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St. Charles Hospital

Crisis Forces Owners to Get Creative

Stony Brook Trauma Center staff member Colby Rowe and Wang Center Building Manager Scott LaMarsh accept donations for the COVID-19 Donation Center. Photo from SBU

Local businesses throughout Long Island have been hit hard because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but it also has brought them closer together. These uncertain times have bred creative and unique ideas in an effort to keep these storefronts afloat. 

Renee Goldfarb of Origin of Era in Port Jefferson hosts daily livestreams demonstrating an item in her stock during the ongoing crisis. Image from Facebook

For Renee Goldfarb, owner of Origin of Era boutique in Port Jefferson, it meant finding ways to further connect with clients and new customers despite them not being able to come into the store. 

“There’s not the heavy foot traffic we are used to seeing, so instead of just sitting in an empty store why not continue to interact with customers online?” she said. 

Goldfarb started what she calls a “virtual shopping experience” where she showcases and models different pieces of clothing from a number of indie and female designers. In these half-hour livestreams, she said it allows customers to get that familiar experience of seeing products in real time and decide what they like.

“I’m very hands on; I want them to see how these pieces look on a normal human being, not just a store mannequin,” the boutique owner said. “The viewers also leave comments and it gives me the chance to talk to them and answer their questions.”

Goldfarb currently produces weekly videos on Instagram Live and Facebook. She said she has already sold a few items from her store and is getting good feedback from customers on the videos. 

 “The business community in Port Jeff is really trying to support one another,” she said.

Though times have been trying, it has not stopped local shops from supporting those who arguably need it the most.

Similarly, the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District is conducting a restaurant delivery program that will send meals to St. Charles and Mather hospitals for the medical staff, to thank them for their service during the ongoing pandemic. The Greater Port Jeff Chamber of Commerce is also assisting in the effort. 

Theresa Skogen, liaison for the Port Jeff BID and the chamber, said they already started to drop off meals at the hospitals earlier last week.  

“We started last Saturday — it’s been a good way to revitalize some of the businesses that had to shut down and it keeps them busy during their slower days,” she said.

James Luciano, owner of the Port Jeff Lobster House and BID secretary, said the BID is donating up to 40 meals at a time to the hospitals on a rotating basis. 

“Any restaurant that is in the Greater Port Jeff area can participate,” he said. “The BID will pay them a flat fee of $500 for 40 meals. We pick up the meals and deliver them to the hospitals for free.”

Luciano said they hope to continue delivering meals every day to the local hospitals. 

In addition, the Port Jeff chamber has set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds to help Port Jeff restaurants feed hospital workers at St. Charles and John T. Mather hospitals. GreaterPortJeff.com is sponsoring fundraising efforts for the restaurants involved and the campaign will also help local restaurants. As of today, close to $4,000 has been raised. 

“We wanted to make sure we could provide that service, and be able to employ local personnel.”

-James Luciano

In an effort to further help Port Jeff businesses, the Village of Port Jefferson has created a website page titled Open Today. The page contains a list of over 30 restaurants and other businesses. The BID is also sponsoring a free delivery service  from 12 to 8 p.m. daily.  

Luciano said they wanted to have a centralized delivery system in the village during this time and at the same time have this option available to customers. 

“We wanted to make sure we could provide that service, and be able to employ local personnel,” he said.  

For some entrepreneurs, making sure customers know that they are still present is just as important, despite seeing a dip in business. 

Gabriela Schwender, of Long Island Crafty Ones, a mobile and traveling workshop based in Rocky Point, said a lot of business plans have had to be canceled due to the pandemic. Her craft workshops cater to face-to-face interactions with her clients. 

In the meantime, she has been livestreaming craft workshops on the business’ Facebook page. While she can’t provide art materials like she usually does, Schwender said she has turned to finding common household objects that can make for fun craft projects. 

“Usually when I do these workshops, I’m right there to help them or guide them,” she said. “Right now, I’m answering questions through text.”

Schwender said a number of viewers have already reached out to her saying that they would like to hire her once the pandemic/shutdown is over. 

Gary Pollakusky, executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, said small businesses are going through a difficult time right now, adding the chamber has reached out to all its members in an effort to assist them in any way they can, including giving each other ideas and advice. 

