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Stony Brook

Stony Brook has set up a fund that helps students attend while dealing with small financial hurdles. File photo by Kyle Barr

Like so many other plans this year, the goal for Stony Brook University’s Student Emergency Support Fund has changed.

SBU students like Rijuta Mukim have relied on funds from the university’s emergency fund for their studies at home. Photo by Mukim

The fund, which SBU’s Dean of Students Richard Gatteau launched in January, was originally planned as an endowed source of funds that would help students in need. Amid the ongoing financial dislocation caused by the pandemic, the fund has now provided everything from money for car repairs, which some students need to get to campus, to books, iPads, or even rent.

Through July, the emergency fund provided about $935,000 in support to 1,194 students, according to the dean of students.

“Once COVID hit, we realized in March and April, the need was overwhelming,” he said. The school put in a new strategy to raise more money to expand the focus to include basic life essentials, like paying the electric bill or groceries. The university “didn’t want this circumstance to force someone to drop out.”

For some students, the financial need, especially in the current economic environment amid job losses and higher unemployment, exceeds the resources that financial aid, grants and loans can offer.

“We’re working with students on the margin,” Gatteau said. The parents of many students don’t have the financial ability to support them, either.

Many of the students who initially received money from the emergency fund  were remote learners who needed internet access or other remote support.

That included SBU junior Rijuta Mukim, who was working from her home in southern India when her computer broke down and her internet connection was unstable.

Taking classes and studying during the night and sleeping during the day to continue her education amid the time difference, Mukim was kicked off her Zoom calls for her classes within five minutes.

“I had a lot of trouble attending class,” Mukim said.

Without a fix for her computer and a better connection, Mukim, who is majoring in biology and psychology and hopes to attend medical school after she graduates, would have had to withdraw during the spring.

After she heard about the emergency fund on Reddit, she applied. Within a few hours, she received an email indicating that the school was trying to reach her by phone to make sure she was all right. She revealed her needs and received $1,000 within a week.

In the meantime, the support team explained her situation to her professors, who gave her extra time to complete her assignments.

Mukim had originally planned to work this summer at the Staller Center, but she was appreciative of the university and the donors who contributed to the fund for financial assistance, even as she worked from home several continents away.

“A thousand dollars might sound like a small amount but it helped me to ride through the spring and summer classes,” Mukim said. Having this kind of support “during a crisis is wonderful. It is satisfying to know there is a community helping you and looking out for you.”

Gatteau said other students also appreciated the calls soon after they made their requests.

Students “want an opportunity to tell their story, [to hear] a friendly voice on the other end of the call, to hear what’s going on,” he said. “Many students have faced challenging situations, with job losses and deaths related to COVID.”

A call from the emergency fund team can be as much about financial support as it is a counseling session with a student that helps them know how much the university cares about them.

As the fall semester started, the fund recently relaunched and has received between 130 and 150 applications for economic support.

The fund, which received a $75,000 donation from SBU President Maurie McInnis and is soliciting additional donations, is trying to rebuild after the earlier disbursements. 

The call for donations has just gone out to community members, prior donors, alumni, parents, faculty and staff.

“We’ve done a full marketing campaign across all of the stakeholders who donated [previously] and then we try to reach out to new people,” Gatteau said.

The dean of students said the school is collecting donations of any size.

“Small amounts have made a big difference collectively,” he said.

The school estimates that $100 supports Wi-Fi access and other online learning costs; $200 contributes to lab fees and books; and $500 helps with groceries and rent.

The fund doesn’t currently allow donors to earmark their contributions for any specific purpose. Gatteau said the top priority with any student is for academic needs.

Despite the financial hardship caused by COVID and higher unemployment, officials said Stony Brook has not had many students drop out for financial reasons.

Amid concerns nationally about students ignoring social distancing or mask-wearing rules, Gatteau endorsed the way students have complied with rules. 

