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Stony Brook University

Suffolk County Police commissioner Geraldine Hart alongside Steve Bellone. TBR News Media file photo

Without the usual fanfare, 60 cadets graduated from the police academy today and have become sworn members of the Suffolk County Police Department.

The officers, which include six people who are fluent in Spanish, will be a part of a group called Together Ensuring Compliance, or TEC, according to police officials. They will be “visible on the street” and will have increased foot patrols and will be in parks and shopping centers to ensure that businesses that are supposed to be closed, while making sure they educate the population about maintaining social distancing. Geraldine Hart, the Commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department, made the announcement on County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) daily call with reporters.

At the same time, Bellone announced the launch of the Suffolk Childcare Consortium, which is a free childcare program for first responders, medical professionals transit workers and, where space permits, other essential workers. The program will be open Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and enrollment for those battling the coronavirus outbreak will be on a first come, first served basis and will be limited based on space and staff.

Residents with questions about he consortium should call 311.

The new childcare program is available to the following districts:
  • Babylon School District — Babylon Elementary School
  • Commack School District — Sawmill Intermediate School
  • Connetquot School District – Cherokee Street Elementary School
  • Deer Park School District – John F. Kennedy Intermediate School  
  • Harborfields School Districts – Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School
  • Hauppauge School District — Pines Elementary School
  • Huntington School District — Jefferson Primary School
  • Lindenhurst School District — Albany Avenue Elementary School
  • Middle Country School District – Jericho Elementary School
  • Miller Place School District — Andrew Muller Primary School
  • Northport School District — Pulaski Road Elementary School
  • Sachem School District– Nokomis School Elementary School

To qualify for the program, children must be between pre-K and sixth grade. Students in the program can work on their school’s long distance learning requirements during the day. The program is run by SCOPE education services and will have trained childcare. The staff will check on the health of the children regularly. Anyone with a fever or who demonstrates any sign of illness will not be allowed in the program.

Parents can register their children through www.scopeonline.us.

Meanwhile, the numbers of cases of the virus, hospitalization for it, and fatalities associated with it continues to climb. There are 3,385 cases, which is up by 650 in the last 24 hours. As of this morning, there were also 331 hospitalizations of people with the virus, with 119 in the Intensive Care Unit.

For the ninth straight day, Bellone reported fatalities connected with the virus. Eight people, all of whom had underlying medical condition, passed away. Those who died were: a man in his 80’s at Stony Brook Hospital, a woman in her 80’s at Huntington Hospital, a woman in her 90’s at St. Catherine’s hospital, a man in his late 40’s at LIJ, a woman in her 80’s at Huntington Hospital, a woman in her 80’s at Huntington Hospital this morning, a man in his 60’s at Stony Brook University Hospital, and a woman in her 80’s at Good Samaritan Hospital.

The total number of people who have died from coronavirus related issues in the county is now 30.

Bellone shared his thoughts and prayers with the families.

“This drives home the point of why we have to do this, why all of us have an important role to play in helping to reduce that number,” Bellone said. “Our actions will determine how high that number goes.”

The county executive said the governor’s office, which requires the closure of non essential businesses, provided new guidance on construction work. He said non-essential construction must now cease. Everything except emergency construction, like bridges and transit and hospitals or that protects the health and safety, will stop.

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

Grateful for donations ranging from chapstick to gum to tissues and coveted personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and goggles, Stony Brook University is asking for residents to donate iPads, which they plan to repurpose to provide more telehealth services to the community.

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

The university asked for donations starting on Sunday and has received a constant stream of email requests to deliver goods to help the medical staff that are offering vital comfort and care during the coronavirus crisis. Interested donors can contact Joan Dickinson, the Stony Brook University Community Relations Director at COVID19donations@stonybrookmedicine.edu or call (631) 219-0603.

Stony Brook is asking donors to clean the device, reset it and place it in a ziplock bag with a usable power chord.

Telehealth medical services will “reduce the need for personal protective equipment,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson has requested that interested donors make an appointment before bringing any items to support the busy medical community. Community members can make donations between 10 am and 1 pm.

“Even though we’re asking the public to respond, we are very diligent about social distancing and everyone’s safety,” Dickinson said.

For anyone who might get the urge to make a home cooked meal or bring in cookies made from scratch, Dickinson said the school appreciates the gesture but can’t accept any such personalized dishes, as they seek to protect staff. The school can is accepting pre-packaged food.

People who don’t have access to medical supplies or comfort items they can donate can send in video messages. Indeed, numerous community members have shared messages of thanks.

The variety of home-made donations has delighted and surprised Dickinson. People have sent in knitted stress balls and crocheted blankets, as well as hand-made masks.