The organization has come up with its own page titled Shop Locally, Distance Socially, which can be found on its website (www.rpsbchamber.org) where it lists a number of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses that are still open and taking online orders. The chamber is also encouraging residents to order a gift card for now, to shop with once life returns to normal.

“These small businesses and mom-and-pop shops need the support of the public more than ever before,” he said. 

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Katherine Lewin with her newborn son Jonathan at St. Catherine Hospital's new maternity wing. Photo by Kyle Barr

St. Charles Hospital’s nearly $4 million new maternity wing has one thing at the top of the mind, privacy.

St. Catherines officials cut the ribbon on the new maternity wing. Photo by Kyle Barr

At a ribbon cutting for the new renovated 16-room maternal/child pavilion Dec. 19, hospital officials boasted rooms with “hotel-like atmosphere,” that focus on letting families stay together with their newborn in relative quiet.

“Today the standard in the community is probably for privacy for mothers, because now their husbands stay with them, so you need to have more people in the room,” said Jim O’Connor, the president of St. Charles Hospital.

O’Connor said the new wing cost around $3.8 million, most of which came from the hospital’s capital budget, and took around 10 months to build. During that time patients were moved to the 3-West wing, in order to avoid the disturbance of construction for the doctors, nurses and patients.

The hospital’s foundation and auxiliary contributed about $500,000 to the construction, said Lisa Mulvey, executive director of the hospital’s foundation. Funds were raised through trustees and events such as their annual golf outing and spring luncheons. The end result, she said, was well worth it.

“It’s beautiful,” Mulvey said. “I couldn’t have pictured something more beautiful.”

Each room features new beds and more accommodations for person’s significant others with new sofa chairs and larger, walk-in showers. The rooms also include more modern isolettes for newborn children.

One of the new rooms at St. Catherine Hospital maternal unit. Photo by Kyle Barr

Dr. Jerry Ninia, the director of obstetrics and gynecology at the hospital, said the new wing’s technology helps in emergencies, but it’s always moreso the staff involved.

“It goes beyond the nice showers and the nice digs, so to speak,” he said. “It helps the staff, it’s always nice to work in a nice facility.”

The wing officially opened about three weeks ago, and patients are already making use of the facilities.

Ed Casper, an architect from Stantec engineering company that worked on the new wing, said just that morning he had become a grandfather, his grandson being born right there in the new wing.

“Our experience through the night last night was absolutely phenomenal,” he said.

One of the first children to be born in the new maternity ward was young Jonathan Lewin, less than a week old. His sparse, brown hair is already as long as thumbtacks. His mother, Katherine Lewin, 31, a nurse from Wading River, said her care there was “excellent, everyone here is great.”

She is excited to take her new son home, where she expects her 2 ½ year-old daughter is excited to be a sister.

“She asked if she could bring him home,” Lewin said.

Sleep researchers say students who get even 30 minutes more sleep a night will see huge effects on overall performance. Stock photo

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Come September, middle and high school students across the North Shore will wake up to the harsh sound of alarms, sometimes hours before the sun will rise.

Some will wake up late, and rush in and out of the shower, sometimes not having time to eat before they make it to the bus stop, often in the dark where the cicadas continue to buzz and the crickets chirp.

Port Jefferson high schoolers will shuffle through the front doors before 7:20 a.m. Students at Ward Melville High School will hear the first bell at 7:05, while Comsewogue students will be in their seats at 7:10.

Some scientists across the North Shore have said that needs to change.

The science

Brendan Duffy has worked in St. Charles Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center for nearly a decade, coming out of working at Stony Brook University as a sleep technician. As he worked in the field, he started seeing significant connections between the effectiveness of individuals during the day and how much sleep they got the night before. For teens, he said, the importance is all the greater. Sleep, he said, has a direct impact on risk-taking versus making smart choices, potential drug use, obesity and depression.

“The science is irrefutable,” he said. “Basically, anything you do, whether it’s mentally or physically — it doesn’t directly cause [these harmful decisions], but there’s connections and links.”

While some parents would simply tell their kids to get off their phone or computer and go to bed, scientists have said the bodies of young people, specifically teenagers, have internal clocks that are essentially set two hours back. Even if a young person tries to fall asleep at 9 p.m., he or she will struggle to slumber. Duffy said scientists call it the delayed sleep phase, and it directly affects the timing of the body’s melatonin production.