“We’re very lucky,” he said. Students are motivated to prevent closures. “They want [the school] to stay open,”

Students whose financial need exceeds whatever the emergency fund can provide may be able to update their Free Application for Federal Student Aid — or FAFSA — forms, to see if they are eligible for additional financial assistance.

Meanwhile, students can apply to the Student Support Team at www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/studentaffairs/studentsupport. Students provide basic information and discuss their specific issues and challenges on a call.

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Celeste Wells on the "Wheel of Fortune" set. Photo by Carol Kaelson

One Three Village woman is finally able to talk about a lucky winter trip.

It was nerve-wracking but, once you get into it, your adrenaline kicks in and you’re excited and you want to win.

— Celeste Wells

At the end of February, Celeste Wells and her husband, Bill, traveled to California after she was chosen to be a contestant on the game show “Wheel of Fortune.” Like all participants on the show, Wells, along with her husband and two friends who attended the taping, had to keep quiet about how well she did.

While she taped the show Feb. 27, the episode didn’t air until Sept. 3 as production shut down soon after her visit because of the pandemic and the episode took longer to air than usual. The Stony Brook resident of 15 years, who lived in Kings Park for 30 years prior, said it was difficult to keep her winnings a secret with everyone asking her questions about how she did.

The night of the airing, Wells’ son Bill and his family came over to see the results. She said she turned off her answering machine to make sure her daughter Suzanne, who lives in Rochester, and other relatives who would see the show earlier due to different broadcasting times in other areas, wouldn’t call and give anything away before her son’s family saw the show.

Wells, who will turn 80 on Sept. 11, said at first, she was trailing behind the other two contestants, who had about $11,000 each, and she made a couple of mistakes solving puzzles. With one round, she admitted she forgot to take the clue into consideration. She added that it’s easier to solve the puzzles at home watching, which she has done for more than 30 years.

“Now I’m a little more sympathetic with the players when they make mistakes,” Wells said.

Soon her luck changed and her total climbed to $15,500, even though she was unaware she had taken the lead until host Pat Sajak started approaching her.

“I hadn’t even realized it until Pat walked over to me that I was the winner, and I was going to go to the bonus round,” she said. “I was in shock.”

In that bonus round, Wells solved the puzzle correctly by guessing “group of wild boars.” She then picked an envelope with her prize, which turned out to be $37,000. The amount commemorates the 37th season in syndication of “Wheel of Fortune.”

“It was nerve-wracking but, once you get into it, your adrenaline kicks in and you’re excited and you want to win,” she said.

Wells said she wasn’t sure she would make the Feb. 27 taping due to a scheduled trip to Florida March 1, but she and her husband were able to work it out and flew to California Feb. 26. Wells said the staff produces six episodes a day. She arrived at 7:30 a.m. and had the opportunity to meet the show’s hostess Vanna White before filming.

She and other contestants practiced spinning the wheel, which weighs about 2,400 pounds, before taping. Standing 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighing in at 108 pounds, she was afraid she wasn’t going to be able to turn it. While it was difficult, Wells said as she practiced, the crew adjusted the small platform she was standing on. She also tried each hand spinning the wheel until she could give it a good spin.

“The entire staff at ‘Wheel’ is just marvelous,” she said. “They can’t do enough for you. They make you feel like a queen for a day when you’re there. They pamper you. They’re constantly touching up your makeup, bringing you water. Pat and Vanna are kind and really humble people that just make you feel so comfortable.”

Wells is still shocked she won or even made it past auditions. More than 10,000 “Wheel of Fortune” fans audition each year and only 600 are chosen to compete.

“That in itself was monumental that they chose me,” she said, adding it was a years-long journey that began when she sent in a video in 2012.

After sending the video, she was asked to audition in Brooklyn twice. Both times 50 applicants took part in two practice games, and then were narrowed down. She made it to the second round both times. Last year, she attended an audition in Manhattan and received a letter shortly after saying she made it.

While contestants pay for their own trip, Wells said everyone walks away with $1,000, which helps with airfare. With her winnings, she is hoping to take a family trip after the pandemic passes with her husband, children, their spouses and her three grandchildren.

