BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ & JAMES FARRELL
On Tuesday night at the Healthcare Heroes Awards, the Queens Tribune and the PRESS of Southeast Queens shone the light on nine health leaders, all of whom have one thing in common: They have successfully helped to improve and to better shape the healthcare industry, while saving lives.
“I welcome you to what we’re [Queens Tribune] trying to do today, which is step out from what we do every day [journalism] and honor some people, both institutions as well as individuals, for things that they’ve done in the healthcare field,” said Michael Nussbaum, publisher of the Queens Tribune. “We thought it was very important that we gather everybody together, a very eclectic group, and honor them this evening.”
Those leaders included CEO of Zwanger-Pesiri Radiology Dr. Steven Mendelsohn; CEO of Northwell Health Michael Dowling; CEO of St. John’s Episcopal Hospital Gerard Walsh; CEO of The Floating Hospital Sean Granahan; president and CMO of ACPNY & Emblem Health Dr. Navarra Rodriguez; CFO, vice president and treasurer of Atlantic Dialysis Jugal Agarwal; CEO of The Grand Healthcare System Jeremy Strauss; First Lady of New York Chirlane McCray; and the director of Neurosurgery at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center Dr. Harrison Mu, who is also known for being an NYPD honorary police surgeon. They not only received their awards but also exchanged their ideas on the direction of healthcare in 2017, with the hottest topic being the future of Obamacare.
“Right now, one of the big issues all of us are talking about is what’s going to happen with the Affordable Care Act [Obamacare], which, however you feel about it, did succeed in greatly reducing the number of people who lack health insurance,” said New York City Department of Health commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, who was the keynote speaker. “Our data here in New York City suggest that we reduced the number of people who didn’t have health insurance from 21 percent down to 14 percent.”
Bassett said her biggest fear in regard to what happens in January is the uncertainty, which she said is “no good for business.”
“We’re all waiting to find out what the campaign promises of the president-elect would translate into once he becomes president,” said Bassett. “I would love to see no one be concerned about the cost of healthcare as a barrier to care.”
Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside), who is on the Assembly’s Committee on Health, attended the event as a guest, as did Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing), who is a member of the City Council’s Committee on Health. Braunstein echoed that Albany’s future work in healthcare will be largely affected by choices regarding the Affordable Care Act.
“I think the main focus in Albany this year is going to be watching what the federal government does with changes to the Affordable Care Act,” he said.
While Agarwal, an honoree, agreed with the other professional figures, he added that the plan needs serious reform, rather than to be repealed.
“Obamacare is a good thing for the people who may not have any coverage,” he said. “I don’t see any other solution at this point.
Unless someone has a solution, repealing will not work.”
Taking a similar approach to the Obamacare decision was Dr. Albert Strojan, chief academic officer at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, who said his concern about the future of healthcare is the underserved.
“I think if Obamacare were to be repealed, we would have to have some venue, whether expanding Medicaid or something, to help our population that may not be able to afford healthcare on their own,” said Strojan, adding that the needs of Queens’ very diverse population would also need to be addressed.
Dr. Larry Grubler, CEO of Transitional Services for New York (TSINY), a not-for-profit multifaceted mental health corporation that provides community services to individuals recovering from mental illness, told the Queens Tribune, “Sadly, healthcare has become a business.”
Grubler said the Affordable Care Act, which has sparked controversy because of some complications, had become “too complicated” and that people should be able to easily access health insurance, in addition to being more informed.
Susan Browning, executive director of Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Hospital in Forest Hills, who accepted Dowling’s award on his behalf, explained that the healthcare industry in Queens is changing, in line with changes happening nationally—especially with regard to reimbursement.
“We’re going through incredible change, as healthcare is nationally, moving increasingly towards what we call value-based care,” she said. “Our reimbursement is being assigned based on outcomes, which is a very good thing, but it requires putting in place systems and processes to reflect that.”
She added that Northwell Health had already been moving in that direction, even before new regulations that have been mandating that value-based care.
“So Northwell Health has been on this journey for 15 years, even before the regulations changed, because this is the right thing to do,” said Browning. “Now that the regulations are changing, the reimbursement is changing. So as an industry in Queens, hospitals and physicians are all realigning in order to prepare.”
Strojan also had insights on how the borough of Queens’ health industry needs to be improved.
“Queens certainly needs a little more resources and I think better outreach into the community and I know we’re trying to attempt that, opening some new offices in primary care to help get the access to the patients a little more user-friendly,” he said.
Agarwal said that it’s important for the health industry to adapt to change.
“The health industry is changing,” he said. “We’re looking to reduce the cost and get better quality.”
He said that this involves making better use of new technology and data, and not only for health problems. According to Agarwal, sometimes clients face problems outside of health, such as financial problems, familial problems and transportation problems.
“You need communication within the community, communication with the families, with the health coordinator and the staff,” he said.
Mendelsohn—who announced that there are five Zwanger-Pesiri Radiology facilities coming to Queens, with one currently under construction in Laurelton—echoed the Queens Tribune’s goal of uniting the health heroes in hopes of creating synergy for healthcare improvement: “There is room for tremendous improvement, and with partnerships and collaboration, we can radically improve the medical industry throughout the world.”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, email@example.com or @farrellj329