by Kyle Barr

With close to $9,000 raised online, the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District and chamber’s program to donate food to hospitals just got another big boost in funds.

On April 14, Suffolk Federal Credit Union donated a $7,500 check to the BIDand Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce’s program that takes food made by local restaurants to the two hospitals in Port Jeff, St. Charles and Mather.

The funds come on top of another $5,000 check donated last week by Teachers Federal Credit Union. The program’s Gofundme, which can be found at gofundme.com/f/help-port-jeff-restaurants-feed-hospital-workers, has so far raised just over $8,500 as well.

The program is twofold —one helps restaurants stay active and keep staff on payroll, and other is aiding the hospital workers who are burdened under the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“We were trying to coordinate this ourselves, but we were ecstatic when we found out the chamber was doing something, so it worked out very well.” said SCFU President Ralph Spencer.

Mary Joy Pipe, the president of the chamber, said she was “thankful for your participation and community involvement,” of SCFU, calling the credit, which has an office at St. Charles, a good partner to the business community.

Participating restaurants include Slurp Ramen, Nantuckets, Prohibition Kitchen, Wave Seafood & Steak, Pasta Pasta, The Steam Room, Fifth Season, C’est Cheese, SaGhar, The Pie, PJ Lobster House and Salsa Salsa.

The nursing staff at Mather Hospital thanks people for their donations and for keeping up social distancing. Photo from Kathy Long and Nicole Flatley

By Rich Acritelli

“When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is!”

From the start of the coronavirus epidemic that has hit this nation, this saying has been followed by local nurses Kathy Long and Nicole Flatley. These two hospital workers are at opposite ends of their careers, but share the common goal of helping their patients. Within a medical crisis that rivals and surpasses all other illnesses in recent history, COVID-19 has left a mark on the nation that will never be forgotten. Currently, at the time of reporting, there are well over 400,000 cases of this virus with close to 13,000 American lives lost. In New York State alone, there are almost 5,500 deaths with close to 140,000 confirmed cases that are growing every day.

Newbie nurse Nicole Flatley has only been working at Mather for less than a year before the advent of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo from Flatley

Healthcare workers of every kind are facing extreme health hazards and working an extraordinary number of hours to help save lives and help stem the tide of the virus. Never has any other generation of Americans watched the USNS Comfort dock in New York Harbor to care for local citizens or see the government build field hospitals in Central Park, the Jacob Javits Center in New York City and closer to home at Stony Brook University.  Even during times of war, children and young adults were still able to go to school to get an education. Due to the severity of COVID-19, some of the most common parts of our society have changed through online teaching, a practice now seen from one coast to the other.

As a 22-year-old resident of Sound Beach, Flatley has been a nurse at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson since August, 2019. It has been less than a year since she graduated from St. Josephs College, but she is now one of the 3.8 million registered nurses nationally battling the virus. For the last eight months, this newly hired employee has flourished into a trusted nursing member of the 3 South team in Mather, one that has been at the forefront for treating COVID-19 patients within Mather.  

It is no surprise that Flatley is working long shifts to help men and women of all different ages fight the virus. As her former social studies teacher, I recognized her as a prepared, organized and motivated student willing to do her best within every assigned task. Flatley was a key member of the Rocky Point field hockey team which was amongst the most competitive on Long Island. In school, Flatley’s excellence with her academics enabled her to be placed on the National Honor Society. Armed with a brilliant smile, Flatley enjoys her time with family and friends.

Flatley is a “spunky” well rounded young lady who has the ability to talk to others with an upbeat personality, something she has utilized to care for her COVID-19 patients. Working overtime and in midnight shifts, Flatley said she is extremely thankful for the nurses that have helped guide her during the start of her career. With the staff around her, these nurses help determine any positive and negative coronavirus cases. Mather has seen the wide variation of symptoms, from shortness of breath, fever, diarrhea, and chest tightness. Nurses are covered from head toe in protective gowns and gear with suction and surgical face masks, along with face shields. While she said she has limited experience, Flatley has received an into-the-fryer education that has seen her handle daunting responsibilities at an extremely high level. 