During sleep, the body enters what’s called “recovery processes,” which will regulate certain hormones in the brain and effectively flush all waste products from daily brain activity. Without enough sleep, these processes do not have time to work.

“The science is irrefutable.”

— Brendan Duffy

That is not to mention rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep is a period during the night where heart rate and breathing quickens, and dreams become more intense. Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher and professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, called this period critical to sleep. The longest period of REM happens in the latest part of the sleep cycle, the one deprived by waking up early. 

“For decades, scientists have known young people are sleep deprived,” she said. “It’s not that they can get by on six or seven hours of sleep … teenagers are the most at risk of not getting the sleep they need.”

Of course, it is not to say modern technology has not affected young people. Duffy said phones and computers have meant the brain is never given time to rest. Even in downtime, minds are constantly active, whether it’s playing video games or simply scrolling through Facebook.

“They’re not given a break,” Duffy said. “Their brains are constantly processing, processing, processing.”

Sleep and sports

“I looked at all the school athletic programs that have been decimated by changing their start times, and I couldn’t find anything,” Duffy added. “It’s hard for athletes to perform or recover if they’re not sleeping well at the high school level.”

In research, college football teams looked at which kids were likely to be injured, and those who received less than eight hours of sleep were 70 percent more likely to be injured, according to Duffy.

That research led him to find Start School Later, a nonprofit national advocacy group to change the minimum school start time to 8:30 a.m., at a minimum. Duffy communicated with the nonprofit to provide data on the effect lack of sleep has on players. He has become its athletic liaison.

He points to professional sports teams, many of which have sleep professionals whose jobs are to set sleep schedules for their players and help reach peak effectiveness.

History of sleep and schools

Dr. Max Van Gilder is a retired pediatrician and coordinator for the New York branch of Start School Later. He said that while most schools traditionally started at 9 a.m. for most of the 20th century, the move toward earlier start times was relatively recent, only beginning around 1975 with busing consolidation. Schools started doing multiple bus runs for different grade levels, and high school students would be the first ones on these routes.

For decades, the early start became more and more established. Start School Later was created little more than a decade ago, but it’s only recently that some states have started to try later times.

In 2016, Seattle passed a law moving start times from 7:50 to 8:45 a.m. A study of the effects of that change showed students got an average of 34 more minutes of sleep a day or several hours over the course of the week. It also showed an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness. The study gave examples that in some classes average grades were up 4.5 points more than previous classes at the earlier start times.

“We need to work with the superintendents.”

— Max Von Gilder

In California, a bill that would have moved minimum start times to 8:30 a.m. was supported by both houses of the state Legislature before being vetoed by the governor last year. A similar bill is currently going through the legislative process again. Other states like Virginia and New Jersey have started to experiment with later start times.

On Long Island, very few districts have made significant increases in start times. Van Gilder said two-thirds of the high schools in New York state (excluding NYC) start before 8 a.m., with an average start time around 7:45. Only 2 percent of high schools start after the recommended time of 8:30, according to him.

The main difficulty of encouraging later start times is due to districts being so largely independent from both the state and each other. While this gives each district particular freedoms, it also means cooperation is that much harder. A district that changes start times would have to renegotiate with bus companies and find ways to navigate scheduling sports games between schools with different start times.

“The state constitution makes it very difficult for the State of New York to pass a law to say when you can start,” Van Gilder said. “We need to work with the superintendents.”

However, proponents of late start said the benefits easily outweigh the negatives.

“There are ways around it and, to me, this is a strong evidence base for opportunity to improve adolescent medical health, physical health, academic outcomes, safer driving — there is such a positive range of outcomes,” said Hale of SBU.

Parents working together

In the Three Village Central School District, more than two dozen parents filled a meeting room in Emma S. Clark Memorial Library Aug. 23. Barbara Rosati, whose daughter is an eighth-grader in P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, organized the meeting to discuss the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day.

Rosati, a research assistant professor at SBU’s Renaissance School of Medicine in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, said during conversations with Van Gilder she discovered there are only four high schools in New York that begin school as early or earlier than Ward Melville’s 7:05 start time. Because of their internal clocks, she described the teenagers as constantly being jet lagged.

“Older kids — adolescents, high schoolers, junior high school students — for them it’s much more difficult to get up early in the morning, and this has a physiological
basis,” Rosati said.

