By Janine Crowley Haynes
Like most, I drive past our community hospital, Northern Westchester Hospital (NWH), to and from errands without giving much thought as to the goings on. Honestly, I didn’t want to know because that would mean I was either a patient or visiting a loved one. The truth is, real life finds us in the predicament of needing hospital care. Whether it’s for the happy event of the birth of a child or a visit to the ER or for surgery–we, as a community, rely on our hospital to be there in times of need.
At first, I planned on writing this article from the detached, sterile perspective of just reporting the facts without injecting opinion, but after a personal tour of the hospital and meeting with the CEO, several physicians/surgeons, directors, and a volunteer, I decided there is really no way I can write this from a standpoint devoid of emotion, mainly due to my encounter with everyone I had the privilege to meet.
With each interview, I was met with one dynamic personality after another–enthusiastic fervor equally blended with a compassionate demeanor.
Aside from sharing a sense of pride in what they do, their affiliation and, dare I say, love of NWH is fierce and territorial. I collectively heard, “This is not just where we work; This is our hospital; This is where we come to have our children; This is where we come when we’re sick.”
Those sentiments should come as no surprise given that approximately 50 doctors affiliated with NWH reside in Chappaqua alone. These extraordinary people are not only our doctors, directors, and volunteers, but they are our neighbors who inherently care about the health and wellbeing of our surrounding communities as a whole. And they put their money where their mouth is. “The financial participation by our physicians is outstanding. In the last major campaign to raise money to build a new Surgical Services Suite, of the over $15 million raised, physicians donated over $2 million,” says NWH Foundation President Keeva Young-Wright.
The philanthropic support of the community plays a vital role in making NWH stand out from other hospitals. Over $100 million has been raised from private donors and organizations since before its inception in 1916. In fact, it was fundraising that enabled the founders to build the first hospital. “Northern Westchester Hospital is our hospital…It behooves all of us to invest in something so important in our lives,” says Chappaqua resident Dr. Michael Rosenberg, Chief of Plastic Surgery, Vice President for Physician Surgical Services and Associate Medical Director at NWH.
Northern Westchester Hospital Celebrates its Centennial
This year marks NWH’s 100th anniversary. Back in 1916, it started out as a 15-bed hospital in Mt. Kisco. It was the mission of community leaders to provide quality healthcare to residents closer to home rather than having to make the long trip into New York City. Today, NWH continues the mission of providing quality care close to home. The hospital has changed and evolved with the times. Its list of awards and accreditations is lengthy and impressive.
Approximately 700 high-caliber physicians are affiliated with NWH–a large majority from Mount Kisco Medical Group/CareMount Medical and Westchester Health. Along with an award-winning nursing staff, NWH provides exceptional patient-centered care in a modernized facility with state-of-the-art technology, including robotic-assisted surgery. A ribbon cutting ceremony took place last March, opening the doors to the newly constructed 25,000 square-foot Surgical Services Suite.
The design concept is one of openness and light with soothing colors. Wider hallways are flooded with natural light leading up to the pre/post-op recovery area with 14 roomy recovery bays designed with comfort and privacy in mind for patients and family members. There are six new operating rooms–each a generous 700 square feet. Much of the state-of-the-art equipment suspends from the ceilings, allowing staff to move more freely. The second phase of construction will include the renovation of the existing operating rooms and additional recovery bays. “With our highly accomplished physicians, award-winning staff, and cutting-edge technology and equipment, you don’t have to go into Manhattan. It’s all right here,” says President and CEO Joel Seligman. “NWH is not a teaching hospital,” Seligman notes. “Although teaching hospitals are necessary, here at NWH, there are clear advantages for the patient and family–they get to see the doctors who are actually treating them,” says Seligman.
Connected to the Community & Moving Forward
In addition to NWH’s continual commitment to quality care, its focus is on bringing the important message of prevention and being proactive when it comes to our health. “We want to promote a healthier lifestyle, get parents involved, schools involved,” says Seligman. “NWH is passionate about the health and wellness of those in the surrounding communities, and we’re bringing programs to inspire people to consider change,” says Maria Simonetti, Director of Community Health & Outreach.