Experienced health care worker Kathy Long is the nursing manager for the 3 South Unit. This 30-year  nursing veteran nurse and Port Jefferson Station resident said she is extremely proud of her colleagues. During these stressful moments, her nurses have not taken a day off and have worked long hours through the rigors of the crisis. Long said she is extremely thankful for the compassion of her staff who have worked under the most challenging conditions that could be asked of any nurse. Former Athletic Director to St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington and  Port Jefferson Station resident Don Buckley has known Long for many years, saying she has outstanding professional qualities and that he views her as a “wonderful, caring, loving nurse, and most of all wife and mother.  It was no surprise to us when she became supervisor of 3 South, as she is a natural leader and highly respected.”

Veteran nurse Kathy Long has been working at Mather for 30 years, but has “never experienced anything like this.” Photo from Long

As the senior member of this department, Long was pleased with Flatley’s skills, and that she has shown to be “an advocate for her patients, a critical thinker, and a quick study.”  

While Flatley may be a younger nurse, Long said she was pleased with her progress shown through many of these dark moments. As a parent of three boys who are about the same age as many of the younger staff at Mather, she has guided these younger nurses with vital information to get her through the hard days.

For 30 years, Long has observed trying medical conditions, but she maintains that this epidemic is by far the worst situation that she has ever endured as a nurse. The scary part of COVID-19, she said, is that the increased “spike” has not yet hit New York. Every precaution has been taken. In order to keep the contact limited between the patients and healthcare workers, the hospital issued I-Pads to people suffering from COVID-19. They use this technology to speak to the doctors and nurses when they are not in these rooms. The “nucleus” program, as its called, has allowed the patients greater access to those professionals that are helping them and for additional face time to see their loved ones who are unable to visit them. Long said the program has strengthened morale for their patients.

During every major moment that America has faced national adversity, people have always helped each other through trying times. Over the last twenty years, rescue workers spent countless hours at Ground Zero during and after the 9/11 attacks. For the previous two decades, American soldiers have been supported from home as they fought in major battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now the next major aspect of patriotism has undoubtedly been observed through the healthcare workers in New York. New York City Fire Department trucks and crews have been placed in front of hospitals cheering the healthcare workers. With a smile, Flatley explained how the local fire departments have blasted their sirens at the same time to show appreciation to local hospitals that are on the “front lines” of the virus response.

Newbie nurse Nicole Flatley, left, has only been working at Mather for less than a year before the advent of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo from Flatley

As a senior nurse, Long said she is incredibly thankful of the outside aid sent to this hospital from restaurants like Ruvo East, the Port Jeff Lobster House and Rocco’s Pizza, just to name a few. She would like to recognize the local families that have also brought food for her staff and the many appreciation cards from children from as far away as West Sayville. These colorful notes by the kids have highlighted the many sacrifices all hospital workers are conducting on a regular basis for the COVID-19 patients. Many of these pictures are hung in an populated area in the hopsital, serving as a vital morale booster for all the hospital staff. It is possible Flatley will serve in the same role as Long in the future, supporting her staff as a pillar of nursing expertise and understanding. 

Flatley has grown immensely during this mounting crisis. One of the greatest concerns that she deals with at her job is the “unknown” of this medical condition. The nurses continually work under unyielding pressures with no known cure, no timetable for it to end, and no shift ever being the same. Always a young lady with a can-do attitude, Flatley’s mother Jill describes her sheer pride in her daughter by saying, “I know it’s your job, but your kindness and courage to do it inspires me beyond words. I can tell you are making an immense difference in many lives. Love you and stay safe.” 

Thank you to the doctors, support staff and nurses like that of Long and Flatley that have strenuously labored with their peers to provide love and comfort to the victims of this virus.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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Officials from the Port Jefferson village, chamber and BID joined Teachers Federal Credit Union and hospital heads to accept a $5,000 check allowing more meals to hospital workers. Photo by Kyle Barr

This post has been updated with new information of more funds coming from Suffolk Federal Credit Union.