“All the donations are evaluated by folks from environmental health and safety,” Dickinson said. A mask that’s “not surgical grade wouldn’t make it into an operating room, but there are other uses.”

The donation channel started because community leaders eager to help reached out to Dickinson, whose job in community relations has put her in touch with these groups over the years.

“We decided we better put a process in place so everybody stays safe and we know what’s coming in,” Dickinson said.

Donors can bring their contributions into the assigned building or can leave it in the parking lot if they want to minimize contact or don’t want to enter a building.

When Dickinson logs off each night, she comes back to her computer the next morning to find over 100 requests for donation times in her email.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.

The Three Village Civic Association and numerous Facebook groups have reached out to her on a regular basis to see what else she might need.

Dickinson said one of the many people who reached out to her expressed her appreciation for how Stony Brook reacted when she had an issue with the university. The resident was frustrated with equipment on campus that was causing a humming noise in her house.

“We were able to modify how much sound came out” of the equipment, Dickinson said. As the university manages through a crisis that strains their staff and resources, the resident said she wanted to return the favor.

The resident told Dickinson, “you were so helpful to me. Now, we want to help you,” Dickinson said.

PJS/Terryville Civic Association vice president Ed Garboski gives blood to the NYBC donor center at 1010 Route 112. Photo from Garboski

As national nonprofits and local hospitals are encouraging residents to donate blood as the coronavirus crisis has not only strained health care facilities but also caused a depletion of the region’s blood supply. 

The American Red Cross said they are facing a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly 2,700 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled, and in the eastern New York region 23 blood drives have been canceled. 

In total, cancellations have resulted in 86,000 fewer blood donations. More than 80 percent of the blood the Red Cross collects comes from blood drives, according to the organization. 

The shortage has prompted concerns about how hospitals will treat medical emergencies. According to the Red Cross, a single blood donation can be used to save multiple lives and about one in seven hospital admissions requires a blood transfusion. 

“Unfortunately, when people stop donating blood, it forces doctors to make hard choices about patient care, which is why we need those who are healthy and well to roll up a sleeve and give the gift of life.” said Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services, in a statement. 

Similarly, The New York Blood Center is urging healthy donors to donate. In addition, they are extending open hours at their donor centers. NYBC operates 19 donor centers across New York and New Jersey. Its Port Jefferson Station Donor Center, located at 1010 Route 112, works closely with St. Charles Hospital. 

NYBC officials said these steps have maintained the blood supply for now but stressed that blood is perishable and the supply must be continually replenished to avoid a shortage. 

NYBC said they are taking extra precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and advise people who are experiencing a cold, sore throat, respiratory infection or flu-like symptoms to avoid donor centers. 

Stony Brook University Hospital is currently accepting blood donations as well. 

Hospital officials said they are constantly monitoring the blood supply situation at its facilities and assured residents that donating blood is safe. Donors are health screened at the hospital entrance, and the donor room is not crowded. The screening process includes completing a form regarding recent travel history and potential acute respiratory symptoms and COVID-19 exposure.

The hospital is accepting blood donations from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. People can call 631-444-2626 to make an appointment.

Maurie McInnis has been named SBU's sixth president. Photo from SBU

After a months-long search, a new president has been chosen for Stony Brook University.

Maurie McInnis, executive vice president and provost at the University of Texas at Austin and a renowned cultural historian, was named SBU’s sixth president. State University of New York Board of Trustees Chairman Merryl Tisch and SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson made the announcement March 26.

“This is an exciting moment for Stony Brook, and I’m confident Dr. Maurie McInnis will take the university to even greater heights in its unique role in fostering innovation, creativity and research that impacts the state, country and the world,” Johnson said in a news release.

McInnis will take over the role July 1. Michael Bernstein has been serving as interim president since the departure of Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. last summer, when he took on the role of Michigan State University president.

As chief executive for SBU, McInnis will also oversee Stony Brook Medicine.

“It is now as important as ever to support all our campuses with strong and proven leaders who can quickly navigate challenges, such as the impact of the coronavirus, and keep our students on a path to the world-class higher education they expect,” Tisch said in the release. “Dr. Maurie McInnis has demonstrated experience and the characteristics of such a leader, and we are entrusting her to lead and inspire the students and faculty of Stony Brook University for years to come.”

McInnis is SBU’s second female president. Shirley Strum Kenny headed up the university from 1994 to 2009 after serving as president of Queens College from 1985 to 1994.

As the chief academic officer for the University of Texas at Austin, McInnis leads strategic planning. Her responsibility includes academic programs and initiatives across 18 colleges and schools, budgeting for the university’s academic division and managing 1.8 billion of the institution’s 3.1 billion-dollar budget. She is also involved in the university’s fundraising efforts, leading a team of development officers.