The goal of the Aug. 23 meeting was to go over studies, create an action plan and then put that plan into motion. The professor pointed toward the studies that show teenagers who are sleep deprived can be more susceptible to mood swings and drowsiness, and it can affect academic and athletic performance as well as cause long-term health problems such as anxiety, diabetes, eating disorders and cardiovascular problems.

“We’re spending a lot of money in this district to make our schools better and improve their performance, and then we undermine the kids with things like sleep deprivation,” Rosati said. “We undermine not only their health but academic performance.”

“We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

— Barbara Rosati

Parents at the meeting agreed they need to be sympathetic to the school board, and Rosati added that she believed, based on prior experience, that the board would be willing to help.

“We have to show them our support, and at the same time we have to make sure they are willing to do this and feel committed to such an effort, because this is not something that you do halfheartedly,” she said.

Frances Hanlon, who has a sixth-grade student in Setauket Elementary School, agreed that the parents can work with the board trustees and that it wasn’t an us-versus-them issue.

“We can’t be, ‘We know better than you and why aren’t you?’” Hanlon said. “We all have to work on this together and that’s what’s going to make a change.”

Rosati and those in attendance are set to survey how many families are in the district and, when the school year begins, will start a petition for those in favor of late start times to sign.

Among the suggestions parents had were bringing the late school start presentation that Rosati created to the school board and PTA meetings throughout the district, with further plans to record and send it by email to parents. One mother also suggested that high school students join the parents at BOE meetings. Rosati said she would also like to have experts such as Van Gilder and Hale present a talk for the board trustees.

“We can use the help of these professionals to inform the board that there is really solid scientific evidence, and we’re not just doing this because we’re lazy and don’t want to get up early in the morning,” Rosati said. “We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

Reaction from districts

Both of Duffy’s kids are already graduates of the Port Jefferson School District, and he has yet to present in front of the school board, saying he wants to gain more traction in the community before bringing it to school officials. He has been trying to get support through posts on social media.

“It really can’t come just from me, it has to come from the community,” he said.

Though Hale has gone in front of school boards at Shoreham-Wading River and a committee in Smithtown, she lives in Northport and has two young girls at elementary school level. She has also written editorials in scientific journals about the topic.

When Rosati attended a Three Village board of education meeting in June, she said a few trustees told her that starting high school later in the day could lead to eliminating some of the music programs while teams may not be able to compete against neighboring schools in sporting games.

After her appearance before the school board, she said she researched a number of schools on Long Island, including Jericho High School which starts at 9 a.m. and saw that they could still manage to have music programs and play schools at sports with different start times.

A statement from the Three Village School District said it had commissioned a lengthy discussion regarding school start times, but while it was in support of the research, it identified negative impacts to the athletic programs, transportation, BOCES offerings and elementary music.

“You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

— Lauren Hale

 

The district said it also conducted an informal survey of a small portion of the student population, who said they were not in favor of later starts, but Three Village added it was only used to gather anecdotal information.

There are a few things parents can do to aid their child’s sleep beyond the later start. Rosati offered some tips, including regular bedtimes, providing balanced meals, curfew on screen times, and limiting extracurricular activities and the intake of sugar and caffeine in the evening hours. She and her husband have tried their best to follow those guidelines, but she said they still kept their daughter home multiple days due to sleep deprivation last academic year.

“We should not be put in the position to choose between education and health for our kids,” Rosati said.

When asked, Shoreham-Wading River, Port Jefferson and Northport school districts all said they were not currently looking into later
start times.

Still, Hale said despite her frustrations with the reaction from some districts she’s continuing to argue for later start times.

“We need to work together with communities so that parents and teachers and school board members understand this is for the benefit of the students and the community,” she said. “You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

Rosati plans to host another meeting Sept. 10 at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Spring has sprung and that means it’s time for the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce’s annual Health and Wellness Fest. Celebrating its 10th year, the event returns to the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, 350 Old Post Road, Port Jefferson on Saturday, May 18 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

Face artist Joanie Baloney with friends.

Ten years of healthy living; what a milestone for this event! To help celebrate this anniversary there are a lot of special activities planned. For the younger visitors there will be three super heroes walking around for photo opportunities. Have fun meeting Captain America, Wonder Woman and Batman! Face painting will be provided by professional face painter Joanie Baloney. A face art service provider with top-notch skills, both personal and professional, she is an artist and longtime children’s physical therapist who is skilled and is sensitive in working with all ages.