Port Jeff business organizations have gotten a helping hand from Teachers Federal Credit Union in their quest to bring meals to hospital workers on the front lines of the coronavirus, as well as support restaurants that have seen massive drops in sales since the start of the pandemic.

Mary Joy Pipe, the president of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, and Inna Sprague, the chief experience officer of Teachers, joined together in offering a check to the chamber and BID’s program offering meals to hospital workers. Photo by Kyle Barr

Holding a large $5,000 novelty check in front of the PJ Lobster House, Mary Joy Pipe, the president of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and Inna Sprague, the chief experience officer of Teachers,joined village and hospital officials in accepting the check. It was also a show of how people try to maintain social distancing even in such simple events like a press conference.

“Thank you for thinking of us as your hometown as all of our hometowns are suffering,” Pipe said.

On Tuesday, April 14, Suffolk Federal Credit Union will also be presenting the business organizations a $7,500 check to help with operations, according to chamber executive director Barbara Ransome. This brings the total in donations from credit unions
to $12,500.

For the past few weeks, Port Jefferson village, the chamber and the Business Improvement District have teamed up to have restaurants supply meals that are shipped to both John T. Mather and St. Charles hospitals. James Luciano, the owner of PJ Lobster House and the BID’s secretary, said they are sending 40 meals to hospital workers at a time on a rotating basis between businesses. Participating businesses include Slurp, Nantuckets, Prohibition Kitchen, Wave Seafood & Steak, Pasta Pasta, The Steam Room, Fifth Season, C’est Cheese, Saghar, The Pie, PJ Lobster House and Salsa Salsa.

The money raised is also partially to help businesses support some of their staff while there are a limited number of customers.

BID and chamber leaders said they have been holding constant meetings alongside village officials to try and keep on top of events.

“The BID and chamber are matching contributions from the restaurant association to help keep these meals moving along,” Mayor Margot Garant said. “We accept any support we can get from partners and our residents to help keep our businesses relevant and open to help feed the front line and also the people who are in need of supplies and meals.”

The chamber has established a Gofundme page at www.gofundme.com/f/help-port-jeff-restaurants-feed-hospital-workers. So far they have raised nearly $6,500.

“The restaurants and shops are the backbone of our community,” Roger Rutherford, the general manager of Roger’s Frigate and BID president said. “When we see partners such as Teachers stepping up it’s a really wonderful thing that helps us sustain and weather the storm.”

The idea of supporting hospitals during the crisis has spread to downtowns all throughout the Island. Sprague said Teachers originally caught on to what Port Jeff and other communities like Patchogue were doing through the Greater Long Island websites. Last week they donated $5,000 to the fundraising efforts in Patchogue. Later this week the credit union plans to donate another $5,000 to restaurants in Bayshore and Babylon.

“Our goal is to continue to support frontline staff who are deemed essential to our society, as well as keep our local businesses employed and functioning and operating,” she said.

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Bob Strong, right, with his grandchildren Brittany and RJ. Photo from Robyn Strong

Former Port Jefferson mayor and longtime active member of the Port Jeff community Bob Strong passed March 15 after complications from lung cancer. He was 83 and died in the community he knew and loved.

Robert Strong with his two children, Robyn and Robert Jr. Photo from Robyn Strong

Strong was mayor for four years from 1995 to 1999, having been a trustee for four years prior to that. Though his stint as village head was relatively short, Strong would have long and lasting impacts on the village, namely his early help incorporating the easternmost part of the village, his creation of the Business Improvement District and him buying the property that would eventually become Harborfront Park. 

Strong was born June 16, 1936, in New York City, the son of Joseph A. and Pauline R. (Manger) Strong. He would attend SUNY Oswego and graduate in 1958. He was a member of the Beta Tau Epsilon fraternity, where he would meet his wife of nearly 50 years, Evelyn Ann (Repasky) Strong. They would have two children, Robyn and Robert Jr.

People who knew them said the two were inseparable, and it was very rare to see one without the other standing by their side. Evelyn passed away in June 2006. 