McInnis said in the press release she was honored by the opportunity to lead an institution that is “both at the forefront of groundbreaking research and committed to advancing the American dream.”

“The critical issues we face today have made it even more clear the important role higher education plays in educating tomorrow’s leaders and tackling today’s challenges by fostering cross-disciplinary research,” she said. “At higher education institutions, our responsibility is not just to admit students but to give them the tools to succeed throughout their collegiate careers and after graduation.”

McInnis earned her bachelor’s degree with highest distinction in art history from University of Virginia and received her master’s degree and Ph.D. in art history from Yale University. She is married with two children.

Her research has focused on the cultural history of American Art in the colonial and antebellum South. Her published works center around the politics involved in slavery. McInnis is one of the authors of “Educated in Tyranny” which takes a look at the largely unknown story of slavery at the University of Virginia.

In a video posted to SBU’s YouTube page, McInnis complimented Bernstein’s service, especially in the last few weeks as SBU has been on the frontlines fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

“He has been an inspirational steward in this extraordinary upheaval, and we all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude,” McInnis said in the video.

She complimented how Stony Brook Medicine has responded during the crisis and how SBU has been helping to ensure the academic continuity of its students. The incoming president also praised how the SBU campus and local community have been working together during the pandemic.

“This is a team that I want to be part of, and I look forward to joining you this summer with my husband and two children,” she said.

McInnis added that with such an announcement she normally would be meeting members of the university community by couldn’t because of the current COVID-19 precautions.

“I so look forward to meeting you all in person,” McInnis said. “If not shaking your hand, at least elbow bumping, because at that moment we will be on the other side of this unprecedented public health crisis.”

Bob and MaryLou Whitcomb at their house in Old Field cutting up fabric for the homemade masks. Their neighbor Christine Matthews, along with her children, finishes the job by sewing them. Photo from MaryLou Whitcomb

As hospitals experience a significant lack of protective masks during the growing coronavirus pandemic, locals are looking for ways to assist, using on-hand materials and their own equipment. 

Christine Matthews, along with her children, helps create masks for healthcare workers at her house in Old Field. Photo from MaryLou Whitcomb

Rebecca Kassay, who co-owns the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson, started a Facebook group, Suffolk County Creators of COVID19 Medical Supplies, to not only get the word out that there’s a need for homemade supplies but also to make sure locals are crafting these items the right way.

Kassay said there has been a growing demand for aid, and with so many people home from work and school, many are looking for ways they can help out.

“That’s what the group is aiming to do — to focus all of that information into one place,” she said.

Groups like Kassay’s have popped up all across the country as news of this lack of personal protective equipment grows. A national Facebook group called Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies has put forward a countrywide initiative to crowdsource more of these protective items. This mainly includes gloves, gowns and masks.

The Suffolk group is just getting its legs but have already confirmed donations are accepted in several local places, including the Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, Pax Christi homeless shelter in Port Jeff, Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jeff and Stony Brook University Hospital.

Kassay said the point of her group is to make sure people are making masks to a rigorous standard, following instructions provided by multiple sites including www.project-cloth-masks.com as well as documents provided by the OSCMS.

Angela Clayton, a historical costume designer from Manorville, said she started making masks because she had both the material and the skillset, and knew she needed to put them to use.

“I’m lucky to be financially stable and healthy, I wanted to help in any way I could,” she said. 

The costume designer has been making masks from 100 percent cotton fabric, which can be used as a mask or as a cover for the more sought after N95 medical masks. She got her designs from www.makemasks2020.org, which not only gives designs but partners with groups around the country to get specifically requested designs from the makers to those who need them. 

People all over Long Island have caught onto this trend. Old Field residents Bob and MaryLou Whitcomb, along with their neighbor Christine Matthews and her children Nicole and Connor, have been crafting handmade masks since Friday, March 20. MaryLou said the idea came after a phone call with her sister in Boston, with the person on the other end upset of her own close family members working in the health care field while severely lacking supplies of masks.

So far, the neighborhood team has made around 200 masks, which were mailed to Whitcomb’s sister. They have made masks for doctors in the Old Field area and also have plans to ship more to NYU Langone hospital.

“I thought to myself, we’re all sitting around — why don’t we do something?” MaryLou said. 

There are some issues, including accessing supplies, particularly in terms of elastic, which has proved hard to come by. The Suffolk County Creators group has been trying to crowdsource materials from people who have it, especially the elastic bands. Though now there are more and more examples of people making ties from fabric instead.