Wells had advice for other game show fans. She said everyone who is interested in being a contestant should try out.

“Even if you only win $1,000, it’s a wonderful experience,” she said. “And, don’t give up. Even if you don’t make it the first time, keep going. I’m that kind of person. When I’m determined to do something, I don’t give up.”

File photo

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Cops said that over the past week there have been a rash of car thefts and vehicle break-ins within the Three Village area.

Now several Port Jefferson residents have also reported vehicles were stolen from their property as well, though police said they are still investigating if the same perpetrators were committing the robberies in both areas.

Suffolk County Police provided TBR News Media a list of 16 total car thefts and break ins. The list shows a total of four cars were stolen from residences in Stony Brook Aug. 23. Two of those vehicles, a 2020 Nissan and a 2019 Volkswagen were recovered — the former was found in Connecticut while the latter was located in Stony Brook. Two other cars, a 2016 Mazda and a 2009 Acura, have so far not been located, according to police.

The 12 other incidences were petit larcenies of property from cars in Stony Brook, Setauket and Old Field. Several items electronics like laptops or earphones, while others were purses, money and car keys. All incidents took place within the 6th precinct.

Suffolk County Police Detective Lt. Sean Beran said all incidents were from unlocked vehicles. The investigation is ongoing, according to Beran, though he added there are a couple of people of interest.

Uniformed and plainclothes personnel have been patrolling the area, and the Special Operations Team has been assigned to the case. Beran said no additional break-ins or thefts were reported after Aug. 23 in the Three Village community.

Beran said it’s important for car owners to remember to lock their vehicles, make sure they have their car key FOB and remove belongings even when parking a car in a driveway.

Police confirmed that more car thefts have since been reported by locals in the Port Jefferson area as well. A man in the Harbor Hills section of the village on Landing Lane said two cars were stolen from his driveway at around 1:45 a.m. Friday, Aug. 28.

One vehicle was a 2020 Honda Accord and another was a 2016 Honda CRV, according to the Port Jefferson man’s posts on social media. Cops also said that a 2013 Mercedes was also stolen from Sands Lane in Port Jeff. That vehicle has since been recovered nearby.

Police said it is still under investigation whether the Three Village and Port Jeff car thefts are connected.

People can contact the 6th Precinct with information at 631-854-8652 or submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS (8477), utilizing a mobile app which can be downloaded through the App Store or Google Play by searching P3 Tips, or online at www.P3Tips.com.

Stony Brook McDonald's is planned to be demolished and rebuilt to add a tandem drive through. Photo from Google Maps

McDonald’s was granted a change of zoning Thursday, Aug. 13, by the Brookhaven Town Board in order to raze one and restructure two other restaurants on the North Shore. Representatives of the fast-food chain said it was to add new tandem drive-throughs and make the buildings more Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.

The three McDonald’s locations include the ones in Rocky Point and Miller Place on Route 25A and the one in Stony Brook along Route 347. Stony Brook is set to be demolished and remade into a restaurant with a tandem drive-through. Engineers hired by McDonald’s said doing so will actually reduce the buildings’ overall footprint. 

The ones in Rocky Point and Miller Place will have signage changed and some extra work done on the exteriors. The two buildings will also be adding new ADA compliant walkways to allow better access to the buildings from the parking lots and sidewalks along Route 25A. 

All three were zoned J-2 Business, but a rules change in 2003 mandated all sites with a drive-through had to be zoned J-5 instead. To complete the renovations, McDonald’s needed to get approval of the zone change from the Town Board. All three were granted zoning change approval at the Aug. 13 meeting. 

Brookhaven officials said they received letters from the Three Village, Miller Place and Rocky Point civics indicating they did not have issues with the development. Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said during the meeting the Three Village civic did have some concerns when the project was originally proposed but those were resolved by the developer.

One resident of Strathmore Gate Drive in Stony Brook, a gated community, asked about trees buffering behind the local McDonald’s property. Developers said the site will have 7-foot evergreens as a way to block line of sight to the restaurant.