Robyn Strong said her father was very gregarious, always there for local parties or events.

The couple moved to the Port Jefferson in 1968, where the family quickly ingratiated itself into the community. Though the area was not yet in the Village of Port Jefferson, Strong quickly became known as a leading voice for incorporation. 

About 90 acres on the eastern end of the village was, until the late 1970s, still not a part of the village. Advocates for integration looked to change that. Unlike the village’s original incorporation in 1963, which was formed out of a desire for home rule, this new incorporation came together through a desire for united identity, according to Larry Britt, a former trustee of 11 years who worked alongside Strong once he later became mayor. 

“There was the same school district — all their kids went to school with our kids — and it was a big section of the village that was left out,” he said.

Harold Sheprow, a former Port Jefferson mayor from 1977 to 1985 and again from 1987 to 1991, soon became fast friends, especially because of their shared advocacy to see the village extended out to Crystal Brook Hollow Road. Strong would spend his efforts knocking on doors, advertising for integration and discussing the prospect in meetings. 

Robert Strong was a mayor for 4 years, but had a lasting impact. Photo from Robyn Strong

“It was a big benefit to Port Jefferson,” Sheprow said. 

The village’s longest serving mayor of 12 years would appoint Strong to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Working up from trustee to deputy mayor to mayor, Strong would work on several major projects, two of which are most felt by village residents today, namely purchasing the land near the harbor that would later become Harborfront Park and the creation of the BID.

Back in time, what is now parkland was filled with oil terminals, with the last owned by Mobil, which merged with Exxon in 1999 to become ExxonMobil. Sheprow said he had worked on that project for years, but Strong was the man to finally get it done, having gained financial help from New York State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). Sheprow said the agreement also forced Mobil to clean up any contamination in the ground, which would help set the stage for what came next. 

Britt, who as trustee worked alongside Strong on the project, said the actions he and the board took involved participation from both local government and residents.

“It was a big focus of what we did,” he said. “I think the fact we had great resident participation was a big part of why it went through.”

The mayor to take up the job after Strong was Jeanne Garant, who would help transform the area into the rolling passive park residents and visitors enjoy today.

Caroline Savino, a former village clerk who would work under five separate mayors, said Strong and other past mayors were looking for ways to have the businesses themselves chip in for the betterment of other village storefronts. 

Britt said the creation of the BID has done much for the village, especially as seen in its current incarnation. Lately, BID members have been working with the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce to get meals from restaurants to hospital workers.

“Who could have looked into the future and see what it is today?” Britt said.

Otherwise, those who worked for Strong in an official capacity knew he could be just as kind in and out of the office.

“Bob was a real gentleman easy to work for — really dedicated to the village,” Savino said. 

Not only did she work for him, but she and Strong were also neighbors, where she said they had originally become friends. Despite him becoming mayor, she said it wasn’t hard to work for him, as he was always so courteous. Even after she retired and moved to North Carolina, Strong wouldn’t hesitate to call her and catch up on things.

Strong was also described as religious, having been a principal of the Infant Jesus R.C. Church religious school for two years. Sheprow said Strong never missed a Mass.

When not traipsing around the village, Strong was a middle school social studies educator in the South Country Central School District. He joined the district in 1958 and remained a teacher until 1966 when he became an assistant principal at the middle school. He became chairman of the social studies department, a position he held from 1972 until 1991. Strong was also a student council adviser

Robert Strong was a mayor for 4 years, but had a lasting impact. Photo from Robyn Strong15

Steve Willner, a fellow teacher in the South Country school district knew Strong well, having worked with him for eight years, becoming friends with him in much the same way others have, thanks to his personable attitude.

“He was really highly regarded in the school by both students and faculty members as [someone who was as] professional and personable as possible,” Willner said. 

Friends who knew Strong all mentioned his love of history, both world and U.S., and his ability to talk about current events. Britt remembered having plenty of discussions on politics and world issues.