Angela Clayton, a historical costume designer from Manorville, has been designing masks for healthcare workers. Photo from Clayton’s instagram

Though area hospitals are loath to admit it, officials have said there is a general lack of PPE material in nearly every medical sector. Some of this is due to people hoarding such devices since the start of the outbreak. As cases ramp up, hospital workers have been dealing with the shortage. There are reported cases of hospital workers using masks meant for just a single encounter for over a week. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said there are some facilities, including nursing homes, first responders as well as hospitals, that have been reduced to a pittance of the preventative garb and devices.

Though Stony Brook University Hospital officials have said they “have supplies, but need more,” they have started accepting PPE donations. 

“It’s amazing how people can come together to support one another in a time of crisis,” said Stony Brook University Hospital CEO Carol Gomes in an email statement. “We are grateful for the community’s willingness to help one another. We’re all in this together.”

A Stony Brook spokesperson said the hospital is “open to accepting all kinds of donations at this time. They will then be sorted and distributed appropriately.”

Despite this, Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott said in a phone call with reporters that masks need to be certified if they are to be of any use. Making masks at home is “not advised — we’re looking for masks that can help filter out the virus,” he said. “They need to be certified and tested.”

Kassay said she agrees these masks are not replacements for the professionally made and certified items normally used in the health care sector. At the same time, while other health care providers may have better access to the high filtering top-of-the-line N95 masks, people who work for food pantries, food banks or even just in retail do not have the same access to the high-grade PPE items. Not to mention, there are several designs for masks that can go over the N95 types, potentially allowing them to last longer without being soiled.

For those looking to get into making masks, Clayton said its best to order materials remotely and not threaten the spread of the virus. Use the resources available and try and contact groups that may need masks but are not in the medical field, such as shelters, clinics or senior centers to see what they may need as well.

Kassay said these homemade masks, at the very least, help remind people not to touch their nose or mouth, which experts have recommended people restrict themselves from doing.

“Something is better than nothing,” Kassay said. “We’re all living in this unprecedented time, we’re all wondering what we can do. You want to make sure you’re doing something in the best way possible.” 

County Solicits PPE Supplies from Local Companies

In calls to reporters, Bellone said they simply do not have enough beds and other supplies for what still could be a ballooning of the number of coronavirus cases. Hospitals, officials warned, could be overwhelmed as we head toward a peak number of cases. 

The county announced a donation drive for medical supplies. They are looking for donations of N95 masks, ear loop face masks, gowns and gloves from the construction industry, building trades and others in organized labor, as they are supplies that are often used on work sites. Additionally, the county is soliciting donations of ear loop masks and gloves from the personal service industry.

By the end of Monday, the first day of the drive, Bellone said they have already received “an incredible amount of outpouring and support.” This included 40,000 gloves of various sizes, 3,000 N95 masks, 1,500 gowns and over 3,000 ear loop masks.

Donations can be delivered to the Suffolk County Fire Academy located at 102 East Ave. in Yaphank between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays. Residents can email FRESfinance@suffolkcountyny.gov regarding a large donation of supplies or a potential vendor of opportunity.

“You cannot continue to do these supplies on an ad hoc basis.”

— Andrew Cuomo

As of Monday, Long Island is set to receive 33,976 N95 masks, 86,170 surgical masks, 35,350 gloves, 14,512 gowns and 19,709 face shields. Cuomo admitted that even with these supplies, hospitals will need more especially in the long term.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has said New York hospitals would need to increase the number of intensive care unit beds by approximately 18,000 to 37,000 in total to deal with the peak of the pandemic in New York. The governor put out an executive order saying hospitals must increase the number of beds by at least 50 percent.

Companies like 3M, which manufactures the N95 masks, would be shipping half a million masks to New York and Seattle.

But Cuomo said even such beneficial acts by a few companies belies the need for all such companies to step up to the plate. He has urged the Donald Trump (R) administration to invoke the Defense Production Act, which would allow them to order manufacturers to increase production of much-needed PPE items. The president has signed an executive order invoking the act but has yet to make a single order. Cuomo said those companies would be “paid handsomely” for the effort, but that it was needed more than ever.

“You can’t run this operation that way — it can’t just be based on ‘we’re waiting for people to come forward with offers,’” he said at the Monday press conference. “You cannot continue to do these supplies on an ad hoc basis.” 

Cathrine Duffy, the Director of Healthier U at Stony Brook University. Photo from Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University has taken numerous steps to protect the mental and physical health of the many health care and hospital workers who are helping the growing number of people suffering through the coronavirus pandemic.

Indeed, this past Monday, the university launched HealthierU, an employee wellness program, which streams 30-minute sessions Monday through Friday at 3 p.m.

