Claude Solnik


Small Businesses Face Uphill Battle In Getting Forgivable Loans

Securing finds through the Paycheck Protection Program has been easier said than done, local business owners say. (Getty Images)

Veronica Bencivenga, owner of Duck Donuts in Hauppauge, owns exactly the type of business the Paycheck Protection Program seems intended for, as a small, family-owned company that struggled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

She reached out to Bank of America, her company’s banker, to facilitate a PPP $98,000 forgivable federal loan — up to 2.5 times monthly payroll — and got nowhere.

“I found an interesting trend,” she says. “Business owners I spoke to who were looking for larger loans, $1 million or more, were getting approved and funded rapidly. Owners looking for $125,000 or $75,000 didn’t make any progress.”

Bencivenga got funds through Bethpage Federal Credit Union, which had handled her personal mortgage, in four days. 

Richard Izzi, a partner in transaction advisory services at Manhattan-based Marcum LLP, which has large Melville operations, says many companies didn’t get loans the first time around due to demand, regardless of amount. He says many companies in the second round often got funded “through banks with which they didn’t have a previous relationship.”

“They were overwhelmed,” he says of banks, citing a $2 million loan not obtained in the first round, but later approved.

Big banks obtained the lion’s share of Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, including many smaller ones. Still, numerous small business representatives believe larger banks prioritized larger loans with bigger commissions per loan.

“Banks did what any prudent business would do: Try to make as many large loans as possible,” said Bencivenga. The number of her business’s employees initially dropped from 26 to 12 as revenues fell by nearly half. “It’s more effective from a business perspective to administer fewer larger loans than many small ones.”

The initial PPP $349 billion was followed by $310 billion in funding, including $30 billion for community banks and small credit unions and $30 billion for medium-sized banks and credit unions. 

“For most other government regulated programs, small business is defined as up to 50 or 100,” Bencivenga says. “PPP defined small business as 500 employees.”

Joseph Durko, managing director of Melville-based Integrekon Partners, helped dozens of companies get funds, often with no help from their primary banker.

He says a San Francisco-based company got nowhere with Bank of America, its banker, before he helped the company obtain $600,000 through Cache Valley Bank, in Utah.

“I believe larger institutions have favored larger clients in underwriting,” Durko says. “The larger the average loan amount, the less work you have to do to get to the same fee level.”

Durko says Wells Fargo told a company the bank wouldn’t have enough funding allocated to help, even though the company applied early.

He adds that City National Bank in Beverly Hills helped Long Island companies obtain loans; others credited Bridgehampton-based BNB.

“The true SBA lenders were better equipped to handle this,” Durko says, noting PPP was run through the Small Business Administration.

Anthony Buonaspina, CEO of LI Tech Advisors in Babylon, says BNB got his company a $135,000 forgivable loan. 

“I decided to go through a local bank that I didn’t even have an account with,” he says of BNB. “They worked their asses off and got my company the funding it needed in a few days.”

Bencivenga said Bank of America’s list of business categories didn’t even include restaurants or food and beverage.

“They had hedge fund manager, legal firm, financial services, and construction,” she says. “There was no restaurant or food service. I had to pick ‘other.’”

Applications in the first round asked companies to indicate if they were affected, but not specify how they were damaged by the economic downturn.

”They didn’t ask, ‘Are your sales down? What percentage? Is your staffing down? How much?’ There were no financial questions,” Bencivenga says. “There were more teeth to the second set of disclaimers.”

Loans can be forgiven if 75 percent is used for payroll up to $100,000 in salaries, with the remainder for mortgage, rent and utilities within eight weeks after the loan is made. Otherwise, they must be repaid within two years at a 1 percent interest rate.

Companies often reward banks who helped. Buonaspina said he’s moving $500,000 into a BNB account. 

“They were very accommodating to me,” he says. 

Bencivenga plans to do business with Bethpage Federal Credit Union beyond this program. 

“We definitely are going to do more banking with Bethpage,” she says, noting that she has been able to staff fully and stay in business, with help from the PPP funds.

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FDA Revokes Chembio’s COVID-19 Antibody Test Approval


Shares of Hauppauge-based Chembio Diagnostics plummeted Tuesday after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revoked an emergency authorization to market its COVID-19 antibody test, citing higher than expected inaccurate results.

