Hospital execs upbeat about future of Heights and Hill healthcare

December 12, 2012 By Trudy Whitman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Healthcare in Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights: Just how good is it, particularly as it pertains to the very young and the elderly?  

It’s gotten a lot better and continues to improve, according to two knowledgeable speakers who headlined the Cobble Hill Association’s Fall General Meeting on Dec. 10 at the University Hospital of Brooklyn at Long Island College Hospital.  

The meeting featured addresses by Tony Lewis, president and CEO of the Cobble Hill Health Center, a nursing home and rehabilitation center on Henry Street; and Dr. Stanley Fisher, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics for all SUNY Downstate healthcare facilities.

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Lewis moved to New York from London in 1991 with the mission of setting up an Alzheimer’s program at the Cobble Hill Health Center, an initiative that has gained status as a model daytime care program for those suffering from the disease.  Recently, Lewis replaced Olga Lipchitz as CEO.

Things have certainly improved at the center, remarked Lewis. In the 1970s, the nursing home was one of a number investigated for fraud and patient abuse.  

An exterior renovation followed the institution’s financial rescue, followed by a $45 million interior renovation aided by a state HEAL grant.  This remodeling eliminated bedrooms and bathrooms that were not wheelchair-accessible, and the number of beds was reduced from more than 500 beds to 364.

The changes have “transformed people’s lives,” Lewis maintained.

Lewis said that hand in hand with the Obama reelection comes a “realization that we will now see some consistency.”  There will be an inevitable shift in reimbursement procedures and cuts to entitlement programs, he said, many ways this can be a good thing for patient care.

“Change,’ he said, “will force entities to speak with each other.”  Now, unfortunately, as patients move from hospital to nursing home to homecare, it is all too easy for them to fall through the gaps.

Because readmission rates must be reduced and because more and more patients return home after a nursing home stay — rather than living out the rest of their lives in the facility — the Cobble Hill Health Center realizes the significance of seamless transition, Lewis noted.  As such, it is developing a homecare system with Aetna Better Health to help meet individual patient needs.

Fisher called LICH an “unfortunate victim of Continuum Health Partners,” the health network to which LICH belonged before it affiliated with SUNY Downstate. Among other things, Continuum had threatened to close the Pediatrics Department. The new partners, said Fisher, were repairing the damage done and moving forward to provide more specialists for the neighborhood.

Among the new pediatric offerings will be dialysis for children with kidney disease and the services of six pediatric cancer specialists from Memorial Sloan Kettering, so that Brooklyn’s young cancer patients can be treated in their own neighborhood.

Asked by community activist Judi Francis, a mother of two, why local pediatricians rarely send their patients to LICH for hospitalization or treatments, “Dr. Fisher responded, “We have more work to do.”

Joanne Nicholas, a community resident, compared LICH’s appearance unfavorably to that of Manhattan hospitals equipped with bright playrooms and other perks.  Dr. Fisher promised that LICH would soon hire a child-life specialist to assist with planned improvements, “because everyone knows that a nice, clean appearance is important.”  

“Dr. Williams [John F. Williams, M.D., president of Downstate Medical Center] understands this.  He has put the broom to the place,” he added.
In keeping with the medical theme of the evening, Dr. Edna A. Pytlak, a long-time neighborhood pediatrician, was given the 2012 Cobble Hill Hero Award.  JoAnn Kamuf Ward, a former patient whose daughter is now cared for by Dr. Pytlak, did the honors.  Ward said that one of Pytlak’s great gifts is the ability to maintain the manner and accessibility of a small-town physician in a big-city environment.

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