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Health Care Heroes Carry Long Islanders Through Covid-19 Pandemic

healthcare heroes

As Covid-positive patients stream steadily into hospitals, a pandemic weary Long Island can count on its own health care heroes who put their own safety aside to carry them through. Some stand out as winners of the 2021 Bethpage Best of Long Island contest.

The winners include Medford Volunteer Ambulance, which won the title of Best Medical Transportation Company on Long Island, and Stony Brook University Hospital, which won the title of Best Maternity Ward on Long Island.

Each of these health organizations rose to the top in their response to Covid from the onset and their medical and supportive personnel displayed their outstanding skills, fortitude, and temperament to save and impact lives. So, what defines a health care hero? Read on to see what these outstanding institutions and their top-notch staff have in common.

Health care heroes agree that fighting Covid-19 requires a teamwork approach not only for the health of their patients but to support one another emotionally.

BEST MATERNITY WARD

Stony Brook University Hospital Preserves Joy And Wonderment of Childbirth

Expectant mothers arrive at Stony Brook University Hospital maternity ward surrounded by a caring and highly skilled staff of health care professionals who feel uniquely privileged to experience the miracle of childbirth with families.

The hospital has all private rooms and mothers and babies remain together as much as possible. Patients arriving at the hospital are tested for Covid-19. Covid-19 positive patients are cared for in negative pressure rooms in labor and delivery and staff closely monitor for signs and symptoms.

Shavon Bailey, RN. Photo Credit: Stony Brook University Hospital

However, there were a few severe cases where the patients required a higher level of care in other areas of the hospital. 

RN Ashley Schuette works in antepartum, labor and delivery, newborn and postpartum at Stony Brook Hospital. She recently talked about the benefits of expectant moms being able to have the company of a support person to stay with them throughout their birth experience, along with a doula if they want, for labor and delivery.

“Stony Brook did a great job because the moms were allowed to designate someone to come with them to the hospital and stay the entire time. We were great to be able to do that for our patients,” said Schuette in a phone interview.

Over the past year, some patients had Covid-19 but were asymptomatic and others were scared to get sick or have their babies get sick, she related.

“It’s different than before because you never know who is sick so you want to be careful around everyone. In the beginning, we didn’t know how it was affecting moms and babies and we could only go by what we were hearing from the CDC. It was scary for the patients. A new mom just wants to protect her baby and is nervous something will happen to their baby but they know we are doing our best.” 

Nicole Tahlor and Brian Tahlor with their newborn daughter Briella Nicole, Stony Brook University Hospital’s first baby of 2021. Photo Credit: Stony Brook University Hospital

To assuage concerns among the expectant mothers she tries to educate them with information available from the CDC and hospital protocol to keep them safe.

According to Schuette, apart from the safety measures and donning the PPE for deliveries new moms enjoy the same joyous experience at Stonybrook.

She feels privileged to do the kind of work she does. “It’s one of the most rewarding things. You get to be a part of such an instant moment in people’s lives. You are there the first time they get to hear their baby cry. It’s incredible. Some [women] don’t think they can get through [labor] and they do.”

Shavon Bailey is also a nurse in antepartum, labor and delivery, newborn nurse, and postpartum. She talked about helping the mothers feel safe both before and during their stay at the hospital.

“Some are “nervous” about getting sick. We do our best from answering calls ahead of time and comfort them when they walk in the door.  We listen to their concerns and answer questions, letting them know we are doing our best. We’re all good at comforting this way because this is our specialty.”

Bailey was one of the nurses at the hospital’s first Covid -19 C-section of a mom who was in the ICU, she related. “The mom was well and the baby was well and didn’t have Covid. We had great leaders that came up with the procedures and we practiced. It looked different with all the PPE and safety but it went very well.”

Ashley Schuette, RN in personal protective equipment. Photo Credit: Stony Brook University Hospital

Labor and delivery nurse Elena Lecrichia recently gained a better understanding of what it is like to deliver a baby in a pandemic. She gave birth at Stony Brook in May. “My coworkers are capable of empathy and it gave me a personal edge to the experience,” she recounted.