Shares of Chembio tumbled on June 17 more than 60 percent or slightly more than $6 by late morning to just under $4, following the revocation. Chembio’s antibody test was one of the first that the FDA authorized during the COVID-19 public health emergency under special orders designed to clear the path to market for products that might be helpful in battling the pandemic.

“New information from three evaluations performed since authorization of the device demonstrates its performance may be both inconsistent and lower than that described in your original submission,” Denise Hinton, chief scientist at the FDA, wrote Monday in letter to Chembio, informing the company of the decision to revoke approval.

The FDA said Chembio had provided additional data on April 29 and May 15 and taken steps designed to improve performance, but the agency was not satisfied the test was able to meet standards of accuracy needed to sustain use.

Chembio did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.

“Based on the information that Chembio submitted to the FDA at that time, the agency concluded that the test met the statute’s ‘may be effective’ standard for emergency use authorization,” the FDA said in a statement issued Tuesday regarding initial approval.

The FDA in its decision to revoke the authorization cited “data submitted by Chembio as well as an independent evaluation of the Chembio test at the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute” that the agency said “showed that this test generates a higher than expected rate of false results and higher than that reflected in the authorized labeling for the device.”

The agency added that “under the current circumstances of the public health emergency, it is not reasonable to believe that the test may be effective in detecting antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.”

In its decision, the FDA further said that “the risk to public health from the false test results makes emergency use authorization revocation appropriate to protect the public health or safety.”

Chembio recently issued about 280,000 shares of stock that it said at the time were expected to generate $30.8 million.

And it reached a multi-year, non‑exclusive agreement with Thermo Fisher Scientific to distribute its DPP COVID-19 System in the United States.

The company also said it had reached a $4 million deal to provide tests for use in Brazil.

Facing a healthcare crisis, the FDA earlier provided a much easier path to use for tests related to COVID-19 than under ordinary circumstances.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the FDA has balanced the urgent need for access to diagnostic and antibody tests with providing a level of oversight that helps to ensure accurate tests are being deployed,” Dr. Jeff Shuren, director of FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement. “By continuing to monitor authorized tests and emerging scientific evidence, we are able to make changes when appropriate, including taking action when a test’s benefits no longer outweigh its risks.”

Related Story: Long Island Innovators Wield Sharp Minds, Cutting-Edge Tech In War on Coronavirus

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Mad Woman: Austin Williams President Eva LaMere

Austin Williams President Eva LaMere is helping clients adapt to the COVID-19 age.

As president of Austin Williams, an advertising agency in Hauppauge with nearly 50 employees, Eva LaMere has been leading her company and helping others through a huge economic disruption. She talked with the Press about marketing and branding during a pandemic, and how it’s possible to find opportunity in adversity.

How are brands adapting in this environment? The brands that are successful in adapting in this environment are acknowledging that they have a responsibility to help their constituents. Whether it’s reassuring, allaying fears, demonstrating that they are going beyond what they would typically be doing, they’re expressing the heart of their brand, being true to themselves in an authentic manner.

Can you give some examples? BNB, a bank headquartered on Long Island, is a client of ours. They’re very much a community business bank. When the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] funding came out, there was a lot of turmoil. BNB was right there. They’re also our bank and they helped us get funding. We worked with them to put a TV spot together that was all about, “We understand what’s happening to business. Nobody knew this was coming. But we’re here for you.” This was not about, “Come to us, open a checking account.” It was, “We’re the bank for small business and we’re here to help you.”

How do you even make a commercial today? That was a challenge. We produced five TV spots in the past two months for our clients, about pivoting the message. We did it using existing footage from previously shooting commercials. We created opportunities. They were more somber. We used existing stock footage. We did voiceovers remotely. In the case of BNB, we used Kevin O’Connor, BNB’s CEO, as the voiceover. We felt it was important that the message come directly from him. He recorded it on his iPhone, sent it in, and we enhanced it.

How are marketing agencies adapting and helping clients? I think the most important characteristic for a marketing agency is to be a leader for their client. Consumer sentiment is changing by the hour. They want to hear from brands. They want authentic messaging. We have to be able to pivot and lead them in the direction it needs to be. We’ve been able to be nimble in producing materials.