As University Stares Down Barrel of $109 Million Financial Hole, Local Community and Businesses Could See Economic Hurt

Stony Brook University is facing a huge financial hole in 2020, including a loss of students and likely faculty. This could mean many challenges for local industries and businesses who rely on that influx of people. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr, Rita J. Egan and Liam Cooper

Stony Brook University is one of the biggest driving economic engines of the North Shore. Not only does it offer a major learning institution for students all over Long Island, but it has facilitated a large number of housing possibilities for both faculty and students. Those students, meanwhile, are a live force generating sales for local restaurants, bars and shops. 

When SBU students left in campus in March, many didn’t know what would happen in the future. Now that the campus nears the start of the semester, many students have decided they will not be returning. Photo by Kyle Barr

SBU’s announcement that it is facing at least a $109 million hole has sent a shudder through the residential and business side of the surrounding community. It has put yet another stake through the heart of so many economic centers that are already struggling from their own pandemic-related hurt.

Three Village Expects Hardship

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, recognized the effect Stony Brook University’s financial woes would have not only on Stony Brook Village Center, which WMHO oversees, but also a broader region extending beyond the Three Village area. The shops in Stony Brook are less than five miles from the university.

SBU “is the largest employer on Long Island and that needs to be addressed,” she said. “The fact is the impact is not only going to affect the local community but the Long Island community. The ripple effect will be extraordinary.” 

George Hoffman, 1st vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, echoed Rocchio’s sentiments.  

“Unfortunately, I do think we will see some painful impacts in the community from the university’s dire fiscal situation,” he said. “The hiring freeze will reduce the pool of people buying homes in the area. Canceling the athletic season will hurt the restaurants and pubs. And having three-quarters of the students take courses online instead of on campus, will hurt restaurants and local shops that count on student customers. Stony Brook University has such a regional multiplier effect that their cuts and loss of revenue will reverberate through our area and through the entire Long Island community.”

Jane Taylor, executive director of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said the hope is that any effect on the community would be short lived.

“We’re grateful for the faculty and staff who support our local businesses,” she said. “This is definitely going to have an impact.” 

Impact on Port Jefferson Village

It’s hard to gauge how much business Port Jefferson generates from Stony Brook, though recent efforts to increase the number of students and staff into the village has already been squashed due to COVID-19. The village has been funding everything but the campus-side advertising for the PJ-SBU Shuttle for the past two years. The village was putting up around $20,000 of its funds for the project, while the Port Jeff Business Improvement District also put up $10,000 of its funds to help support the shuttle program.

The shuttle program was canceled due to COVID-19 March 15. Kevin Wood, the village’s parking and mobility administrator, said the shuttle was averaging about 150 riders a weekend before being canceled.

The Port Jefferson, Stony Brook University Shuttle was cancelled this March, though the village hopes to start it up again next year. Photo from Kevin Wood

“We will look to restart it for the spring 2021 semester depending on the state of the COVID-19 and restrictions,” he said in an email. “We will also look to share the expense equally between the village, the BID and SBU.” 

Barbara Ransome, Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce director of operations, said the pandemic has already done such a number on local businesses. She said village businesses are open and are being “respectful and careful” in compliance with New York State regulations, and she hopes those shops that stayed strong will survive, barring another shutdown.

“My gut would say sure, it’s going to affect us,” she said. “The Port Jefferson Village is going to have a deficit — everyone is going to have a deficit. Everything’s going to have a trickle-down effect.”

Impact on Real Estate

Multiple local realtors in the surrounding community said the effect on the housing market surrounding the university is still uncertain, though a loss of students and faculty because of enrollment declines and a hiring freeze could put a damper on the industry.

“The surrounding real estate is yet to be determined,” Port Jefferson-based American Way Real Estate’s David Guzzetta said. 

The number of campus residents has declined by 40%, which could potentially tank the market, he added.