For those who want to experience something more on the wild side, there will be Goat Yoga from 11 a.m. to noon. Goat Yoga is an interactive yoga class that helps you get Zen with goats. This class is suitable for beginners or experienced yogis looking to practice in a new setting. A certified yoga instructor will blend movements and gentle stretches with the playful antics of live goats. Try the “downward goat” or “stretching kid” poses. You won’t want to miss this unscripted one-of-a-kind experience. There will be a group of 12 goats that will assist you in your yoga positions. This will be great fun for those new to yoga or those who need more goats in their life! 

Enjoy goat yoga at this year’s event!

If you want to enjoy more traditional activities, there will be a Zumba class and join in for free lessons on how to line dance with My Country Radio station 96.1. 

In addition, 50 vendors will be on hand to share all types of health-related wellness products and services. This year learn about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a system that connects the producer and consumers within the food system more closely by allowing the consumer to subscribe to the harvest of a certain farm or group of farms! 

Or what about cryotherapy, an innovative, holistic wellness solution that enables the human body to recover and rejuvenate itself naturally. By exposing the body to extremely low temperatures (for 1 to 3 minutes), it triggers the body’s most powerful mechanisms of self-protection, self-recovery and self-rejuvenation! Stop by Vita Whole Body & Cryo table and experience a sampling of a facial or local cryotherapy.  

Visit the free food court at this year’s Health and Wellness Fest, courtesy of St. Charles Hospital!

Attendees also will have the benefit of many giveaways along with free screenings that are so important for good health, including blood pressure, body mass index screening (BMI), glucose, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, otoscopy for cerumen (earwax), hearing, cholesterol, balance and fall prevention and posture.

Longtime supporter St. Charles Hospital will again have its healthy food court offering free nutritional food all day. The event has partnered with the Royal Educational Foundation of Port Jefferson, which will be celebrating its sixth annual Power of One Family Fun Run. The 2k race finishes at the high school where runners are welcome to visit the health fest.

Come join the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce for this fun Eat Well, Live Well free event. For further information, call 631-473-1414 or visit www.portjeffhealth.com.

This year's event will feature samplings from Danfords Wave Seafood & Steak

Save the date! The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Dan’s Papers, will host its 11th annual The Taste @ Port Jefferson at the Village Center, 101-A E. Broadway, Port Jefferson overlooking the Harborfront Park and harbor on Saturday, Oct. 20 from 6 to 10 p.m.

This year’s event will feature  samplings from Kilwins. 

In celebration, the chamber has reached out to the greater Port Jefferson restaurant community and will highlight over 20 restaurants and purveyors offering top-quality food tastings and desserts as well as samples of premium liquors, wines and beers. The event, for ages 21 and over, will feature musical entertainment by the popular band 1 Step Ahead. 

As of press time, participating businesses include Barito’s, Bliss Restaurant, C’est Cheese, Costco, Danfords Wave Seafood & Steak, Dos MexiCuban Cantina, Kilwins, Flying Pig Cafe, Haikara Sake, Twin Stills Moonshine, L.I. Pour House Bar & Grill, Locals Cafe, Manhattan Beer, MELTology Mount Sinai, PJ Brewing Co., Port Jefferson Frigate, PJ Lobster House, Slurp Ramen, Starbucks, The Steam Room, St. Charles Hospital, Tuscany Gourmet Market, Uncle Giuseppe’s and The Waterview at Port Jefferson Country Club.

Sponsors this year include St. Charles Hospital, Paraco Gas, Harbor Hot Tubs, Haikara, TGIF Rentals and Fenelon Landscapes. BNB Bank is this year’s VIP Lounge Sponsor Dan’s Papers is the media sponsor.

Tickets, which may be purchased online at www.tasteatportjeff.com, are $70 per person for general admission starting at 7 p.m. and $99 for VIP guests at 6 p.m., which includes early access by one hour, a special VIP lounge with a private seating area, speciality spirits, dishes, wine pours and more. For further details, call 631-473-1414.

By Anthony Petriello

St. Charles Hospital’s renowned rehabilitation department has a new second-in-command. Laura Beck, a current employee at the hospital and a Miller Place resident, was recently promoted to Vice President of Rehabilitation.