What are some messages clients want to get out? Orlin & Cohen Orthopedic Group wanted to communicate that they were still open for urgent situations. Orthopedic pain doesn’t stop in a crisis. There were people in pain who wanted to figure out where to go. We created materials to get that message out, whether it be digital or print. It’s all about working quickly and being able to pivot. Gone are the days of, “Let’s have this creative brainstorm and figure this out.” It’s about being proactive.

Are clients cutting back? We have not seen that. We’ve seen, perhaps, a shift. As listenership for traditional radio declined, listenership for streaming audio like Pandora and Spotify has increased. Outdoor advertising isn’t as high right now. So we might shift dollars from outdoor advertising to more TV. We didn’t experience clients cutting back, but they looked to us to help them shift their dollars based on changing media behavior of consumers.

Why advertise amid all this disruption? Every study of advertising during a recession demonstrates that market share increased for companies that do. There’s less noise out there and better rates. Even though some businesses have shut down, consumers haven’t shut down. We may be shopping online, not in a store. Brands we have a connection to will survive and thrive.

How are you and Austin Williams modifying how you operate? We were never big fans of work-from-home policy in an agency environment. We believe agencies are successful when they can collaborate and brainstorm. We have seen we can be efficient and creative and work in a very productive manner in a remote situation. We use Zoom for bigger meetings, we use Google hangouts for smaller meetings. 

Of all that has changed, what’s an example of something you see continuing? I think companies across the board are recognizing the importance of technology in their business for communication. We didn’t use Zoom before this. We didn’t have many videoconferences. That’s going to be more prevalent in our business, investing in the technology that allows us to be efficient and allows us to communicate. 

Long Island Private Sector Jobs Fall Nearly 25% Over Year 

Getty Images

Private sector payroll employment on Long Island fell 22.6 percent in April and nearly 25 percent for the year, bringing the region’s employment to the lowest level in more than two decades.

The loss of 253,600 jobs in April, following a 7,800 drop in March, is a decline that Shital Patel, principal economist for Long island for the New York State Department of Labor, called the ”largest in the history of the current series” dating back to 1990.

The number of private sector jobs on Long Island year over year decreased by 281,900, or 24.5 percent, to 866,400 in April. In other words, one in four Long Island jobs were eliminated, at least temporarily.

The number of private sector jobs state-wide declined 21.4 percent or 1.76 million for the month to 6,467,600 in what the New York State Department of Labor called “the state’s largest monthly employment drop on record.”

The nation’s private sector job count declined by 15.2 percent or about 19.6 million for the month.

Declines on Long Island spanned most industries with hospitality hit among the hardest, losing well over half of its jobs.

“The largest employment decline (for the month) occurred in leisure and hospitality, where employment plunged by 70,300, or 62.1 percent,” Patel said.

Clothing and clothing accessories’ job count on Long Island fell by 70.5 percent, bigger on a percentage basis than the hospitality industry, or 11,700 for the year and 10,900 or 68 percent for the month.

Food services and drinking establishments lost 67.6 percent or 68,900 jobs over the year and declined by 65.2 percent or 61,900 for the month.

And arts, entertainment and recreation shed 12,000 jobs or 54.7 percent for the year, and lost 8,400 or 45.9 percent for the month.

Meanwhile, retail overall shed 25.8 percent or 40,400 jobs for the year and 38,000 or 24.6 percent for the month.

Hospitals lost 2.3 percent or 1,600 jobs for the year and 2,700 jobs or 3.8 percent for the month, while nursing home and residential care facilities lost 3,400 jobs or 9.3 percent for the year and 3,100 jobs or 8.5 percent for the month.

Insurance carriers and related businesses fared among the best, shedding 2.3 percent of jobs or 600 for the year, and dropping 700 jobs or by 2.7 percent for the month.

Finance and insurance on Long Island actually gained 0.6 percent or 300 jobs year over year, but fell by 200 or 0.4 percent from March to April.

And financial activities shed 5.5 percent or 3,800 jobs for the year and 2.8 percent or 1,900 for the month.

The federal government on Long Island, meanwhile, added 200 jobs for the year, growing by 1.3 percent, while remaining flat for the month.

The unemployment rate for April was 14.7 percent nationwide, while it reached 14.2 percent in New York City and 14.7 percent in New York State excluding New York City.