“If demand went down 40%, it would affect local housing by 5 to 10%, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is,” he said. “Anything more than that would be devastating. It sounds like a recession.”

Though there is still time before the school year starts, the Port Jefferson realtor said the deficit could actually be good for the real estate market. 

“It could be the complete opposite,” Guzzetta said. “We won’t know until the semester starts, but students may not feel safe staying in a dorm and therefore want to live in off-campus housing by themselves to feel safer, which would actually boost the local real estate market.”

Frank Edwards, a realtor from Douglas Elliman Real Estate located in East Setauket, said he believes that students will choose to stay on campus.

“These kids aren’t going to be renting homes,” he said.

Whether it be positive or negative, the East Setauket realtor said students will be the main driver in the market.

“I don’t think it’s going to really affect staff as much,” Edwards said. “It’s really going to be driven by the college students. They’re going to take up the on-housing campus too, but COVID may change that.”

Edwards said he believes the market will continue to be sustainable.

“I don’t think it’s going to really affect the real estate market,” he said. “I believe the market will be fine, when houses come up they go quickly in this area. I think we’re in a strong area. I think Three Village is a strong area.”

The uncertainty surrounding the market may come as a result of COVID-19. When the pandemic began, it seemed that the market was going to decline on Long Island, but realtors in the area have actually seen the pandemic being a positive force in the market.

“If you asked me four months ago, I would say we were going into a housing crisis but, believe it or not, Long Island is in a little spike because everyone from Manhattan with income is coming out to Long Island.” Guzzetta said. 

Suffolk County Police 6th Squad detectives are investigating an incident during which a man was found unresponsive in a pool in Stony Brook July 5.

Sixth Precinct police officers responded a home on Harmon Court at approximately 2 p.m. after Anthony Leo was found unresponsive in a pool outside the residence.

Leo, 78, of Freeport, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was listed in critical condition.

Several hundred people crowded on to the north side of Nesconset Highway in Stony Brook June 7 in one of a series of protests against racial injustice and police brutality from all around Long Island.

Across from Smith Haven Mall, several hundred protesters gathered both along the busy intersection and a small field just behind the police barricades. At one point, police stopped traffic for a time to allow protesters to march down the road. Cars honked horns in support, and some drove by holding their own signs in solidarity with those at the rally.

Protesters shouted lines such as “no justice, no peace.” People also laid on their stomachs with their hands behind their backs, much as Minneapolis man George Floyd was May 25 when the now-fired officer Derek Chauvin pushed his knee into Floyd’s neck. The crowd shouted while on the ground, “I can’t breathe,” some of the last wods Floyd spoke.

Suffolk County has had around 85 protests since the killing of Floyd more than a week ago, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

All photos by Mike Reilly

Along Nicolls Road, where dozens of people held signs thanking the hospital workers both leaving and arriving at Stony Brook University Hospital, another truck, one bearing a large screen and speakers, rumbled down the road bearing another kind of thank you to the folks on the front lines.

Christian Guardino, a Patchogue resident, came down to the hospital late on Thursday, May 22 to serenade the workers just after their 8 p.m. shift change. The singer, a America’s Got Talent’s Golden Buzzer and Apollo Theater Competition Grand Prize Winner, sang three songs to a crowd gathered in front of the children’s hospital. Others watched from the windows above, even waving lighters from a dark room as Guardino finished a rendition of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”

He said he too has been stuck at home because of the pandemic, unable to perform because practically all venues have been shut down. First performing at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, he came to Stony Brook to make sure those workers knew they were top in people’s hearts and minds.  

“The one thing I want to say and for them to get out of this is just thank you, how grateful we are for everything they’re doing for us,” Guardino said. “They’re on the front lines taking care of the people who are sick, risking getting the disease and I just want to thank them.”

Nicole Rossol, the chief patient experience officer at SBUH, said Empire Entertainment, a New York City-based event management company, reached out to Stony Brook looking to do a late show. At the same time, the patchogue singer also made mention he wanted to give back to the hospital. Guardino’s mother, Beth, had worked as a nurse at the hospital previously for nearly a decade.