She was seven months pregnant when news of Covid-19 hit.

In the beginning, she said there was general fear among herself and co-workers when like the rest of the world news of Covid-19 and how contagious it was began coming.

“It started off slow. There definitely was some fear. We’d hear about it a little bit then there were more and more patients coming in with Covid and you knew this is serious. This is contagious and no one wanted to bring that home to their family,” she recounted.

Lecrichia back then being pregnant added some concern for her at work. “We didn’t know if it would transmit to the baby. The fear was the unknown. It was hard,” Lecrichia said.

But she pushed through, and in fact, worked up until the day before her baby was born. Her coworkers were supportive. “We always wore the PPE and I always felt safe.  And they took the assignments that were riskier, the patients with Covid.”

Nicole Tahlor’s newborn daughter Briella Nicole born on New Year’s Day at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo Credit: Stony Brook University Hospital

She agrees the best way to ease any concerns for pregnant women arriving to have their babies is through education and communication. “We work hard to normalize the process.  Even though it’s during a pandemic and there’s more PPE for you it’s still going to be a loving experience,” said Lecrichia.

The new moms she’s seen coming through the doors are resilient. “They are amazing and can adapt to anything.  I’m really impressed with our community of moms. Even though the world may look a little chaotic, it’s still a time to celebrate happy moments.”

BEST MEDICAL TRANSPORTATION COMPANY

Medford Volunteer Ambulance Brings Pre-Hospital Care, Comfort To Patients In Pandemic 

Medford Volunteer Ambulance EMTs rely on teamwork and each other to answer the public’s call in the crisis – bringing emergency care and comfort in pre-hospital transport – making sure each patient has the best chance for recovery.  

Volunteer EMT Justin Zimmerman credits a “close-knit” group among the volunteers who get each other through many of the unique and often difficult challenges in Covid-19 like when patients are critical and don’t survive and feeling worried about their own safety.

“In the beginning, I was trying to manage my time here and being around my family members. We all have older family members and people who are immune-compromised. It was about keeping them safe. A lot of us have lost family members to Covid,” he said in an interview. 

EMTs Brianna Manganaro, Mike Hannon and Justin Zimmerman. Photo Credit: Medford Volunteer Ambulance

The EMTs in the company are friends and work together on calls so share this observation, according to Zimmerman.

“Covid is a scary thing but we have to put our fears aside. This is what we signed up to do and have to help the community we said we would.” 

Zimmerman also feels the mass media attention on healthcare workers during this pandemic can sometimes confuse people about the work of EMTs.

“The public is seeing what we do. Yes, we’re dealing with Covid but the emergencies are the same as EMTs do on a daily basis, the same that have been handled as long as there have been medical professionals,” he said. Emergency calls to administer lifesaving treatments to people dying from cardiac arrest is a common type of case, especially in Medford where there are several nursing homes nearby. 

“A lot of times it happens because of the condition of their medical health. If we pull up the medical history they might have had Covid, and it was six months ago so the information is skewed toward that issue. It’s really hard to determine why that individual might have died,” he explained. Deaths and causes of death are handled by medical examiners not EMTs.

“We do get a lot of nursing home calls now like we always have. It’s relatively the same in terms of the patients but the difference is the facilities are calling us more and more, wanting us to take them to the hospital for treatment they can’t provide.” 

The emphasis on the emergency calls is helping the patient and family be calm, Zimmerman said.

“We try to reassure them. A lot of times we get to the houses and they don’t want to go to the hospital. They are afraid. We know it’s a scary situation and there are bad outcomes so they need reassurance. The families are stressed because their family member has been sick and has a lot of issues. Now with Covid being in the mix, the families are freaking out. They don’t know how safe the hospitals are. They worry will the family member get Covid? A lot of the public is in the dark. To have the unknown is what really scares them.”

