Brooklyn Hospital Center’s new ER, cancer center a big hit

October 7, 2022 Mary Frost
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DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN – When you see a podium and lots of balloons it may not always be a momentous event. But last week, as inclement weather drove celebrants inside The Brooklyn Hospital Center for a ribbon-cutting, the scaled-down ceremony represented something profound: a transformative change upping the game of medical service to Downtown and surrounding communities.

Beyond the basic news, and even the PR and photo coverage of ribbon cuttings, is an inspirational story of dedication to Brooklyn. The hospital’s new multi-million-dollar Emergency Department and The Brooklyn Cancer Center (a partnership with New York Cancer & Blood Specialists) are a big deal for Brooklyn.

This is because they provide residents of Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene with access to a previously unavailable level of emergency and cancer care.

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The renovated ED includes new triage, exam and treatment rooms and an enlarged waiting room, along with new bariatric, psychiatric and cardiac treatment facilities. The new cancer center brings access to cutting-edge oncology care, including clinical trial research.

New entrance to ED honoring the late Dr. Frank Coleman Hamm, a gift from his son and daughter-in-law Charles and Irene Hamm. Photo courtesy of The Brooklyn Hospital Center

ED is the entry point for most patients

“The renovations began three years ago and were completed this summer,” said Gary Terrinoni, president and CEO of TBHC. The ED “functions better and is more patient-friendly.”

“The Emergency Department is the entry point for 80 percent of our patients that we see as in-patients, and it’s the entry point for most of the community patients,” said Dr. Harry Dym, chair of Dentistry and Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery at TBHC. “So having a high-quality ED that has the latest equipment and is comfortable is good for the community.”

To help fund the new ED, Charles and Irene Hamm gave a generous gift to TBHC in honor of Charles’ late father, Dr. Frank Coleman Hamm, a former TBHC Chair of Urology. “My father spent 30 years practicing humanity as well as medicine,” Charles Hamm said. The new Emergency Room entrance bears Dr. Hamm’s name.

Cancer center ‘huge for us’

Terrinoni called New York Cancer & Blood Specialists one of the “premier cancer service providers” not only in New York but in the country.

“So, the partnership elevates The Brooklyn Hospital Center’s game — it elevates everybody’s game. It just changes the game of cancer in this community,” he said.

“This is huge for us,” said Dr. Maxim Shulimovich, chief of Hematology/Oncology at The Brooklyn Cancer Center. “Besides providing all that the modern world has to offer — the chemotherapy, the immunotherapy, the targeted therapy — the ability to provide a high level of cancer care right here, where patients have access to their families and their support group, is a big deal.”

Dr. Asha Nayak, a TBHC hematologist/oncologist for 40 years (now retired) gave a significant gift to support the new cancer center’s infusion suite, which is named in her honor.

“Brooklyn Hospital is my family. It has always been good to me and I’ve been happy here,” she said. “This unit is dedicated to my patients.”

From left: Board Trustee Earl Weiner, Board Chair Lizanne Fontaine, Board Trustee and Event Chair Shri Madhusudhan, Charles Hamm, TBHC President and CEO Gary Terrinoni, and Irene Hamm, as they cut the ribbon on the Emergency Room Renovation. Photo courtesy of The Brooklyn Hospital Center

Equity and accessibility

“We are like Star Trek: we go to places where no one else goes,” said Dr. Jeff Vacirca, chair and CEO of New York Cancer & Blood Specialists. “If you look at healthcare disparities in New York, there’s one common denominator. The largest systems don’t go there. They don’t want the payer-mix, they don’t want to deal with the uninsured.”

“No one is going to get turned away” from the cancer center, Vacirca said. “The patients here get the same exact regiments and protocol as my patients on the Upper East Side, on the Gold Coast of Long Island or in Patchogue.”

The organization can afford to do this because, he said, “We don’t have a hospital system that owns us. The Northwell’s and the NYU’s get paid four times what we get paid to do the same exact thing. But we don’t have a huge bureaucracy to make decisions. We are able to do things that are cost-effective.”

Five public housing projects nearby

“The fact that this is located so close to public housing, where we have a majority of Black residents and residents of color, is what makes this location so incredibly important,” said Councilmember Crystal Hudson, who represents the district. “Nationwide, Blacks have the highest mortality rate of any racial and ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers.”

“Right across the street from us we have Whitman Houses and Ingersoll Houses; a few blocks down we have Farragut Houses and a few blocks up the street we have Lafayette Gardens. And slightly over yonder we have Atlantic Terminal,” Hudson said. “To have a place like this in the center of the community really means so very much.”

Kept the ER open during construction

“The opening of the emergency room represents a promise kept to the community and one that we have fulfilled,” said Board Chair Lizanne Fontaine. “And the cancer facility is truly determinative that you don’t have to go over the bridge to get excellent wraparound all-in-one care for cancer and related diagnosis. So, we are very proud to have this for the community.”

She added, “One of the amazing things was we kept the emergency room open during the renovation, over a three-year-stretch, which was enormously challenging. But we didn’t feel like we had the option in serving the community to close it down. So, the community was patient with us and we hope we rewarded their patience by opening the new, truly beautiful facility.”

“What is so exciting is that Brooklyn Hospital Center is making such great strides in bringing world-class services to the community of Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene,” said Regina Myer, President of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “We all know everyone needs health services, and they’re right here and accessible.

Relationship with Catsimatidis’ Big Apple Group

The Emergency Department is located at the hospital, at 121 DeKalb Ave. The Brooklyn Cancer Center is located at 86 Fleet Pl. 

The hospital rented the space at 86 Fleet Pl. from John Catsimatidis, chair and CEO of Red Apple Group. In addition to the current facility, the hospital plans a joint venture imaging center in the same building at 81 Fleet Pl., Terrinoni said.

“It’s a tremendous improvement. I wonder if we can get an interest in the property?” he joked with John Catsimatidis, Jr., executive VP and CIO of Red Apple Group, who was in attendance at the ribbon cutting.

The hospital also took over the site of the former Red Apple Supermarket at 218 Myrtle Ave. (also owned by Catsimatidis) in May, 2021, and converted it to a “brand new state-of-the-art 25-bay dialysis center,” Terrinoni noted.

“Gary [Terrinoni] has truly been a visionary in instituting this expansion for Brooklyn Hospital. It’s one of the best institutions and we couldn’t be happier to continue to partner with them,” Catsimatidis said. “We are hoping that we are going to have to build even more to accommodate the growth.”

New York City’s oldest hospital, with a unique spirit

The story of The Brooklyn Hospital Center is in many ways the story of Brooklyn. Founded in 1845, the institution is the oldest hospital in all of New York City. It sits right next to Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn’s first park. The hospital’s nursing school trained Walt Whitman when the poet (and onetime editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle) volunteered to serve in the medical corps of the Union Army.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, was born at TBHC. In a letter to the hospital celebrating its 175th anniversary in 2020, Fauci said he was “filled with pride” reading the New York Times’ coverage of the hospital team’s “fearless dedication to the people of Brooklyn” during the COVID-19 crisis.  “TBHC has persevered through numerous wars, the AIDS crisis, 9/11 and now the COVID-19 pandemic,” he wrote. 

“Through countless births, many medical challenges, and countless acts of healing, TBHC has embedded itself in the fabric of Brooklyn. In caring for the underserved, it has shaped the borough we know today,” Fauci added. 

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