“A lot of us are thinking about staff on the hospital side who are really being tested in an unprecedented way,” said Cathrine Duffy, the director of HealthierU. “I feel especially humbled and moved to be able to help in any small way given their vast efforts.”

The sessions will cover themes such as feeling connected during social distancing, self-care, our common humanity, worries, anxieties and fears and finding meaning in difficult times.

The sessions are interactive, encouraging viewers to comment, ask questions and give feedback for use in later programs. The focus of the sessions will include guided imagery meditation, drawing and writing, stress reduction and nutrition. The programming will run through at least April 10 and possibly longer. After the live session, the videos will be available on Stony Brook’s HealthierU web site.

The first session had almost 300 views and Stony Brook just posted its second session on the web site. Both are available on Facebook and will be posted to hospital channels.

HealthierU is looking at more long-term topics such as financial wellness and even the possibility of bereavement support.

The audience for this can include members of the community, as the sessions will not be password protected. Those participating in the program can provide commentary, which Duffy will moderate while mental health expert Joshua Hendrickson, who is an integrative mental health and an alumnus of Stony Brook, will facilitate the program.

At this point, Duffy has not reached out to experts to see if they are available or interested in leading future classes, although Stony Brook staff and community members have contacted her about the programming.

Indeed, on Monday, the staff at the Mindful Turtle yoga studio, which was founded and is owned by Danielle Goldstein, offered free streaming zoom yoga to Stony Brook employees for 20 classes each week.

“We are able to offer the classes for free because of the support we have received from the community,” Goldstein wrote in an email. “Students are continuing to pay their memberships which allows me to continue to pay the yoga teachers for the online classes.”

The notion of helping the Stony Brook community originated through group discussions among teachers. The group which includes Stacy Plaske who had run Balance Yoga, which Goldstein now runs, wanted to help healthcare workers. A nursing school student, Plaske reached out to her Stony Brook contacts.

Stony Brook employees can also access a virtual employee assistance program through the web site StonyBrook.Edu/EAP.

Health care workers throughout the country can also access Headspace, a mindfulness and guided meditation app, and 10percenthappier, a meditation app, for free.

Stony Brook started a virtual support group yesterday through Microsoft Teams at 8 a.m., noon, and 8 p.m. every Monday through Friday. These groups are open to anyone at Stony Brook who is part of the health care team.

Stony Brook started a virtual support group specifically for residents, according to Adam Gonzalez, the Director of Behavioral Health at Stony Brook Medicine.

Stony Brook is working on creating an email where employees can write to request individual virtual sessions as well. To request a virtual one on one session, faculty can contact the faculty/ staff care team by phone and/or email.

Another initiative Stony Brook developed is called Not All Superheroes Wear Capes. The community has sent pictures, handmade cards, and video messages that the university shares with its hospital staff. People have sent in pictures as well as children singing “God Bless America” or holding up thank you signs, which are “a great motivator for the doctors and nurses on the front lines,” as well as a show of appreciation and support, said Gonzalez, who has worked on the mental health of first responders to the World Trade Center disaster and responders to Hurricane Sandy. He is also working with NASA on ways to provide mental health care to astronauts during long duration space missions.

People can send these supportive cards and messages to stonybookwellness@gmail.com.

The whole organization is encouraged to download Microsoft teams on their phones and laptops and home computers, according to Gonzalez. Employees can click on the app and click into the wellness channel to see these messages. They can view messages and support resources on the Wellness Champions channel, which is for Stony Brook Medicine employees. They can also access the virtual support groups through the app.

Duffy, who is a 10 percent Employee Assistance Program counselor and is on a group with the Wellness Champions channel, which Gonzalez runs, said the channel is for Stony Brook Medicine employees, who are mainly hospital staff. Stony Brook is sharing links widely through internal channels such as the hospital Pulse page.

Gonzalez suggested the traumatic situation of the pandemic and the quarantine response creates a normal stress reaction. That includes being anxious and hyper vigilant and worried, struggling to sleep, and feeling run down and scared.

Practicing mindfulness, which means being in the present moment, can help people stay grounded, Gonzalez said. Mindfulness can include practicing meditation exercises, paying attention to your breathe, listening to music, connecting to family and friends, or focusing on a pleasant activity like watching a movie.

“Having hope that this isn’t going to last forever” also helps, Gonzalez added.

The Wellness Champions channel has different resources for supporting mental health, including recommendations from the CDC and the World Health Organization, access to free meditation apps, and virtual substance abuse recovery resources like Alcoholics Anonymous and other programs.

Gonzalez works through his own stress by connecting with family through a group text message, using Facetime with his niece and nephew, and calling friends and colleagues.

Duffy expressed her goal to see these efforts contribute to life for those dealing with significant challenges and changes.