The EMTs follow New York State guidelines for transporting Covid-19 patients, explained First Assistant Chief John Skippon.

“We have a protocol to ask certain questions to see if a patient meets the criteria to go to the hospital that includes things like if they need oxygen and other emergency care. When a patient is Covid-19 positive the volunteers going on the call have to wear jumpsuits along with the N95 mask and goggles and one EMT goes into the home to minimize the risk to others unless it is an emergency, then all go in,” he said. The team effort begins before the call when “They help each other get into their jumpsuits.”

EMT Brianna Manganaro said 2020 was “rough.” Nursing school. “At the hospital, they get intubated and die and I also see others get extubated and go home,” she related.

As an EMT it helps to have friends on calls, she continued.

“At first we were uneasy. We were trying to comfort the patients. We have cried, also happy tears. You see [patients] at their worst. Justin [Zimmerman], Mike, and I are best friends,” Manganaro related. 

EMT Mike Hannon responding to a house call. Photo Credit: Medford Volunteer Ambulance.

Mike Hannan is a volunteer EMT in Medford and a New York City firefighter and used to transport dying patients. He said the Medford crew go out to the nursing homes four or five times a day some days.

“There was a little bit of fear at the beginning of Covid from going into people’s houses. Halfway through I got used to it,” he said.

“I’ve been exposed to a lot of more scary and dangerous situations than having to deal with Covid. In the beginning, we didn’t know enough about it and would worry about being exposed,’ he said. Hannan wound up getting the virus and was sick with all the symptoms, he said. Sadly, his father too contracted Covid and had to be put on a ventilator and died in January.

“Everybody is scared when they first contract [Covid-19]. In Suffolk County, we have a protocol in place for the pandemic to take them to the hospital. If we transport someone it’s because their vital signs are not good. You can see the fear in their eyes. I feel for the patients. I can understand where they’re coming from. There were a couple of times I was thinking this is not good.”

The more experience EMTs have they get used to it. I’ve been an EMT for 12 years. I feel bad for the family members of the patients for what they have to deal with. But I’ve become callous because of so many cardiac arrest calls, he said.

Teamwork is the most important part of the emergency calls, Manganaro explained.

“We know what to do next because we all know each other. You already know it can be a sad outcome. You have to push through anyway. You see negative outcomes more than positive,” Manganaro had Covid with few symptoms. Her grandmother died from Covid-19.

“You treat every patient like it’s your own family member,” she said. 

For more coronavirus coverage, visit longislandpress.com/coronavirus.

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Shop Local, Gift Local This Holiday Season

Shoppers say they spend an average of $942 on Christmas gifts this year, up from $885 at this time last year, according to a Gallup poll.

Spending it locally will boost the economy on Long Island, which is brimming with independent businesses that produce everything from homemade goat soap to world-class Italian sausage.

Maybe your special someone is a big supporter of artisanal makers or is your hometown’s biggest cheerleader. Here’s a roundup of gift ideas made for and by Long Islanders.

locaLI bred

The Long Island Snack Gift Box by localibred.

This online marketplace sells Long Island-made products, both edible and nonedible, in curated gift boxes. The company was founded to highlight local artisans and makers, according to co-owner Theresa Pinelli, who co-founded localLI (pronounced “locally”) with Halle Geller last year. Each of the boxed gifts supports at least 10 businesses on LI. 

“People love the idea of supporting local and sometimes it is difficult to find these artisans who may be only selling at a farmer’s market or online or Etsy,” says Pinelli. “This brings all these people together in one place so people can find them.” 

Among a host of gift ideas, you can select The Long Island Snack Gift Box. The rich assortment includes Caramel Popcorn from Bon Bons Chocolatier in Huntington, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies from Tate’s Bakeshop in Southampton, Hot & Sweet Nuts from Little Bird Kitchen in Plainview, North Fork Potato Chips from Mattituck, Dried Apple Slices from from the Milk Pail in Water Mill, Almond Brittle from A Little Brittle Heaven in Amityville, Beef Jerky and Teriyaki Beef Jerky in Greenport, a mini cookie box from Vienna Cookie Company in Baldwin, and more. localibred.com Gift boxes are $86-$164.