One such preventative measure is to gauge current health trends in the community and figure out different ways to address them. “The current needs have to do with the aging population. People are living longer with one or more chronic diseases,” says Seligman. “They are taking many medications and being treated by several doctors….There needs to be more communication for overall care and safety.”
Other health trends relate to younger people with substance abuse, stress, and depression.
Northern Westchester Hospital is now part of Northwell Health, one of 21 hospitals affiliated with North Shore-LIJ Health System. “Today, it’s impossible to be a community hospital on your own,” says Seligman. “We took great care and consideration in aligning with a health system that better serves our community helping to reduce costs while continuing to improve the overall quality of care,” adds Seligman.
In Good Hands
As you’ll see from the impressive profiles of just a few of the professional dynamos at NWH, I feel incredibly lucky to have been given this assignment. Now when I drive past the hospital, I have an in-depth understanding of the amazing things NWH is doing for its patients and the community as a whole. In some ways, our hospital is a reflection of the community it serves, and I’m happy to report NWH is alive, well, and thriving.
Janine Crowley Haynes, Chappaqua resident, freelance writer, and author of My Kind of Crazy: Living in a Bipolar World
Northern Westchester Hospital has earned a number of awards and accreditations for its services. A few of these awards can be found at the conclusion of this story at theinsidepress.com.
In the spirit of Mother’s Day, Inside Chappaqua & Inside Armonk Magazines wanted to focus on women’s health in particular and highlight some of the doctors, directors, and volunteers at Northern Westchester Hospital.
Iris Wertheim, M.D.
Director, Gynecologic Oncology Program at NWH; Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons; Residency: Brigham & Women’s Hospital (a Harvard University Hospital)
Dr. Wertheim brings along 20 years of surgical experience and is highly trained in da Vinci robot-assisted gynecologic surgery. Dr. Wertheim performs three to six surgeries per week, mainly hysterectomies related to endometrial cancer. “The fact that the da Vinci robot is ergonomically designed for the surgeon is truly a huge advancement,” says Dr. Wertheim.
The surgeon is in complete control and sits comfortably using high-definition 3D imaging and able to maneuver controls with precision. The advantages of minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery are smaller incisions, decreased blood loss, lower risk of infection, and a faster recovery period.
Although under-reported, endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus) is the most common form of gynecological cancer in women in the United States. Most at risk are post-menopausal women between ages 55 and 64. Endometrial cancer is caused by the overproduction of estrogen. Since the uterine lining has estrogen receptors, it makes the uterus highly reactive to estrogen.
The elevated levels of estrogen circulating in the bloodstream can overstimulate the cells in the uterus, which could lead to uncontrolled growth that can turn into cancer. The most common symptom of endometrial cancer is bleeding after menopause or excessive or irregular bleeding in non-menopausal women. “It’s important to see your gynecologist at the first sign of abnormal bleeding. Like for many cancers, early diagnosis can help improve outcome,” states Dr. Wertheim.
Interestingly, obesity is the largest cause of endometrial cancer in American women. Having a BMI greater than 30 is considered obese. Excess fat cells store a hormone, androstenedione, which converts to estrogen. Because the obesity rate has risen in recent years, so has the risk of endometrial cancer. However, the use of certain drugs, hypertension, familial cancer, and diabetes can also be contributing factors. “A patient with a new cancer diagnosis is often traumatized and mostly needs compassion and understanding. Once the cancer treatment is complete, it can be an opportunity to encourage healthy lifestyle choices,” says Dr. Wertheim.
Every year, Dr. Wertheim travels on surgical missions with a team of six, including three surgeons, one anesthesiologist, and two nurses. The team has been to Honduras, Bolivia, and Uganda. This October, the team will travel again to Honduras to perform gynecological procedures.