That followed a near historic low for unemployment in March of 4.4 percent for the nation, 4.1 percent for New York State and New York City as well as 4.2 percent for New York State excluding New York City.

Unemployment last April was 3.6 percent nationwide, 4.0 percent in New York State, 4.2 percent in New York City and 3.9 percent in New York State, excluding New York City.

Related Story: Restaurant, Hospitality Workers Fall Through Cracks of Coronavirus Safety Net

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CBS News Names Northwell Doc Senior Medical Reporter

Dr. Tara Narual appearing on CBS.

When Dr. Tara Narula isn’t practicing medicine at Northwell Health, she’ll be appearing on TV as CBS Newssenior medical correspondent.

As medicine becomes an even bigger part of media amid the coronavirus crisis, she has played an increasing role in CBS coverage, culminating in her appointment as a major source of information for the network.

After working as a contributor to CBS This Morning, Narula in her new role will report for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms, including CBS This Morning, the CBS Evening News With Norah O’Donnell, CBS Sunday Morning and CBSN, the network’s around-the-clock streaming service.

She frequently reported on health trends, cardiovascular disease, general health and wellness, more recently answering viewer questions on the COVID-19 pandemic.

She is a board-certified cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan and an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

She joined the Lenox Hill Heart and Vascular Institute in 2010, where she provides outpatient consultative care, also serving as associate director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Disease Center at Lenox Hill Hospital.

After graduating from Stanford University with degrees in economics and biology, she founded and became CEO of Sun Juice Inc.

She then obtained a medical degree at USC Keck School of Medicine, completing her residency in internal medicine at Harvard University/Brigham and Women’s Hospital and her fellowship training in cardiology at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Dr. Narula is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and a national spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

Related Story: Michael Dowling of Northwell: Long Island’s Largest Employer

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Restaurant, Hospitality Workers Fall Through Cracks of Coronavirus Safety Net

Not everyone is able to take advantage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and. Economic Security (CARES) Act. (Getty Images)

Long Island is a land that is, in many ways, both rich and poor in restaurants. Whether you want Indian or Italian, Chinese or continental cuisine, there have always been more options than you can count. 

When restaurants closed their seating areas to comply with coronavirus restrictions, although some continued with or added delivery and curbside pickup, it caused more than places to eat to disappear. An industry nearly vanished in an instant. Thousands of jobs disappeared as if a switch had been turned off and a massive industry contracted, with some workers falling through the cracks in the safety net.

“It’s hard to try and define who people are without a safety net right now,” says Paule Pachter, CEO of Long Island Cares, one of two regional food banks along with Island Harvest. “There are people in the restaurant industry who have been laid off. People in the hospitality industry are being laid off.” 

There were 119,400 jobs in leisure and hospitality and 96,200 in food services and drinking places in March on Long Island before the economy closed or collapsed, according to the New York State Department of Labor. Today, though, some of the people who fed the Island are facing their own financial struggles as an already vulnerable industry takes a hit.

Jeffrey Reynolds, CEO of Family and Children’s Association (FCA), a large nonprofit social services organization based in Mineola, says many workers who helped feed the region have found themselves in financial distress with little savings.

“Some of them are not able to do delivery. They were washing dishes or busboys. You saw their bikes locked up outside. Those jobs were eliminated,” Reynolds says. “They don’t necessarily have a license or a car.”

While the federal government has put in place programs and expanded and extended unemployment, some workers were off the books, undocumented, or simply afraid that claiming benefits to which they’re entitled could lead to problems.

“They might think that using services available to them will cause a problem in the process of getting the residency or citizenship,” says Mayra Correa, a family support supervisor at FCA, noting that all immigrants have the right to many services.

The hospitality industry also has been impacted, with the Long Island Marriott closing temporarily, leaving many workers with little savings and hardly any safety net.

“We’re seeing a lot of independent contractors who have no work right now. Construction industry, truckers,” Pachter adds. “They’re self-employed. If you’re running a small business and trying to make ends meet, what are you supposed to do?”

Pachter, for instance, was approached in a parking lot by a trucker looking for work, as a kind of economic epidemic compounded the trucker’s medical one. LI’s and the nation’s growing gig economy, where people go from assignment to assignment, went from promising freedom to bigger problems.