Beck will be responsible for overseeing both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation for St. Charles as well as recently implemented programs geared toward sports medicine; treating lymphedema, a condition that leads to fluid build-up and swelling; and vestibular rehabilitation, an exercise-based program aimed at alleviating balance and gait issues.

St. Charles Hospital’s new Vice President of Rehabilitation Laura Beck. Photo from St. Charles Hospital

Beck has been working at St. Charles in various positions for 26 years, and she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Therapy from Quinnipiac College, which is now Quinnipiac University. Her first position as a physical therapist was at St. Charles, and she returned to college and received her Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration and Policy from Stony Brook University.

“I am very excited for the opportunity,” she said. “St. Charles has an extremely long history, over 110 years, of excellence in rehabilitation that I am very proud to be a part of, and I am very excited for the chance to further our program, continue to grow, and continue the tradition of rehab we have had here for so many years.”

Beck has had served in many roles in her tenure at St. Charles. She started out as a staff physical therapist in 1991 and was promoted to a senior level physical therapist in 1994. Two years later Beck was promoted once again to supervising physical therapist, overseeing other therapists while still seeing patients herself. Beck started her focus on outpatient rehabilitation in 2000, when she was promoted to center manager of the Port Jefferson outpatient office.

Acknowledging her knowledge and acumen in rehabilitation, the hospital promoted her to director of Outpatient Rehabilitation, Pediatric Rehabilitation Services, and Offsite Contracts in 2003. In that position, which she held until just recently, she oversaw the daily activities of all nine of St. Charles’ outpatient rehabilitation locations across Long Island, which treat more than 10,000 patients every year, according to the hospital’s website.

Jim O’Connor, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer of St. Charles Hospital, was optimistic about Beck’s ability to fill the position and further the progress the rehabilitation department has made.

“There is a lot of opportunity to grow services … I don’t know that change is the word, I just think we have to continue to grow, stay current, and stay topical with evidence based practice.”

— Laura Beck

“Laura brings a wealth of experience to her new role for which her responsibilities include leading and directing all administrative functions of both the Inpatient and Outpatient Rehabilitation Departments,” O’Connor said. “Additionally, she will provide leadership oversight in the development of short- and long-range goals for programmatic development and financial planning as well as recommend new or revised policies and operational procedures in all administrative areas.”

Beck said she is prepared to seek new opportunities for the rehabilitation department and work to update and improve the services that are already being provided at the hospital and at outpatient locations. When asked if she would make any changes to the rehabilitation department as a whole, Beck remained pragmatic.

“There is a lot of opportunity to grow services,” she said. “We are the only inpatient rehabilitation hospital in Suffolk County, so I think we have a lot of opportunities to grow and improve the technology that is available to our patients. I don’t know that change is the word, I just think we have to continue to grow, stay current, and stay topical with evidence based practice.”

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Linda Nuszen, Maryann Natale and Janet D'Agostino, parents who have lost children to opioid addiction, during an event dedicating a new garden at St. Charles Hospital May 18. Photo by Kyle Barr

They say it’s becoming impossible to walk through a crowd and not find at least one person who hasn’t been affected by the opioid crisis. On May 18 a group of more than 50 people, nearly all of whom have lost loved ones, or at least experienced the strain of a loved one having gone through the throws of addiction, gathered at St. Charles Hospital for the unveiling of a new “Remembrance and Reflection Garden” just outside the Infant Jesus Chapel on hospital grounds.

The idea started with Port Jefferson resident Marcia Saddlemire, whose daughter Nicole passed away as a result of opioid addiction in 2015. She said she didn’t want to leave the memory of her daughter as just an opioid addict.

“I was getting angry watching the news, when they say so many died from overdose in Suffolk County this year, I said dammit, she’s not a statistic, she’s a person, she has a name and a life,” Saddlemire said. “All the mothers agree with this, they don’t want to grow up to be addicts. This is not what they wanted from their lives, they had dreams, they had goals.”

Stones dedicated to families affected by opioid addiction in a new garden at St. Charles Hospital. Photo by Kyle Barr

Saddlemire said she didn’t have the connections or know-how to create such a project, so she managed to get in contact with three women — Janet D’Agostino, Maryann Natale and Linda Nuszen — all of whom belong to multiple anti-opioid organizations and support groups. They gathered together to plan and create the new garden.