Dr. Wertheim resides in Chappaqua with her husband, Dr. David Bereck, and two children: Hannah, 19, a freshman at Barnard, and Henry, 16, a junior at Greeley. She stresses the importance of preventative measures for raising a healthier generation. “Maintaining a healthy weight with diet and exercise is very important.”
Bonnie Litvack, M.D.
Medical Director, Women’s Imaging Center at NWH
Under the leadership of Dr. Litvack, the American College of Radiology has acknowledged NWH’s Women’s Imaging Center as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence. Dr. Litvack has been with NWH since 2006 and brings along expertise in all aspects of women’s imaging. The latest cutting-edge technology is 3D mammography (or breast tomosynthesis) which gives a more accurate image of the breast. It has the same compression but reads thinner sections through the breast, giving it a clearer image. 3D imaging detects more cancerous masses, distortions, and micro-calcifications. In addition, 3D technology has less false positives and less call back rates. The two other supplemental screenings are sonograms and MRIs, which pick up on another three percent of cancers.
When it comes to breast health, it’s all about being proactive. “Annual mammograms starting at the age of 40 have been proven to save lives through early detection,” says Dr. Litvack. There’s a lot of information swirling around the internet about breast cancer. The information can be overwhelming and often inaccurate. To discern myth from fact, Dr. Litvack suggests referring to trusted websites. NWH’s website, nwhc.net, lists a number of trustworthy links. Another good resource is the Society of Breast Imaging’s link, endtheconfusion.org. Since the 1980s, when regular mammography screening began, breast cancer death rates decreased by 30 percent.
The typical age to have your first mammogram is 40, unless there is a history of breast cancer, then mammograms should start at age 30. However, 75 percent of women do not have high risk factors, which stresses the importance of mammography screening. Regular mammogram screenings save approximately 15,000 to 20,000 lives in the U.S. each year. Annual visits to your gynecologist, self and clinical exams are encouraged before age 40.
Dr. Litvack resides in Chappaqua with her husband, Craig Penn, and three children: Sydney, 15, and twin daughters, Haley and Carly, 9. “NWH is a terrific hospital. The level of care among the staff is high. I feel very lucky to work here.” Dr. Litvack has received numerous awards and honors and has served as president of the Westchester County Medical Society and as president of the Westchester Academy of Medicine. She has also served as a delegate for New York State Radiological Society to the Medical Society of the State of New York and is a counselor to the American College of Radiology. She is also an alternate delegate to the American Medical Association from the Medical Society of the State of New York.
Michael Rosenberg, MD
Director of the Institute of Aesthetic Surgery & Medicine; Vice President for Physician Surgical Services; and Associate Medical Director. Attended Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons. Residency: Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center
Dr. Rosenberg has been with NWH for 21 years and wears many hats. He lends his surgical expertise to perform aesthetic breast reconstruction after the diagnosis of breast cancer. “Our main focus is to treat the patient as a whole and put them back on the road to recovery,” says Dr. Rosenberg. New York State now requires doctors to have a discussion with breast cancer patients about the various reconstruction options available to them during their cancer surgery. “Combining both procedures simultaneously enhances the patient’s aesthetic appearance, and when the surgeon knows reconstruction is to follow, he or she is able to ensure wider margins resulting in lower rates of recurrence,” notes Dr. Rosenberg.
“Today, there are many reconstructive options available for women with a diagnosis of breast cancer utilizing the same techniques as in cosmetic breast surgery. Unfortunately, we cannot change the diagnosis of cancer, but we can empower women to take control and decide on what’s best for them. Giving my patients the knowledge to do just that during such a challenging time is extremely important to me,” says Dr. Rosenberg. In addition to traditional Western medicine and support groups, NWH provides a full-continuum of care including holistic integrative medicine, like acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology, yoga, meditation and guided imagery–all designed to treat the patient as a whole.
