Suffolk Closeup: To our health


When I started as a reporter in this area in 1962, my newspaper, the Babylon Town Leader, covered a story about a woman refused admittance to Lakeside Hospital in Copiague because she didn’t have medical insurance. She returned to her car — and died in it.

That little private hospital is no more. Lakeside Hospital, which began as Nassau/Suffolk General Hospital in 1939, closed in 1975.

Since then, there has been the rise of great, new medical centers here.

Stony Brook University Medical Center was the first, and also became a multi-school site for health education. I reported on the creation of this at the daily Long Island Press in the 1960s and 1970s. Stony Brook was directed by the state to establish a hospital as well as a School of Medicine, School of Nursing and School of Dental Medicine.

How to accomplish this mandate was beyond the knowledge of the university’s two top administrators, both nuclear physicists. Thus, Dr. Edmund Pellegrino was hired as a university vice president and School of Medicine dean. He was a medical visionary. He told me he saw medicine as having become a business, a commodity.

His dream for the proposed hospital was that it be patient-centered, personal and nurturing. He said medicine should be a moral enterprise, with a doctor having a “covenant” with his or her patients. And he wanted health education not narrowly focused, but embracing the humanities and social sciences.

Before Dr. Pellegrino left Stony Brook to eventually become president of the Catholic University of America, he created the culture for health care and education at Stony Brook.

As the years have gone by, I’ve been treated by doctors at Stony Brook, and not for minor things. Last year, after falling on my head causing huge twin hematomas to form in my skull, I was operated on by a superb neurosurgeon, Dr. Charles Mikell. He drilled holes — as scary as that sounds — in my head to successfully drain the deposits of blood and fluid.

Seven years ago I had two successful operations at Stony Brook for bladder cancer performed by world-class urologist Dr. Howard Adler. They were followed by treatments based on immunotherapy using — and this is a standard treatment — tuberculosis bacteria to stimulate the immune system and prevent a recurrence. There’s been no recurrence, most happily.

Now there’s been the rise of another medical center covering this region, Northwell Health.

It came about with the merger of Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore Health System in 1997. The private Northwell Health and the public Stony Brook are in competition. Stony Brook, in recent times, merged with Southampton Hospital and affiliated with Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.

Northwell has a network of 23 affiliated hospitals and other health facilities stretching throughout the New York metropolitan area. It’s linked to Hofstra University. Major hospitals that are part of the Northwell network in Suffolk include Mather in Port Jefferson; Southside Hospital in Bay Shore; Huntington Hospital; and Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.

I was recently treated at Peconic Bay for cataract removal. Optometrists advised that I needed the surgery. Eyeglasses, even with new prescriptions, weren’t doing it.

I received a strong recommendation about East End Eye and its lead ophthalmologist, Dr. Scott Sheren. He has been president of the Suffolk County Ophthalmological Society and medical staff president at Peconic Bay. He’s director of the Robert Merriam Rogers Center for Eye Surgery at Peconic Bay.

He’s an extraordinary physician, highly competent and warm. A concern I had involved taking the medicine Flomax. Google, which is a font of oft-alarming medical information, warns about complications in cataract surgery for people who take Flomax. Dr. Sheren assured me that he would take special care. And he did, removing the cataract from one eye in January, the cataract from the other two weeks ago. It was amazing how after the first cataract was removed and a new lens inserted, when the bandage over the eye was removed the next morning I could see through the “fixed” eye with perfect focus and white was bright white. Looking through the other eye, still with a cataract, everything was yellowish. Now, with both eyes cataract-free, the world is clear.

There have not only been great advances in medical care with the emergence of two big medical centers here, but huge advances in medical science here and elsewhere. Two close friends, one fitted with a pacemaker and the other with two stents after a heart attack were recently treated at Stony Brook. They both told me they would be dead without the treatments developed several decades ago.

The burning issue about health care is how we as a society can best pay for it. (My preference is “Medicare for all.”)

Health care is about the most important use of money that exists — preserving and saving life.