When one was friends with Strong, they knew it well. Willner said he would invite the man to his son’s wedding and daughter’s bar mitzvah. Even when Willner moved to Florida after retirement, Strong and he would still keep in touch, communicating together up until the time of his death.

When Strong’s wife Evelyn passed in 2006, friends said the former mayor took it hard. 

“He and his wife were very joined together at the hip and never went anywhere without each other,” said Sheprow. “They were very much attached to each other — he never got over when she passed.”

Still people who knew him talked of how he would continue to call them or meet up, whether they were in the area or lived several states away. Robyn said her father and mother were both heavy travelers, having visited all 50 states and all continents, save Asia and Africa.

Robyn said her father was diagnosed with lung cancer 14 months before his death in March, but that he “was a fighter to the very end.” 

Because of the ongoing crisis, the family will not be holding any services at this point, though they are currently developing plans for a memorial in early summer.

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Village Hires Deputy Village Attorney/Prosecutor

Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Port Jefferson village is still moving ahead with its budget agenda, this year seeing a revenue decrease thanks in part to the LIPA settlement reducing the assessed value of the Port Jefferson Power Station.

The Port Jefferson village board held a budget hearing over the Internet, even including a live rendition of the national anthem by Port Jefferson student Nicholas Rodriguez, who played Oliver during the annual Charles Dickens Festival.

However, the new format did not allow for any public comment. This was in accordance with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order suspending portions of the public meeting law due to the coronavirus crisis.

The proposed 2020-21 budget includes $9,992,565 in total appropriations, a 3.19 percent decrease from last year’s amount of $10,310,869. This takes into account a 3.5 percent Increase in the tax rate, a $111,088 decrease in assessed value of the Port Jefferson Power Station, as well as a $145,000 decrease in ambulance charges since that is now handled by the Town of Brookhaven.

“Cutting our budget by over $300,000 was not an easy task,” said Mayor Margot Garant. “In cutting that budget we were effective in consolidating some departments.”

One of the changes she referenced was moving one clerk typist into the position of a retiring typist, at a lower salary, without replacing the original with a new employee. 

As regards other village employees, the village assessor, who was on an hourly rate, has become salaried at $30,000, resulting in an increase of $26,019 from what he was getting paid this last year.

The board is also hiring a full-time internal deputy village attorney as a prosecutor, for a total expense to the village of $102,000. Garant said the board agreed this was needed to help prosecute offenses more effectively, also bringing in more revenue for the courts.

“We were just not getting any real effect as a board,” the mayor said. “We collectively agreed bringing on a staff full time will have more direction over individuals.

Village attorney Brian Egan said this will aid in prosecutions of village code infractions. He added that New York State’s new discovery laws, which require municipalities to present all evidence to the defense within a short time after being charged with a crime, have been difficult on small entities like Port Jeff. The new prosecutor will be in charge of handling that side of things.

“This is to really put an emphasis on our code enforcement to go out and aggressively prosecute code enforcement violations,” Egan said. “Having a full-time deputy village attorney … will benefit [the village] all the time.”

This year, the village is looking to raise $6,451,427 from taxes, a near $50,000 increase from last year.

“Because our LIPA assessment is frozen at a settlement … the assessed value shifts from the power plant to the shoulders of our residents,” Garant said.

In terms of capital projects, there are several on the horizon for the upcoming fiscal year, including building the $795,069 parking lot on Barnum Avenue. There are also plans to renovate the Highlands Boulevard retaining wall in the next two to three months using funds from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York gained through state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). Additionally, the village has gained Suffolk County grants to renovate the bathrooms by Rocketship Park and in the lower floor of Village Hall, to fix lingering issues, make them Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and heat the outside bathrooms so they can be used in the winter. Additionally, an $80,000 drainage project on Longfellow Drive is expected to start this year.

The village has also recently received permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for securing the bluff on East Beach, which has been rapidly eroding over the past several years. The mayor had expected they would need to take out a small bond for that project. Another bonded project will most likely be the digitization of village records at both the building and planning department and the clerk’s department. Such a project may cost upward of $200,000. 

The village currently has a AA bond rating.