Long Island Cares’ satellites that distribute food have seen a 64 percent increase in people seeking food, including a 30 percent rise in the number using their services for the first time. About 7,400 people in March sought food, including 2,300 who had never turned to them before.

Homeless Long Islanders, often not visible from the streets, in parks, often are out of reach of the system, living in the woods. Long Island Cares delivers food to 400 homeless people a month, but Pachter believes the number is down amid this crisis.

“Many people are scared to death, so they are reaching out to family and social services,” he says. “There are still a lot of people there.”

Some restaurants and businesses may not reopen or may reopen with fewer employees, so some jobs will remain lost.

“I don’t see all of these jobs coming back to life overnight,” Reynolds says. “I would guess that a fair amount of restaurants, stores and businesses that closed will probably stay closed.”

Even when businesses reopen, jobs may not reopen to the same people as the economy rebounds.

“You may see folks who work in these jobs squeezed out by people who worked in retail at stores that didn’t open again,”  Reynolds says.

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Northwell Discharges 10,000th COVID-19 Patient 

Northwell Health photo.

Amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis as officials and individuals grapple with consequences and concerns and push for progress, Northwell Health announced a hopeful number, recently discharging its 10,000th coronavirus patient.

The New Hyde Park-based hospital system discharged the patient with a celebration, amid masked healthcare workers holding signs with rainbows and messages. One sign said “We Luv U” and another said “Here comes the sun” near a picture of the sun and a rainbow sharing one space, as healthcare workers showed appreciation to patients for their struggle even as many others show support for healthcare workers.

“Based on the data we’ve seen, Northwell has treated more COVID-19 patients than any other health system in the nation,” Northwell President CEO Michael Dowling said in a written statement. “Crossing the threshold of 10,000 discharges represents a positive moment in this ongoing fight.”

The ritural was reassuring at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, one of 23 run by Northwell, mixing relief, a sense of rebirth, and a reminder that, amid tragedy and loss, there are triumphs as well. And it was an opportunity to celebrate success and reinvigorate healthcare staff as well as celebrate an individual patient’s journey out of the hospital.

Northwell has cared for nearly 13,000 patients on Long Island, in New York City, and Westchester,  nearly 20 percent of all COVID-19 patients hospitalized in New York State, according to the system.

And it has treated more than 41,000 COVID-19 patients including those seen in emergency departments, 52 Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care centers and physician offices. The healthcare system conducted about 52,000 telehealth visits as the Food and Drug Administration loosened regulations, allowing telemedicine to become a key tool amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Northwell hospitals added nearly 2,000 additional beds in less than two weeks after Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for hospitals to expand, increasing its hospital capacity by about 50 percent. 

The system also oversaw clinical operations at the 1,000-bed field hospital staffed by Army clinicians at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan and the 1,000-bed USNS Comfort Navy hospital ship that docked at Pier 90 in Manhattan.

While this ritual marked a hopeful milestone, the battle and the struggles continue for many patients and healthcare providers.

Northwell Health at the time of the release of the 10,000th patient a few days ago was providing care for 1,203 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, a still large number, but down 65 percent from the peak of 3,425 on April 7.

Northwell Health is the state’s largest health care provider and private employer, with 23 hospitals, nearly 800 outpatient facilities and more than 14,200 affiliated physicians. 

 The system cares for more than 2 million people annually and employs 72,000, including more than 17,000 nurses and 4,500 physicians.

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Long Island Health CEOs Take Pay Cuts To Keep Businesses Afloat

Dr. Raj Raina, president, CEO, and owner of Medical Associates, is among local business leaders taking pay cuts amid the pandemic.

Dr. Raj Raina, president, CEO, and owner of Medical Associates, based in Hauppauge, has been taking care of patients — and his practice. 

A primary care doctor who runs the six-site, multispecialty practice, he has kept Medical Associates’ doctors, nurses, and staff busy treating COVID-19 patients as he puts his own pay on pause. And he’s not alone among doctors in private practice on Long Island who are making sacrifices to keep their doors open.

“I personally have not taken a paycheck for the last couple of paychecks; I’m living off my savings,” Dr. Raina says, noting that his wife, a nurse, is receiving a paycheck for helping to run the COVID-19 test center at Jones Beach State Park. “Once they opened in Jones Beach, she was one of the first to be there. She’s a coleader there, scheduling patients.”

