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St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center

Photo courtesy of Let. Rob Trotta's office

Suffolk County Legislators Rob Trotta and Leslie Kennedy joined hospital officials at the return of its community health fair on the grounds of St. Catherine’s Medical Center in Smithtown on April 13. The event provided access to more than 50 specialties and programs offered at the hospital. Medical staff conducted free glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure screenings. Community organizations were also present to share their resources and answer questions.

“St. Catherine is our community hospital and I proud to have it located in my 13th Legislative District. I am a supporter of the hospital and its events,” said Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta.

Pictured at the health fair from left to right are Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta; Mary Ellen McCrossen, the hospital’s Community Relations and EMS Managers; Declan Doyle, President of St. Catherine; Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy; NYS Senator Mario Mattera; Randy Howard, COO of St. Catherine;  and Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy.

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Community blood drive

New York Blood Centers have declared a blood emergency, their second in the last 75 days. The region’s blood supply is once again at a 1 to 3 day supply. In response, St. Catherine of Siena Hospital, 50 Route 25A, Smithtown will hold a community blood drive on Monday, Nov. 7 and Tuesday, Nov. 8 in the St. Vincent’s and St. Rafael’s Conference Rooms from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Appointments are preferred by calling 800-933-2566 but walk-ins welcomed. 

From left, David D’Agate, DO, St. Francis Heart Center cardiologist; Jie Jane Cao, MD, St. Francis Heart Center cardiologist; and Joshua P. Bozek, DO, St. Catherine of Siena Hospital emergency medicine physician. Photo from St. Catherine of Siena Hospital/Michelle Pipia-Stiles

Catholic Health is expanding with its newly opened,  award-winning St. Francis Heart Center (SFHC) at St. Catherine of Siena Hospital (SCSH) in Smithtown. Here, St. Francis cardiologists will provide prompt, expert assessments and treatment of acute chest pain.

“In bringing St. Francis Heart Center to St. Catherine, we’re giving residents of Suffolk County’s north shore access to lifesaving treatment for patients with acute chest pain,” said SCSH President James O’Connor. “Residents can have confidence in knowing that they have access to St. Francis’ cardiovascular care close to home.”

Led by a team of nationally-renowned cardiologists, the St. Francis Heart Center at St. Catherine is specifically for those who present with acute chest pain. Patients will be seen quickly by a physician and receive an EKG within minutes. The individual’s condition will be evaluated using the H.E.A.R.T. scoring method: History, Electrocardiogram (ECG), Age, Risk factors and levels of Troponin, ensuring customized, efficient and effective treatment.

Based on the patient’s score, St. Francis physicians will determine the level of criticality and treatment options. In some cases, a cardiac CT scan will be performed to better assess a patient’s heart and locate heart disease. The images will be read by St. Francis Heart Center’s dedicated cardiac imaging team. If a patient requires a catheterization, precision angioplasty will be performed onsite with the level of excellence that has made St. Francis Heart Center a recognized national leader in cardiology. Upon the patient’s discharge, the team will schedule follow-up appointments within 24 hours with a St. Francis-affiliated cardiologist, or the patient’s own cardiologist.

“Timely diagnosis and treatment of patients with acute chest pain is vital to successful outcomes,” said Catholic Health and St. Francis Hospital Chairman of Cardiology Richard Shlofmitz, MD. “When a person has a heart problem, it has to be taken care of right away. You don’t want to walk into an urgent care center and then have to drive to a hospital emergency room and wait hours before receiving therapy. Time is valuable, and we want to save you time by bringing St. Francis closer to you. With the opening of the St. Francis Heart Center at St. Catherine, patients will receive the same quality of care and expertise St. Francis is known for worldwide.”

The St. Francis Heart Center has already expanded its nationally recognized cardiovascular expertise to Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip and Mercy Hospital in Rockville Centre.

For more information on the cardiology services offered at Catholic Health, click here or call (866) MY-LI-DOC. To view a video about the new St. Francis Heart Center at St. Catherine, click here.

The Town of Smithtown Horizons Counseling & Education Center, in partnership with St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, will mark International Overdose Awareness Day by holding a free Narcan training event for the community. On Tuesday, August 31st at noon, the Community Action for Social Justice Organization (CASJ) will conduct a free NARCAN® training seminar outdoors under the shaded pool deck at Smithtown Landing Country Club, 495 Landing Avenue, Smithtown.

