BY JAMES FARRELL, ARIEL HERNANDEZ AND NATHAN DUKE
The Queens Tribune honored three people leading the way in the field of healthcare during the paper’s annual Healthcare Heroes Awards at Douglaston Manor on Tuesday.
This year’s three honorees included Dr. David Reich, the president and chief operating officer of Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai Queens; Dr. Victor Politi, the president and CEO of NuHealth System; and Melissa Powell, the chief operating officer of The Allure Group.
The event’s quest speaker was Christopher Roker, the CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens.
During his speech, Roker touted the work of his colleagues at NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens and discussed the state of healthcare in New York.
“We’re 11 hospitals strong,” he said of the hospital system. “We’ll focus on the transformation of our own system, ambulatory care and the shrinking bed capacity. Queens Hospital is a state-of-the-art facility. We’re on a journey to be great. We make a lot of mistakes, but that’s healthcare. I’m trying to bring standardization to our hospital. We’ve been here 82 years and hope to be there another 82 to 100 years.”
Roker said that one of the most important missions of NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens is emphasizing that it is not a top-down structure.
“It’s no longer that doctors are the most important people,” he said. “The patient is the most important person and workers are the second most important. We’re dedicated to Queens and putting the patient front and center.”
During the awards ceremony—which followed a cocktail hour for networking—state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) and Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) provided New York State Assembly and City Council proclamations, respectively, to the honorees.
Politi currently leads Nassau County public safety net hospital NuHealth System, but previously worked with the city’s Police Department and as a paramedic with Emergency Medical Services (EMS). After completing his residency, he became the director of the ER at St. John’s Queens Hospital. He noted that transitioning from being a police officer to a doctor wasn’t difficult for him.
“I became a police officer in New York City and a sergeant,” he said. “I went to medical school while I was a cop. I really grew up in Queens.”
Politi said that his goal at NuHealth is to provide the best doctors and care and make the hospital more available to the underserved residents of Nassau County.
“Right now, I’m running a really good hospital,” he said. “We’re the only hospital with inpatient detox rehabilitation.”
Powell frequently diverted credit away from herself and to her staff.
“It’s such an important field and there are so many challenges and so many regulations, so it’s nice to be honored and see that someone’s paying attention to all the work that’s done,” she said. “I may be receiving the award, but I’ve got nine of my employees all here because really it’s all about them, it’s their hard work.”
According to Powell, the needs of seniors in New York “varies so much,” but that in her role of long-term care, “there has been such a need for revitalizing the type of care we provide,” particularly because the role of nursing homes and care centers for seniors has evolved.
As discussions in Washington D.C. rage over healthcare, Powell said that the Allure Group is constantly adjusting its strategies.
“I think that people are starting to understand that healthcare has evolved, rehab has evolved,” she said. “I offer seven-days-a-week rehab now. Three years ago, people were doing five days, so you’re doing things at a faster pace to let patients see a greater success in a shorter amount of time.”
Dr. Reich emphasized Mount Sinai’s vision for Queens as an important center in its healthcare network.
“Mount Sinai has made a major commitment to Queens as a borough, not just in taking over Mount Sinai Queens in 1999, but also in establishing practices in multiple specialties throughout the borough and extending now into Long Island as well,” Reich said. “So, the commitment that Mount Sinai has to Queens and to Nassau County, it’s a very heartfelt one, and I think that we really feel that Queens has supported us as well.”
Reich also explained the importance of evolving as a health care system in order to “be better able to keep people out of hospitals.”
“The most expensive and least effective means of caring for people is waiting for them to get sick and coming to an emergency room and being admitted to a hospital,” Reich said. “Staying with people by ensuring good primary care and specialty care is the best means of actually reforming the health care system and reducing not just the spend rate of health care dollars but the suffering that people undergo when diseases get out of control.”
During the networking portion of the event, Dr. Steven Mendelsohn, the CEO and president of Zwanger-Pesiri, said that his company—which is the largest private radiology practice on Long Island and has a new branch in Laurelton—was working to adapt to changes to healthcare on the federal level and simply “go with the flow.”
“They are just going to keep lowering what they pay, and we’re just going to continue looking for ways to be more efficient,” said Mendelsohn. “Every three or so years, the federal government makes changes and we’ve adapted to those changes. We’re not even going to bother with all the talk until changes are made. And then, whatever those changes are, we’re going to navigate through them and do the best we can.”