Dr. Rosenberg resides in Chappaqua with his wife, Lee Gruber, M.D., and four children: Meryl, 22; Dean, 19; Ashley, 17; and Tyler, 13. Rather than working in Manhattan, where he attended Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, he chose to work close to home to spend more time with his family. Dr. Rosenberg was inspired to go into the field of plastic surgery after seeing a photo presentation of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital during the time of the Vietnam War. He received a Commendation Medal for service during Operation Iraqi Freedom and a Governor’s Citation of service as President of the Medical Society of the State of New York.
Director, NWH Community Health Education & Outreach
Maria Simonetti has been with NWH for 10 years and brings along 30 years of experience in community health education and outreach. Her job is extensive and entails reaching out on behalf of NWH in various ways to educate and offer support to effect positive, healthy change in the community. One program Simonetti oversees is NWH’s President’s Junior Leadership Council consisting of students from various high schools including Horace Greeley, Fox Lane, Byram Hills, John Jay, and Yorktown.
Each year, the Council decides on a public health project targeting peers via social marketing campaigns, like underage drinking, smoking, body image, nutrition, etc. The projects are designed to grab the attention of their peers and are jam-packed with vital information. With the Be Smart Not Sorry campaign, the Council created at-a-glance fold-up cards that fit in a wallet, addressing alcohol, alcohol poisoning, and what to do “when things go awry.” Another campaign targeted smoking with a shockingly graphic handout showing the toxic ingredients in cigarettes.
Over 10 years, the Leadership program has grown from eight participating students to an impressive 48. “I feel a tremendous connection to the young people in the program,” says Simonetti. She remains extremely close to the students who move through the program.
Simonetti also oversees clinical outreach programs, serving the underserved, and received a grant for a six-week pilot program focusing on the Latino community counseling young mothers on health and nutrition, parent/child togetherness groups, and exercise classes.
Maria Simonetti grew up in Armonk and currently resides in Mount Kisco. Her son, Michael, 18, attends SUNY Oswego. “NWH is my hospital. I delivered my son here…It’s an honor and privilege for me to give back to the community where I grew up.”
NWH Foundation Board/Volunteer
Jennifer Gefsky has lived in Chappaqua for 11 years with husband David Gefsky and their three children: Grace, 12, Henry, 10, and Blake, 5. Gefsky was a labor and employment attorney for Proskauer Rose LLP from 1996 to 2000, then was hired by Major League Baseball as Deputy General Counsel-Labor, then promoted to Vice President-Labor. In 2007, Gefsky chose to devote her time to raising her children and got involved in several community-oriented activities including the Chappaqua PTA. “Volunteering helps me connect with the community,” says Gefsky. For the past two years, Gefsky has volunteered her time and sits on the NWH Foundation Board and helps raise funds for and awareness about the hospital. “Everyone is really busy, but volunteering doesn’t have to take up all your time.”
Gefsky is once again a working mother. Six months ago, she, along with a partner, launched après, a boutique digital community that empowers and inspires women to realize professional goals without sacrificing lifestyle ambitions. Although her life is busy, volunteering is important to her. “It’s important for kids to see their parents volunteering.…We pass along those values to our children.”
NWH’s Accreditations & Awards (just to name a few)
Five-star rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for patient satisfaction
The Breast Institute at NWH granted a three-year full-accreditation for clinical excellence by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC)
The Women’s Imaging Center at NWH awarded Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by The American College of Radiology
NWH’s Magnetic Resonance Imaging accredited by the American College of Radiology
Accreditation from the FDA-Mammography Quality Standards Act
American College of Radiation Oncology accreditation
Cancer Gold Standard accreditation to NWH’s Cancer Treatment & Wellness Center
U.S. News & World Report recognizes NWH as one of the top hospitals in the New York Metro area and lists NWH in the Best Regional Hospital category in two specialties: gynecology & orthopedics
Magnet Recognition—overall excellence in nursing service and quality of care to patients and the community
NWH, one of the first of five hospitals nationwide to receive the prestigious recognition of Designated Planetree Patient-Centered Care Hospital with Distinction.