While healthcare providers and hospitals are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, physicians without the resources of hospitals are facing financial and medical challenges, sometimes making financial sacrifices.

“We’re living right now on income we produced in the past, hoping the government gives us some help,” Dr. Raina says, saying that his 79-person practice didn’t get help from the first tranche of funds. “It’s very hard in our industry to train people.”

Many physician practices face financial troubles, according to a survey by the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY). The society says 83 percent of respondents saw patient volume drop by more than half, while 80 percent’s revenue fell by at least half since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The impact has devastated practices and the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers they employ,” says Dr. Art Fougner, president of MSSNY. “Many doctors are working alone or with a skeleton staff.”

More than a quarter had to lay off or furlough more than half of their employees and about two thirds applied for forgivable loans, but most hadn’t received help before the first round of funding closed.

“Our first priority remains to ensure that our patients, through the crisis, can continue to receive the care they need,” Dr. Fougner continues. “But we need to know if our practices can keep their doors open for patients now and in the future.”

Other healthcare providers, also considered essential, are taking steps to keep producing, as CEOs reduce or suspend their compensation or pay employees who are unable to work.

Hauppauge-based American Diagnostic Corporation, which employs 117 on Long Island, makes thermometers, stethoscopes, blood pressure instruments, pulse oximeters used to measure oxygen, and other medical devices.

“Our products are experiencing an unprecedented level of demand unlike anything we’ve experienced in our 35 years,” ADC CEO Marc Blitstein says. “We have shipped nearly 1 million diagnostic instruments to our distributors since mid-February.”

He says about 30 plant workers are on paid leave out of concerns for coronavirus exposure. “We’re utilizing temps where possible and lots of overtime to meet demand,” Blitstein says.

ADC transitioned many workers to paid leave at home, including the elderly and vulnerable, although manufacturing continues, and took measures to make the workplace safer, including spacing, safety equipment, and other steps.

Melville-based Henry Schein CEO Stanley Bergman, who received $14.4 million in compensation last year, including about $1.5 million in salary, isn’t taking a salary from April 6 to June 30. Several other Schein executives are temporarily cutting their salary in half and board members are taking a temporary 25 percent cut.

Other CEOS have been taking cuts or suspending their salary, such as Ron Loveland, president of Summit Safety and Efficiency Solutions in Miller Place. 

“I stopped taking a paycheck to be able to pay my team,” Loveland says.

Ernie Canadeo, CEO of The EGC Group in Melville, temporarily stopped taking a salary once he closed the office and cut the rent that he, as landlord, charges his company. Canadeo, whose firm received a forgivable SBA payroll loan, says the loan is “a tremendous help, while business is down substantially.”

The federal government, meanwhile, made it easier for physicians to do virtual visits, increasing patient and provider safety, but Raina said that typically leads to $50 reimbursements.

“We’re mostly getting patients who have COVID-19 infection,” Dr. Raina says, adding that most are virtual visits. “Our revenue came mostly from stress tests, echocardiograms, and allergy tests.”

Dr. Raina is still getting funds from previous work, since insurer payments typically lag two months behind.

“I don’t want to lose employees,” Dr. Raina says. “They know what they’re doing. I would not want to start again. I’ve tried to keep everyone going. If I go through this year without a loss, I will think it is a good thing for me. I’m not sure that’s going to happen, though.”

Related Story: Some Long Island Companies Thrive in Pandemic Economy

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Bill Would Forgive Student Debt For COVID-19 Healthcare Workers

Physician Aliea Herbert administers a test for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to a patient at Interbay Village, a village of tiny houses managed by the Low Income Housing Institute, at a mobile testing site run by Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, U.S. April 29, 2020. REUTERS/David Ryder

Signs, applause, and donations are among the many thanks healthcare heroes are getting for their response to the coronvirus pandemic, but a bill introduced in Congress this week takes it a step further by proposing healthcare workers have their student debt forgiven.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D- Manhattan) along with nine Democrats as co-sponsors introduced Tuesday the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act. No companion bill has yet been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

“Healthcare workers are worrying about their own health and how it will affect their families,” Maloney said in a statement. “They should not have to worry about their financial security after the crisis has passed.”