“This is an invaluable life saving skill for everyone and anyone to learn. Don’t think to yourself, I’ll never need this skill… you simply just never know! Accidental overdoses on prescription drugs can easily happen to an elderly person living alone or to a family member suffering from dementia. Additionally, we’ve been fighting an opioid epidemic for years. The coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly made it more difficult to fight back and get people help. Human beings make mistakes, but they all deserve a second chance… Narcan training is a weapon against this battle… and everyone should arm themselves with this life saving skill.” – Supervisor Ed Wehrheim

St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center and Horizons Counseling & Education Center resource tables will be set up around the training area, filled with invaluable services, information, promotional items and refreshments. Space is limited and on a first come first serve basis. Residents can reserve space by contacting Horizons Counseling & Education Center at (631) 360-7578 via email at [email protected] or register online: (https://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/eventReg?oeidk=a07eige1kdaaa916e45&oseq=&c=&ch=)  Reservations for training should be made before the end of business on Monday August 30th, 2021.

International Overdose Awareness Day is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose, remember without stigma those who have died and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind. It began in 2001, led by Sally J Finn at The Salvation Army in St Kilda, Melbourne. Since then, communities, governments, and organizations work to raise overdose awareness about one of the world’s worst public health crises, and promote action and discussion about evidence-based overdose prevention and drug policy.

About Community Action for Social Justice:

Community Action for Social Justice (CASJ) is a not-for-profit organization that fosters improved health and quality-of-life for Long Islanders impacted by drug use, incarceration, homelessness, and chronic disease through participant-centered services and policy advocacy to reduce  broader social and structural barriers. A vital part of CASJ’s work is their Overdose Prevention Program, which provides free training and naloxone (Narcan) kits, not only at community events, but with individuals and families in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. To learn more visit: https://casj.org/

The statue of St. Charles outside the hospital. Photo by Marilyn Fabbricante

At St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson and St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown, the use of face masks, regardless of the threat level from the virus that has claimed the lives of just over 2,000 people in Suffolk County and more than 144,000 in the United States, is likely to continue.

“I see [the use of] face masks moving forward.”

—Cecilia Hill

“I see [the use of] face masks moving forward,” said Cecilia Hill, director of Infection Prevention and Control at St. Charles.

Indeed, Hill and James O’Connor, president of St. Charles and St. Catherine’s hospitals, said they believe that masks were a critical part of protective equipment for staff.

Almost all of the antibody tests for staff at St. Charles came back negative, which Hill suggested “says a lot for what we were doing” to protect staff, including mask wearing and hand hygiene.

St. Charles recently restarted elective surgeries, which were on hold during the worst months of the pandemic on Long Island.

Anyone coming in for elective surgery needs a COVID-19 screening. The hospital also uses temperature screenings for staff and visitors. Medical personnel and visitors have to attest to the fact that they are feeling well and are showing no signs of the virus.

These procedures will “be in place for quite some time in the far future,” Hill said.

O’Connor said the two local hospitals didn’t meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) target for 90 day’s worth of personal protective equipment for every hospital, which was his original goal in case of another viral surge.

“No one is able to get those kinds of supplies,” O’Connor said. Still, he said the hospitals would be in “far better shape, assuming there’s a surge in the fall,” because they are collecting as much PPE as they can. The hospitals are also not using as many N95 masks as they were, in part because they are testing so many patients.

O’Connor declined to give the exact amount of PPE the hospitals had on hand.

Following health and safety guidelines during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic also helped lower the spread during the annual flu season.

A viral born respiratory illness like COVID, the flu typically threatens public health between December and the middle of May.

Suffolk County typically gets “slammed with the flu until the middle of May,” said Hill. This year, the last case was in March. While that could also be a product of people suffering through the flu without coming to a hospital during the pandemic, social distancing, face masks and sheltering in place likely reduced the spread of a disease that can also be fatal in some cases, though not nearly as much as COVID-19.

“My hope is that, because all of the testing, we are going to know earlier on that the wave is coming back.”

— James O’Connor

As the number of confirmed positive cases of people with COVID-19 has declined, O’Connor said the fear of going to the hospital for elective surgery is lower.

“Everybody is aware that the numbers are down on Long Island and in New York state,” he said. “My hope is that, because all of the testing, we are going to know earlier on that the wave is coming back.”

All elective surgeries have had testing done three days before the scheduled procedures. In cases where tests come back positive, the hospitals are postponing those procedures.

O’Connor said some of these tests have come back positive, even for people who are asymptomatic. The COVID-19 test is required for people who have fallen and fractured their hips.