“We thought if we could do it together, it would be a very beautiful thing for our staff,” Rossol said. “I think the staff has been looking for things to keep them upbeat and help them through this time. Every piece of support from the community really makes a difference.

Empire Entertainment, with their Illuminate Our Heroes tour has brought crews from the city, to New Jersey, and now out to Long Island. Alyssa Bernstein, a senior producer for empire entertainment is herself a Setauket native, and she said she made it a point to come back and support her hometown during the ongoing pandemic.

“We decided, what is a way that we can give back and say thank you, and that’s putting on a little show, that’s what we do best,” Bernstein said. “The work that they’re doing means that we’ll get back to work.”

 

Stony Brook University's COVID-19 testing site. Photo by Matthew Niegocki

With 694 more people testing positive for the coronavirus, the number of confirmed cases in Suffolk County is now 40,483.

In the Suffolk County hotspot testing sites, the number of positive tests was 1,320 out of 3,412 total tests.

The percentage of positive tests at these hotspots is 38.7, compared with 33 percent for the county as a whole.

Antibody testing for law enforcement continues, with 1,581 law enforcement officers tested by Northwell Health and New York State so far.

The number of people who have died from complications related to coronavirus increased by 21 in the last day, bringing the total to 1,568 for Suffolk County. As of yesterday, the deaths from the virus exceed the number of people killed over 100 years ago aboard the Titanic. The staggering number represents what will likely be a turning point for the county, let alone the entire country which topped 77,000 deaths.

County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) office distributed another 163,000 pieces of personal protective equipment yesterday, bringing the total number of such life-saving items to over four million since the crisis began in March.

Bellone didn’t have the closely watched hospitalization information today because the reporting system was down.

Separately, Bellone said the county was able to honor the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

“Today, we would normally be bringing together our veterans and particularly our World War II veterans to honor them and thank them for what they did for our nation,” said Bellone during his daily call with reporters.

A group including Suffolk County Chief of Police Stuart Cameron and Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency Director Thomas Ronayne raised an American flag above Armed Forces Plaza today. The group saluted the flag and then brought it to the state veteran’s home.

That home has been hit especially hard by the pandemic. As of May 5, the home reported 65 residents have passed away due to the coronavirus. Additionally, 68 residents have tested positive, where out of those four are receiving treatment at neighboring Stony Brook University Hospital. 30 of those veterans are in the post-COVID recovery phase.

Bellone said the county also celebrated the graduation of 70 members of the police academy. While the ceremony was different than it otherwise would have been prior to the pandemic, the event, which was broadcast on Facebook, was watched by more than 25,000 people.

“Their willingness to step forward at any given moment to risk their lives for strangers is an extraordinary thing,” Bellone said. “We thanked them and their family members.”

Separately, as for the national and local elections coming this November, Bellone said he hopes the bipartisan cooperation that has characterized the response in Suffolk County and New York will continue.

“I don’t know if we’re going to see that on a national level [but] at the local level, we are working together in ways we haven’t in many years, maybe not since 9/11,” Bellone said. “That’s what we should do.”

Bellone suggested the county didn’t have “time to spare to worry about partisan nonsense.”

He pointed out how he and Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. (R), who ran against Bellone to become county executive, have been “working closely together to address issues here. I’m hopeful that will continue.”

Stony Brook Closes Satellite ER

Stony Brook University is closing the emergency room field satellite in the South P Lot amid a decline in the number of patients.

The hospital will keep equipment inside the tents in case of future need. The health care workers who had been staffing the field site will return to the hospital.

Stony Brook had seen approximately 2,600 patients at the coronavirus triage sites.

The drive-through testing site in the South P Lot will remain open. That site has tested 27,515 patients.

Residents who would like a test need to make appointments in advance, by calling 888-364-3065. The site is open seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Stony Brook University Hospital’s Team Lavender, and a Staff Support Team, delivered care packages to the employees at the Long Island State Veterans Home. The team put together 170 containers filled with donated items from the community including gum, chapsticks, drinks and snacks. They also included trays of home-baked goods, crocheted ear savers, and masks made by a veteran.