“We want it to be public — we don’t want to hide it,” said Natale, whose son Anthony died of an overdose. “We want them to know it’s an epidemic. This garden also helps those families who are going through such time with an addict.”

St. Charles Hospital was chosen as the location for the garden because of its existing programs fighting opioid addiction, according to the mothers. The hospital has 40 beds that are allotted for chemical dependency rehabilitation, 10 for supervised detoxification for adults and four for detoxification of adolescents age 12 to 18. Jim O’Connor, the executive vice president of St. Charles Hospital, said administration expects to receive another 10 beds for detoxification services. He said he also expects to develop an outpatient center at the hospital for addicts who need ongoing, comprehensive care in the next several years.

“We are honored that these families have chosen St. Charles Hospital as the site for this very special garden, as St. Charles is committed to hosting hospital programs which combat Suffolk County’s current addiction crisis,” O’Connor said.

Stones dedicated to families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction in a new garden at St. Charles Hospital. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nearly all work for the project was donated by local businesses. The garden includes stones engraved with the names of victims of opioid addiction and quotes from their families. Ron Dennison and his son Alan from Bohemia-based Long Island Water Jet donated their time to create a heart sign featured in the garden. The sign features large words like “forgiveness” and “understanding” along with small words like “pain” and “fear,” to show positive emotions overcoming the negative.

Dennison’s daughter, Sarah, went through the St. Charles rehab program when she became addicted to opioids. She is out of the program now, and she has a daughter named Serenity.

“When your kids are addicted, you deny it, you deny it, you deny it,” the elder Dennison said as he fought to speak through tears. “And then one day you wake up you say, ‘what is going on here.”

Nuszen and her family founded Look Up for Adam, a foundation dedicated to her son who died from an overdose in 2015. Her organization helps to raise awareness.

“So many people don’t know how to show up for our loved ones,” she said. “So many people don’t know how to be themselves, or how to be here for each other. So now that we can come here and have a place where we’re not isolated — so they come here and know they’re not alone, that there are people who care about them.”

A NEW YOU: RSVP Suffolk will host a free Better Choices, Better Health workshop on Mondays, May 7, 14, 21 and June 4, 11 and 18 at the Rose Caraccapa Senior Center, 739 Route 25A, Mt. Sinai from 1 to 3 p.m. This six-week led program will help you self-manage your chronic illness and live a healthier life. The course will address healthy eating, the importance of exercise and relaxation and stress reduction. Highly recommended for people who need to make healthy lifestyle changes before elective surgery.  Please register at the Center or call (631) 476-6431.

“Eat well, live well” was the tagline for the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce annual Health & Wellness Fest, which was held April 22 at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson. Attendees were instructed on how to do both by vendors set up at tables in the school’s gymnasium, featuring representatives from Stony Brook Medicine, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, St. Charles Hospital and many others.

“It’s been growing every year, and in the last two years, we were so fortunate as to have St. Charles Hospital provide us with the healthy snacks, and that’s really helped us boost the attendance,” Chamber President Jim Karras said in an interview during the event.

Chamber director of operations Barbara Ransome was also pleased with the number of vendors who turned out to offer advice to interested community members.

“We had no extra tables this year,” she said. “We had over 80 tables this year…I think there were like 45 individual vendors…All of our local nonprofits, we don’t charge them, so we feel like this is giving back to our community.”

Karras said he is proud of what the chamber has built with the annual event.

“There’s a lot of health and wellness events in the area, but I think we’re the only one that has the three major hospitals sponsoring them,” he said. “That makes a big difference.”

Ransome thanked the district for their hospitality.

“We want to put a shout out to our school,” she said. “Fred Koelbel, who is the superintendent of buildings here for the Port Jefferson School District, and for them to allow us to use this great facility, we have elevated this event.”

Other vendors included Jefferson’s Ferry lifecare community, L.I. Botanical Wellness, Save-A-Pet, Paws of War, Port Jefferson Hearing and many more.

As the number of drug-related overdoses on the Long Island grows, one parent refuses to bury his head in the sand.

On the one-year anniversary of his son’s fatal heroin overdose, William Reitzig wasn’t in bed grieving. Instead, the Miller Place parent was on stage at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai asking hundreds of community members to hug one another.