“A number of positives are not because they are having symptoms,” O’Connor said. “They aren’t complaining of a fever or other respiratory problems. These are probably mild cases.”

O’Connor said it’s unclear from the literature that a mild case doesn’t spread as much as someone with full-blown COVID with a fever.

Indeed, some medical literature suggests that asymptomatic cases may shed even more of a viral load, he said.

Hill suggested there was a drastic contrast between patients who first came in with symptoms related to the virus and the people they are seeing now.

Part of the reason the prognosis has improved is that hospitals like St. Charles and St. Catherine’s have a much better idea of how to treat patients. Some drugs have helped relieve the symptoms associated with the virus.

As for the staff at the hospitals, O’Connor said he hopes they learned from the public health challenge during the worst of the first wave.

“You hope, and I would pretty much guess, that anybody who lived through it the first time will be very careful about potentially exposing themselves,” he said. “If you talk to people, what they are most concerned about is what’s coming back.”

Ultimately, O’Connor and Hill urged people to abide by the face mask guidelines, particularly when they are close to others. The decision not to wear a mask could have implications for the longevity of others who are following public health guidelines.

“Do the right thing,” O’Connor said. “Protect yourself and those around you.”

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?”

After experiencing a stroke, Denise woke up to a shower of get well trinkets, flowers and balloons, but there was one item that stuck out to her the most − a handmade card that she could tell was crafted by a child. “The greeting card really made her day. It made her smile and brought her joy,” said her daughter, Nicole Wozny.

Wozny is an art educator at Park View Elementary School in Kings Park. Inspired by the greetings cards, the teacher decided to connect with the local hospital close to the school − St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown. She wanted to continue the same momentum by encouraging local students to participate in the art of healing by creating special holiday greeting cards to be distributed during key holidays in December.

“What an amazing feeling for my students to get the chance to enjoy the true meaning of the holidays by sharing their art,” said Wozny.

Many scholars and educators support art in schools as it has been demonstrated to improve self-esteem and confidence as well as cultivate empathy. While the holiday season is considered the most wonderful time of the year, it can be difficult for those healing and recovering in a hospital.

 “I thought how nice it would be, especially for patients who have no one visiting them or thinking of them,” said Wozny. “If every patient experiences a moment of joy from receiving a card − just as I know my mother did − our mission was accomplished.”

 The month-long Park View Greeting Project resulted in the creation of 400 cards, crafted by all the elementary students who were given creative range to inspire patients. 

Third-grade student council member Stella Roosa was thrilled to participate in the project coordinated by their art teacher. “I feel so happy to be able to do something for people − the cards are as special as they are,” said Stella. Another third-grade student council member, Owen Dorsey, added, “This was the best opportunity.” 

“At Park View Elementary we are committed to teaching students about service − so this project was aligned with our educational mission to teach the students to care for their community,” said Principal Kevin Storch. “This project cultivates service and kindness.” 

Park View Student Council students, Stella Roosa, Cassandra Chapman, Alexandra Faralan, Michael Reznick, Gabrielle Keaveny, Faith Hanley, Owen Dorsey, Ella Vicinanza, Samantha Katz, Dylan Schor, Lilah Goldman and Jack Krupp, along with Storch, Wozny and educators Traci Smith and Dana Farrell, delivered the cards on Dec. 13, just in time for the holiday season. 

 “We are very grateful to Mrs. Wozny and all the students at Park View Elementary School,” said St. Catherine of Siena’s President Jim O’Connor. “Their thoughtfulness and inspiring greetings will go a long way in lifting our patients’ spirits, bringing this special season alive through a heartfelt greeting card.”

Pictured with the students, from left, Park View staff member Carol Liguori; Park View Elementary School Principal Kevin Storch; art teacher Nicole Wozny; Park View teachers Dana Farrell and Traci Smith; St. Catherine of Siena’s President Jim O’Connor; St. Catherine of Siena’s Chief Medical Officer Mickel Khlat; and St. Catherine’s Community Outreach Coordinator John Perkins.

Photos courtesy of St. Catherine’s Medical Center

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Meet baby Leah!

New parents Luz Renderos and Nelson Orlando Albarracin welcomed 2019 with a new bundle of joy — baby girl Leah Isabella Albarracin. Baby Leah arrived at 3:44 p.m. on Jan. 2, 2019 and was the first baby born in the Maternity Department at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown. Special chimes rang throughout the hospital in celebration. Baby Leah was delivered by Dr. Dodis Kohan, weighing in at 6 pounds 15 ounces and was exactly 20 inches long.