Team Lavender volunteers include doctors, nurses, social workers, patient advocates, chaplains, a faculty and staff care team, employee assistance program and employee health program. The team provides emotional, spiritual and psychological support for faculty and staff after an adverse or unexpected event.

Team Lavender completed a successful pilot during the last year in the NICU and maternity units. Team Lavender has worked together with the Staff Support Team to provide hospital wide support. Their efforts, previously performed in-person, are now available virtually for faculty and staff.

Amanda Groveman, a Stony Brook Medicine Quality Management Practitioner, holding a "My Story" poster for Kevin, who enjoys bowling among his hobbies. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Patients battling COVID-19 at Stony Brook University Hospital have allies who can see them and their lives outside the context of the current pandemic.

Thanks to a team of nurses at Stony Brook who are calling family members to gather information and putting together pictures the family members are sending, over 89 patients have received the kind of personalized support they might have gotten if their family and friend network were allowed in the hospital during the pandemic.

“You get everything,” said Amanda Groveman, a Stony Brook Medicine Quality Management Practitioner, who has worked at the hospital since 2006 and created a Power Point template for the information. Family members are sending pictures at of them during Christmas, of people playing various sports, of pets, of other family members, and even a wedding picture from the 1930’s.

Once the nurses gather this information, they print out two copies and laminate them. One copy goes in the room, where the patient can also see it, and the other is in the hallway, where the doctor or nurse who is about to walk in can get a broader look at the life of the patient in the bed on the other side of the door.

The effort, called “My Story,” is an extension of a similar initiative at the hospital for patients who have Alzheimer’s Disease and might also have trouble sharing their lives with the health care workers.

The nurses involved in the program include: Chief of Regulatory Affairs Carolyn Santora, Assistant Director of Nursing Susan Robbins, Director of Quality Management Grace Propper, Lisa Reagan, the patient coordinator and Nurse Practitioner April Plank.

“It’s not just a bullet point checklist,” Groveman said. “It’s creating a history of this patient.”

Some patients like to hear a particular type of music. Indeed, one patient routinely listened to so much “Willie Nelson, that was all he wanted to listen to.”

Grovemen said the contact with the family also connects the nurses to that family’s support network, which they now aren’t able to see in eerily empty waiting rooms.

“You speak to these families and then you feel like you do know this person well,” Groveman said. “At a certain point, it’s not just about the patient. It’s about the whole support system. You’re pulling not just for them, but for their whole family.”

The pictures serve as an inspiration for the nurses as well, who get to share their passion for pets or for sports teams.

These connections are especially important, as some patients have been in the ICU for weeks.

Each time a person leaves the hospital, the staff plays the Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun,” which has also been encouraging to the hospital staff who has been treating them.

When Groveman returns to her family, which includes her husband Matt and their two children, each night, she puts her clothing in the washing machine and takes a shower before she enjoys her own family time.

“As soon as I walk in, they say, ‘No hug yet,’” Groveman said. Her kids have been “really good” about the new nightly pattern.

A by product of her new routine is that Groveman has also been washing her hands and wrists so often that she has developed what her daughter calls “lizard skin.”

She insists on disinfecting everything that comes in the house, which means that she has a collection of cardboard boxes on her porch that wait there until recycling day.

Amid all the public health struggles she and her fellow nurses see every day, she appreciates how Stony Brook has set up a room where nurses can meditate and relax.

Groveman said she’s surprised by the number of people who are coming in who are in their 30’s and 40’s. One of the more challenging elements of caring for patients is, for her, that she sees people who come in who are not in bad shape, but “unfortunately, with this, it can just be all of a sudden someone takes a downturn.”

Groveman had previously worked in pediatrics, where she said she recognized that any treatment for children also benefited the broader family.

“You are treating the family as well,” she said. “You really want to make that connection. Being a nurse is about making that connection.”