“Hug your loved ones like I hugged my son every day … My hope is that you leave here today with the same mission as my wife and I — that with love and compassion, we have the power to overcome the perils of drug addiction.”

—Michael Reitzig

“Hug your loved ones like I hugged my son every day … don’t let a minute go by without saying ‘I love you,’” Reitzig said to a crowd of emotional parents, extended family members, friends and strangers. “My hope is that you leave here today with the same mission as my wife and I — that with love and compassion, we have the power to overcome the perils of drug addiction.”

That mission resonated throughout Hope Walk for Addiction, an April 22 fundraising event created by Reitzig and co-sponsored by Brookhaven Town and Hope House Ministries — a nonprofit based in Port Jefferson that supports people suffering the disease of addiction.

Reitzig, whose 25-year-old son Billy struggled for years with opioid pills and ultimately died after a one-time use of heroin last April, kickstarted “a war on addiction” by raising awareness, educating about addiction, raising money to help those struggling and unite the community.

“This is [really] for the community — it’s not about me, it’s not about my son, it’s to try and make a difference moving forward,” Reitzig said. “I can’t do anything about the past at this point, but going forward we can all chip in … we’re all in the same boat. Today is about all the families that struggle every day with this disease getting together because this is no longer acceptable and we need to do something.”

The large crowd, mostly loved ones of those battling addiction or those who died from it, collectively walked Cedar Beach’s Nature Pathway in memory of those who overdosed. About a dozen names could be seen on signs along the scenic trail.

“I don’t think people realize how many people are depressed and they don’t know how to handle that and so people self-medicate and that’s part of the issue. Ninety-one young people die every day [from this] and that’s unconscionable.”

—Francis Pizzarelli

Local leaders, self-help experts and bands occupied the stage to address the issue that brought everyone together. Various sponsors, including WALK 97.5 and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, were set up at tables taking donations and educating others, and representatives from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office gave seminars on how to use Narcan, a life-saving nasal spray that can revert the effects of an overdose.

More than 500 people registered for the event, and all proceeds — totaling more than $34,000 at the end of the day — went to Hope House, which currently doesn’t have enough space for the overwhelming amount of people who need its services.

Father Francis Pizzarelli, founder of Hope House, counseled Billy while he was rehabilitating in the facility’s outpatient treatment program for a few months, and ultimately presided over his funeral.

Reitzig worked closely with Pizzarelli, and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), to make the Hope Walk a reality.

“Billy was a loving and caring guy, but like a lot of people today, he had his demons and struggled with that,” Pizzarelli said. “I don’t think people realize how many people are depressed and they don’t know how to handle that and so people self-medicate and that’s part of the issue. Ninety-one young people die every day [from this] and that’s unconscionable. [William] elected to say ‘we’re not going to let this continue, we’re going to do something about it and we’re going to protect the quality of life of all our younger and older people addicted to heroin.’”

This is a time to come together as a community, Pizzarelli added, and celebrate the hope Reitzig embodies.

“We need to help stop the stigmatized feeling that comes with addiction. The users feel alone as it is, they don’t feel proud of themselves. They are good people that made one bad decision.”

—Sue Meyers

“I don’t think I’ve met more resilient, strong, dedicated and passionate people in my whole life as I have in William and his family,” Bonner said. “He’s changing the future of so many people by doing this. We’re losing a generation to addiction and this is an opportunity to lift each other up and strip the layers of shame back. It’s all around us and no community is safe from it.”

Patty Eiserman, of Sound Beach, wore a shirt bearing the face of her nephew David Smallwood, who died in 2013 when he was just 22. She said her goal is to educate children as young as possible so they don’t start using.

“I don’t want to say it’s impossible to get them clean,” she said, “but it’s very, very hard.”

Manorville resident Melanie Ross, whose brother died last year after a 10-year battle with addiction, said the situation ravaged the family. It was the first time she’d attended an even like this.

Sue Meyers, a Setauket resident, said she was walking for her son, Michael Moschetto, a Ward Melville graduate who died in December at 28.

“It’s in his name, but I’m also here to help show support for other people and donate as much money as I have in my pockets,” Meyers said. “We need to help stop the stigmatized feeling that comes with addiction. The users feel alone as it is, they don’t feel proud of themselves. They are good people that made one bad decision. I think events like this really give people hope and a sense of direction.”