“I truly hope this work provides some peace and comfort to everyone working on the frontlines, from health care providers to faculty transitioning courses to online, to staff transitioning their services online, to our IT department keeping us all connected,” Duffy said in an email.

Stony Brook University Hospital. File photo

Stony Brook University Hospital has created a new triage process for emergency services.

Patients who arrive at the emergency room between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. should stay in their cars, where a member of the staff will determine the correct emergency care setting. The staff may tell patients to go to the main Emergency Department or to a new coronavirus triage service at the South P Lot testing facility on the main campus, on the corner of Stony Brook Road and South Drive. The triage area will have board-certified emergency medicine physicians and emergency medicine nurses.

Stony Brook medicine has also created a triage phone line, 631-638-1320. Registered nurses will answer calls from 8 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday. Nurses will direct patients to the appropriate healthcare location.

The goal of the triage service, Stony Brook said, is to provide patients with a streamlined environment for care and treatment.

Stony Brook said patients should not go to the coronavirus patient triage unless a member of the Emergency Department staff directs them there.

The main Emergency Department will remain operating as usual.

In addition, Stony Brook has established new safety procedures to reduce the amount of time that a caregiver must enter a room. The process is best suited for the Intensive Care Unit or where a patient is non-ambulatory. Stony Brook is following procedures other hospitals are also using.

IV pumps will now be located in the hall. To reach the patient, the IV pumps will use Relocatable Power Taps, which are power strips approved by Biomedical Engineering, and IV extensions sets.

The new process will eliminate the need for staff to go in the room to change IV fluids, drips or medicines or to reset alarms, which will limit exposure while interacting with people who might have coronavirus or with patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The tubing is standard bore and can be used for all fluids including blood.

Three sets of IV extension sets can be connected together to reach patients. IV pumps in use can be located in the hall or anteroom.

The hospital ordered 72-inch IV extension sets and will work by themselves in most cases to reach the patient.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has feuded with the federal government about getting resources to New York during the coronavirus pandemic. File photo by Erika Karp

The coronavirus pandemic is going to get much worse in New York State and in Suffolk County in the next few weeks.

That’s the message from Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who describe efforts to increase hospital beds, change EMS policies, and collect personal protective equipment to help health care workers and first responders.

The state created a viral pandemic triage protocol. By taking a patient’s temperature and screening for a sore throat or cough, EMS personnel will determine whether a patient needs to go to the hospital.

“If a patient doesn’t qualify to be transferred to the hospital, the on-site emergency responder will provide a hand-out with a list of what you need to do and whom to contact should the symptoms worsen,” Bellone said on a daily conference call with reporters.

The new policy shouldn’t create alarm for residents, Bellone said, but merely reflects the current state of the pandemic.

Indeed, on the same day Cuomo created this new EMS protocol, he indicated the need for hospital beds for the state was even greater than anticipated just 24 hours earlier. The number of hospital beds in the state, currently stands around 53,000, with 2,626 beds currently in Suffolk County. Based on the current trajectory of infections and hospitalizations, the number of beds necessary for residents of the Empire State will be closer to 140,000 at its peak, which means that hospitals will need to more than double the number of beds in a short time.

What  Cuomo had requested by doubling the number of beds was a “Herculean effort,” which may not be adequate to the anticipated need, Bellone said.

“The surge may be happening much earlier than anticipated,” Bellone added. “It is a reminder of what we need to do.”

To prepare the health care community and first responders for that increase, Bellone has been urging people to donate personal protective equipment. Two days after his office started collecting the gear in Yaphank, Bellone has received 284,000 pieces of equipment, which includes five van loads from Eastern Suffolk BOCES. Over the next 24 hours, Bellone’s office is working to create additional donation sites on the Western and Eastern ends of Suffolk County.

As testing for the coronavirus Covid-19 increases, so, too, do the number of positive cases. As of this morning, 1,880 residents had the virus among 7,000 who were tested. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds has increased to 50 from 38 yesterday.

For the sixth day in a row, Bellone’s office announced additional COVID-19 related deaths, as four people passed away with the virus, all of whom also had underlying medical conditions. A woman in her 80’s died at Mather Hospital on March 19, a man in his 60’s died at Huntington Hospital on March 20, a woman in her 80’s died at Huntington Hospital on March 22 and a woman in her 70’s died at Southside Hospital yesterday.

Bellone extended his condolences to the families. The death toll for the virus in Suffolk County is now 17.

Meanwhile, Stony Brook Hospital is expected to receive 25 ventilators, although the delivery date is undetermined at this time.