Harbor Cheese and Provisions

Harbor Cheese and Provisions.

This specialty cheese shop showcases domestic and imported artisanal cheese. Aged Gouda, Dutch Knuckle, Fromage Frais, Goat Feta and Lake Effect Cheddar are on a short list of cheeses available online. The Locust Valley shop sells at farmer’s markets and pop-up events and offers mozzarella cheesemaking classes too. Harborcheese.com Classes $55. Cheese $6-$20. 

Ceriello

Ceriello Fine Foods Italian Antipasto Gift Basket.

The Italian specialty store ships locally made dry-cured salami, soppressata, pancetta, and fresh sausage made in the store, among other items. The sausage flavors are sweet, hot, fennel, romano cheese and parsley, broccoli rabe and fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil and garlic, and chicken. Items are shipped overnight in airtight cooler boxes. You can also order homemade pasta sauces, dressings, marinade, and dry-aged beef. Call 516-747-0277 or visit ceriellofinefoods.com for prices and ordering. 541 Willis Ave., Williston Park.

Aldo’s Coffee Company

Aldo’s Coffee Company’s Gutemala offering.

Aldo Maiorana opened his popular European-style cafe in 1987 where coffee is roasted and biscotti are baked on the premises. Luckily, these are both available online and will delight any coffee lover who will not stand for anything less than extraordinary when it’s time to indulge. 103-105 Front Street, Greenport, aldos.com. Biscotti $10-$18. Coffee $17-$18. 

Modern Primal Soap Co.

Modern Primal Soap Company’s gift box.

Treat anyone sweet to an assortment of natural, artisan goat milk and vegan products. “Flavors” here sound tempting. There are Honeysuckle & Cream and French Press, which is made with organic coffee and vanilla and Köl, an organic vegan soap that has activated charcoal and lavender. Online products include Lavender Rose Bath Salts among others. The soap bars are hand-poured, hand-cut, and hand-wrapped at this woman-owned business. 124 Mount Sinai Coram Rd., Coram. Modernprimalsoapco.com $8-$80.

4 Girlz Sweets

4 Girlz Sweets winter-themed basket,

If your recipient swoons over chocolate, they’ll be over the moon when they open a package with custom-made chocolate molded lollipops or chocolate-covered strawberries. Invent your own idea or select existing themes like winter snowmen with top hats, or snowflake medallions. The company can custom-make characters and designs on any lollipops. You can order them wrapped and arranged in a pretty box or vase. North Bellport. Facebook.com/4girlzsweets/ Lollipops by the piece $1-$2.50; platters $20 and up.

Bond No. 9 New York

Bond No. 9 New York

This fragrance seller is the only exception here because it is not based on the island, nor are the perfumes made here. It made the gift list for the company’s exquisitely bottled perfumes that pay homage to some of our iconic places.

The scents include Jones Beach, described on Bond No. 9 New York’s website as “sand, surf, sunshine. Bare skin and bare feet. Carefree weekends. Concerts by the water. Real people, Real moments, Real New York. Retro-Chic scent with a fresh orange flower note.” Choices include Fire Island, Hamptons, Sag Harbor, and Shelter Island. Bondno9.com $280-$350.

North Fork Chocolate Company

North Fork Chocolate’s ‘Tis The Season basket.

Handcrafted in small batches and made daily, you can shop in the store or online for handcrafted artisanal bonbons, truffles, exotic barks, and bars. The company has a signature blend of Belgian chocolate that surrounds centers handcrafted from local farm and purveyor products. In-store you will find a large selection of locally handcrafted gifts and epicurean delights. 740 Main Rd, Aquebogue, Shop.northforkchocolate.com $5-$49.

Miss Amy’s Preserves

Miss Amy’s Berries From Heaven.