The legislation would forgive private and federal student loans taken by physicians, medical residents, and many healthcare professionals caring for COVID-19 patients. The bill also would apply to researchers working to find a cure and vaccine for the disease.

There would be no compensation related to money already paid and debt forgiven could not be considered as income subject to taxes. The federal government would pay back the remainder owed to private lenders, erasing remaining principal and interest.

The bill comes at a time when some medical schools already such as the NYU School of Medicine shifted to tuition-free education out of a concern that high costs keep many would-be doctors from entering the profession.

“New York physicians have been on the frontlines since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, risking their lives,” said Dr. Art Fougner, president of the Westbury-based Medical Society of the State of New York. “We urge the U.S. Congress to incorporate these ideas into its next stimulus package that is currently under development.”

Many healthcare providers accumulate substantial, even massive, debt, which adds financial stress to the pressures of their job.

“Graduate student loan forgiveness would alleviate their financial burdens and acknowledge their sacrifice during this unprecedented time,” said Eileen Sullivan-Marx, dean of the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and President of the American Academy of Nursing.

Nicole Kirchhoffer, a registered nurse, also said on top of concerns over spreading COVID-19 to their families, healthcare providers face financial concerns.

“Putting my life in imminent danger to provide care for those inflicted with COVID-19 while having graduate student loan debt looming over me and my family is psychologically distressing and distracting in a time where I need to be more focused than ever,” she said.

The legislation is endorsed by the American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, American Federation of Teachers, Association of American Medical Colleges.

“Hazard pay is nice, but it pales in comparison to the immense student loan debt accrued by the majority of physicians and nurses in this country,” said Dr. Manuel Penton III, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

The bill would create a commission to review applications from borrowers and determine which frontline applicants are eligible for loan forgiveness. The text of the legislation indicates healthcare workers could qualify regardless of the amount of time spent on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19.

Standards would be set and decisions made based on whether a person “has made significant contributions to the medical response to the qualifying emergency for purposes of determining whether the individual is a frontline healthcare worker.” The bill also establishes an appeal process, so healthcare workers can challenge denials, by providing more information and challenging conclusions.

Frontline healthcare workers, according to the legislation, would include doctors, medical residents, medical interns, nurses, home healthcare workers, mental health professionals, various other healthcare professionals, laboratory workers, and emergency medical service providers.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor, as well as the Committee on Financial Services and Ways and Means Committee.

Cosponsors of the legislation in the House include U.S. Reps. Steven Cohen (D-Tenn.), Jahana Hayes (D-Cocc.), Ilhan Omar (D-Min.), Marc Veasey (D-Tx.), Jesús G. Garía (D-Il.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wa.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY).

Related Story: With Cheers, NY Nurses Greet Reinforcements From Across U.S.

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Peconic Bay Medical Center Expanding Into Former Catholic High School

Peconic Bay Medical Center

In a move that will further expand healthcare on Long Island’s East End, the Peconic Bay Medical Center has acquired the building and campus of a shuttered Catholic high school in Riverhead.

Northwell Health said the Peconic Bay Medical Center Foundation, the fundraising arm of the medical center, acquired the property and buildings of McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School from the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

Northwell Health didn’t give the terms of the transaction for the 24-acre property occupied by Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School, which closed in 2018.

Peconic Bay Medical Center President and CEO Andrew Mitchell said the medical center and foundation look forward to working with the “Town of Riverhead to develop future plans recognizing the growing and diverse health care needs of the East End.”

Emilie Roy Corey, chair of the foundation’s Board, said the center is “planning for the continuation of service to the community with much needed expanded healthcare services.”

The Peconic Bay Medical Center already has been expanding, recently opening the Corey Critical Care Pavilion and Kanas Regional Heart Center, seeking to bolster serves on Long Island’s East End.

Founded in 1951 as Central Suffolk Hospital, Peconic Bay Medical Center is a 182-bed hospital in Riverhead with about 1,500 employees and a wide range of services, including a cardiac catherization laboratory, a Level III trauma center and a New York State-designated stroke center.

The medical center, which in 2016 became a part of Northwell Health, also operates a 60-bed skilled nursing and rehabilitation center, a home health agency and ambulatory, and urgent care facilities in Manorville.

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