Bellone said Amneal Pharmaceuticals, which manufacturers an anti-malarial treatment that the state is testing as a potential treatment for coronavirus called hydroxychloroquine, has donated two million pills to the state.

“We are grateful that a local company is helping to contribute to this effort,” Bellone said. Amneal, which is headquartered in Bridgewater, New Jersey, has a factory in Yaphank.

During the pause in activities in New York that  Cuomo created and that started yesterday, landscapers can continue to perform necessary maintenance functions. Bellone said he was still awaiting clarity from the governor’s office about construction jobs.

Stock photo

In the first day of soliciting donations of Personal Protective Equipment to help health care workers and first responders, County Executive Steve Bellone was pleased with the outpouring of support from the community.

“Today we have seen, in the spirit of cooperation, an outpouring of generosity of people who come together in a time of crisis,” Bellone said on his daily media call with reporters.

Residents and business leaders brought 40,000 gloves of various sizes, 3,000 N95 masks, 1,500 gowns and over 3,000 ear loop masks to the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank. Bellone is seeking donations from 10 am to 2 pm during the weekdays.

Given the shortage of masks, some people have started sewing homemade masks.

Gregson Pigott, the commissioner of the county Department of Health Services, cautioned people about their effectiveness.

“That’s not advised,” Pigott said on a conference call. The masks need to be “properly tested and certified.”

Stony Brook has started to make face shields with 3-D printers, which hospital personnel has reviewed and determined to be medically compliant. The team that designed these shields, call iCREATE, made some parts of the shield replaceable so health care professionals could change them out.

Today also marked the first day of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) order to pause, as he asked all non-essential businesses to close to reduce the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19. Suffolk County received some clarity from the governor’s office about whether landscapers would be able to continue their work. Landscapers can continue to work for maintenance and the control of pests. These workers, however, cannot do any ornamental planning and are restricted to mowing lawns and protecting the public against health risks that might occur if they didn’t do their jobs.

Meanwhile, the number of people with coronavirus continues to climb, with 1,458 people testing positive. Among those with the virus, 116 are in the hospital, with 38 in the Intensive Care Unit. The County suffered another coronavirus-related fatality, as a woman in her 80’s passed away at St. Catherine’s Hospital. The death toll in Suffolk County stands at 13.

Bellone said he is working with town supervisors and mayors to encourage residents to follow the governor’s order. As with other parts of the country, Suffolk County is working to encourage younger people to maintain social distancing.

Younger people may feel “they are not vulnerable to the virus,” Bellone said. “They [need to understand] that they can not only contract it, but they can also contract it and can transmit it to others around them. They pose a danger to vulnerable populations.”

The county executive added New York Mets pitcher Steve Matz, who is a graduate of Ward Melville High School in Setauket, has been putting out the message.

At the same time, Bellone has been gathering information about the impact of the virus on businesses. Over, 4,000 furloughed or laid off employees have reached out to the County Executive’s office through 311.

These are “some of our more vulnerable employees,” Bellone said. His office is reaching out to the employers, so they can connect with their staff so they “don’t fade into the background.”

In his daily press conference, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) urged the Donald Trump (R) administration to invoke the Defense Production Act, which would allow them to order manufacturers to increase production of much-needed PPE items. The president has signed an executive order invoking the act, but has yet to make a single order. Cuomo said those companies would be “paid handsomely” for the effort, but that it was needed more than ever.

The governor also said he was signing an executive order mandating hospitals around New York State to increase the number of available beds by at least 50 percent, with the goal being to reach a turnaround of 100 percent. Stony Brook University is also the planned site of an additional hospital pavilion to add extra beds to the area, though Bellone said details on that are still being worked out.

At the urging of his wife, Bellone himself contacted the mobile unit at Stony Brook Hospital to seek a coronavirus test. He was exposed to the virus from meetings with one of his deputy chiefs, Peter Scully, who tested positive last week.

Bellone called the mobile unit number, waited half an hour on the phone to speak with a medical professional, and is awaiting a call back for an appointment.

Bellone plans to have a Facebook live town hall on his page tonight at 6:30 pm to provide an update to residents.

“There continues to be a lot of anxiety,” Bellone said. “our lives have been turned upside down.”

Above, from left, Kenneth Kaushansky, Dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine; Anissa Abi-Dargham; Henry Tannous; Ute Moll; and Michael Bernstein, Interim President of SBU.

By Daniel Dunaief

A heart and lung doctor, a researcher who works on imaging for schizophrenia and a scientist working with a mutation that affects cancer last month received endowed inaugural chair positions at Stony Brook University.

Ute Moll is the Renaissance Endowed Professor in Cancer Biology, Anissa Abi-Dargham is the Lourie Endowed Chair in Psychiatry and Henry Tannous is the General Ting Feng Cheng Endowed Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery.