Fresh fruit preserves and honey made from local bee pollen is supposed to reduce your allergy symptoms and you can get it here, along with fresh fruit preserves, tapenades, mustard, and hot pepper spread, among homemade delights. Blue Point, missamy.com. $8-$28

Get Wine Online

Pindar’s Merlot.

The wine cases from here gush vintage pride. You have nearly 50 labels to choose from among some of Long Island’s boutique wines. The recipient might recall taking a tasting tour here or become a new fan of the quarter-century-old thriving winemaking industry. The island’s maritime climate, geography, and ideal soil characteristics produce exceptional wines. Getwineonline.com $116-$180.

Bean & Bagel Café

Bean and Bagel Cafe has a bagel subscription gift package.

The company’s traditional kettle-boiled, stone-baked bagels are shipped worldwide. Why not send real New York bagels to friends and family? These are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  Each bagel is a full 5.5 ounces and individually vacuum sealed for peak freshness before being carefully packed and shipped. 4426 Middle Country Road, Calverton, Beanandbagelcafe.com. Dozen $32.99.

Why Funerals Cost More On Long Island

(Getty Images)

It should come as no surprise that not only do Long Islanders contend with a high cost of living, but dying here also comes with a lofty price tag.

Funerals typically cost about $9,744 in Nassau and Suffolk counties, which is 31 to 67 percent higher than the average cost in 100 large metro areas nationwide, according to a recent New York Post analysis of funeral cost data compiled by funeralocity.com

“One of the most expensive places to live is Nassau and Suffolk counties so, of course, that trickles down to every business, not just the funeral business,” says John Vigliante, a fourth-generation funeral director and owner of Branch Funeral Homes in Smithtown and Miller Place. “You can do a full-service funeral on Long Island with the casket and everything for $7,500. The price ranges from $7,500 to $15,000.”

That’s opposed to funerals reportedly costing between $2,124 to $7,422 elsewhere in the United States.

Michael Lanotte, the executive director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association, notes that funeral homes often disclose pricing on their websites.

“We have a public awareness campaign called Good at Goodbyes and a website with information for planning funerals,” he says. “We try to ensure that our funeral directors work with consumers.”

As for the local funerals, the high costs are due to a familiar expense: taxes.

“You have to look at the daily cost of running a funeral home,” says Stephen Graziano, manager at Krauss Funeral Home in Franklin Square. “We always try to keep our funeral costs as low as possible.”

Large Long Island funeral homes on big lots can pay from $60,000 to $100,000 a year in real estate taxes, according to Graziano. He also said staff members at Krauss are paid well enough to live here and get medical benefits and pensions.

And while his business works with everyone’s budget, including having a widely priced range of casket choices, there are costs out of their control, such as the cemetery, where grave openings can run $2,200 and up. They are most expensive on Saturdays.

When her husband died unexpectedly in 2017, Wantagh resident Stephanie Anderson had the difficult task of planning his funeral, which cost $12,000.

“I didn’t want him displayed in a funeral home,” Anderson  says. “My Greek church laid him out open casket on the altar for two hours prior to the funeral. My husband is buried at Calverton because he’s a Vietnam veteran, otherwise I would have had that expense as well. So my husband’s $12,000 funeral did not include funeral home services or burial.”

Vigliante says prices vary with options. 

“Some people want to be very elaborate and some want to be basic, and some want to be in the middle,” he says.

He also points to the cost of opening graves for a casket. The burial of ashes cost much less, noting the range is from $2,800 to $3,000. 

“Cemeteries give me the prices every year and they go up eight to 10 percent,” he says. “The cremation rate on Long Island is about 50 percent,” and a savings in terms of funeral costs. 

Families can also cut costs by driving themselves to funerals instead of hiring limousines that can cost around $500 each. The average family hires three, Vigliante says.

But some cost-cutting measures are better than others. Graziano says families sometimes order caskets online rather than from the funeral home.

“I’ve had some caskets come in here, bought online from third-party vendors, [that were] in no condition for burial,” he says.