In addition to adding the prestigious titles and winning support from local benefactors and philanthropists, the three researchers will each receive annual financial support from their positions that will sustain their research and education efforts. TBR News Media is highlighting the research from each of these standout scientists.

Ute Moll

Ute Moll

A native of Germany, Ute Moll, who is studying the six most common mutated forms of the highly researched p53 gene, is grateful for the donors, the funds and the recognition. “It’s pretty prestigious to have an endowed chair or professorship attached to your name or title,” she said 

Moll described the p53 mutations as the “most common mutation in cancer.” She has been working with a mouse model. The p53 R248 hotspot is the single most common variant in all p53 altered tumor types, which occurs in about 66,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients in the United States each year.

If these mice also have a gene called Myc, they get either liver or colon cancer. By receiving an estrogen derivative drug called Tamoxifen, which is used in breast cancer, the active, mutated version of the p53 gene is turned off when another gene called Cre recombinase is activated. By removing the p53 gene, the mice live two to three times longer than they would have.

In a typical mouse, cancer can cause over 100 tumor nodules, leaving almost no normal liver. When Moll and her colleagues turned off the mutant gene, the size of the cancer is much more limited, with only a few remaining nodules.

One particular mouse lived for more than two months, eventually dying of an unrelated lymphoma. The liver, however, which had an infection across the entire organ, didn’t show a single trace of a tumor. It was completely normal, despite the ubiquitous tumor nodules before treatment.

Thus far, targeting this mutated p53 is a concept Moll and her colleagues have developed in pre-clinical mouse models of lymphoma, colon and liver cancer, but it doesn’t yet have a clinical application. 

Liver cancer used to be relatively rare in the population, driven largely by infection from hepatitis B and hepatitis C, as well as through alcoholism. Amid an epidemic of obesity, people are developing a chronically inflammatory liver condition, which increases the incidence of liver cancer.

Anissa Abi-Dargham

Anissa Abi-Dargham

A specialist in Positron Emission Tomography (or PET) imaging for schizophrenia, Anissa Abi-Dargham is pleased with the opportunity to deploy the funds for her work at her discretion.

“The beauty of these funds is that they are totally flexible,” she explained, adding that she plans to use the funds to pursue new research ideas that might not otherwise get funding until she can use data to prove a concept or principal. 

“This is really a great honor because it means that the institution believes in you and wants to invest and retain you,” she said.

In her work, Abi-Dargham has been using imaging to see what is causing dopamine dis-regulation, either with too much or too little of the neurotransmitter. 

She is looking at two systems that may explain the imbalance: the cholinergic system and the kappa opioid system.

Abi-Dargham had been at Columbia University for 20 years before joining Stony Brook over three years ago. She appreciates the school investing in a state-of-the-art imaging center. “The people in charge of this imaging center are very much investing in promoting imaging for neuroscience and psychiatry,” she said.

Based on her findings in schizophrenia, other investigators in the United Kingdom have documented dopamine levels before schizophrenia symptoms begin.

She hopes her research discovers biomarkers that can be used to predict who is going to convert to having schizophrenia.

Patients do better when the onset of symptoms is later in their lives because their more mature brain has fostered better organized life, skill sets, and relationships.

She is also testing whether other markers, such as a neuromelanin, which is a metabolite of dopamine and binds iron-like materials, will show up on a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan before the disease.

Henry Tannous

Henry Tannous

Henry Tannous joined Stony Brook University in 2016 and is excited to be a part of the current team and to help shape the future of clinical practice and research.

Tannous called the endowed chair position an “absolute honor.” It will not only allow him to continue with his current work, but it’s also going to enable him to expand his research. He will also use some of the funds to provide continuing education for his staff.

The financial support will allow him to hire research assistants and access national databases. Tannous and his research team of cardiothoracic and lung scientists use registries from the New York State Department of Health registry and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, each of which provides the data for a price.

With his lung work, Tannous focuses on state 1 lung cancer. Traditionally, he said, people have received a diagnosis late in the development of the disease. Over the past few years, doctors have diagnosed patients at an earlier point.

Earlier diagnoses became more prevalent after Medicare approved lung cancer screening in 2015, which picked up more cases while patients were still in the earlier stages, when the cancer might otherwise be asymptomatic.

“We would like to know more about how the disease affects [patients] and their quality of life,” Tannous said. His lab has a collaboration with Mount Sinai Hospital to learn more about the effect of the disease on the lives of the patients.

With his heart research, he’s focusing on aortic disease and is testing the limits of the Trans Catheter Aortic Valve Replacement.

Photos courtesy of SBU