As part of Northwell Health’s environmental giveback initiative to honor the 30,000 babies born annually at the health system’s 10 birthing hospitals, LIJ Forest Hills planted a tree on their campus on National Arbor Day. Last year, 1,953 babies were delivered at LIJ Forest Hills.
Staff at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills celebrated the one-year anniversary of the recovery of it’s chaplain, Fr. Radu Titonea.
One year ago on August 5, Fr. Radu and Dr. Orlando Santandreu, chief of Obstetrics/Gynecology, were on jet skis when a four-foot wave caused Fr. Radu to suffer a near fatal crash.
Fr. Radu shattered his face and neck in the crash. Dr. Santandreu was 100 feet behind the chaplain when he saw him fall.
“The water was very choppy and I think that he slipped forward, and as he was coming down the jet ski was coming up and then they crashed,” said Dr. Santandreu.
“It looked like he was just jumping off and going for a swim,” he said. “I drove up to him and he was face down. I turned him over and he was bleeding.”
After getting Fr. Radu to shore, Dr. Santandreu attempted to resuscitate him with backward chest compressions. He worked on him for 20 minutes and was beginning to lose hope when a tugboat appeared and transported the pair to the hospital.
“I was literally looking for some sign, and that’s when I saw the tugboat,” said Dr. Santandreu.
Fr. Radu was intubated on a bed where he would lay unconscious for three weeks, fighting for his life. He endured three strokes.But six months later, the chaplain returned to work without any memory of the accident .
Fr. Radu credits his recovery to the power of prayer. During the time when he was unconscious, hospital staff from multiple religions came together and prayed for his recovery.
“Because of everybody’s prayers and support, I am the way I am today,” said Fr. Radu. “I consider LIJ Forest Hills my extended family, you guys were there for me.”
Fr. Radu and Dr. Santandeu had only been jet skiing together once before.
“I thought he needed more of a break than me because it was the middle of COVID, he was working a lot of hours, and he liked it and I knew that was an escape for him,” said Dr. Santandreu.
Long Island Jewish (LIG) Forest Hills recently announced that Queens native Lorraine Chambers Lewis has taken the reins as the hospital’s new executive director, a position she says she will leverage to provide quality care to the diverse community while growing the hospital’s profile.
A local hospital that has over the past year become well known for its efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic’s ravaging effects on the community, Chambers Lewis said her current priority is getting the word out to the community that the hospital has a plethora of other services.
“In terms of our vision in what we would like to do and continue to grow is our presence in the community,” she said. “For folks to really see us as that go-to place when they need acute care, but also addressing their chronic needs.
“We’re building our ambulatory presence in the area, and we really want folks to understand what we do here,” Chambers Lewis continued. “I think there are still so many folks who don’t understand the gem that is here in Forest Hills. We have a lot going on that we’re excited about.”
As a leader, Chambers Lewis brings decades of experience in a diverse variety of roles, many of which saw her serving on the front lines of healthcare, having worked in emergency medicine, critical care, internal medicine and occupational health.
Her first role in healthcare started as a nursing assistant at a skilled nursing facility when she was 18 years old, followed by work as an emergency medical technician on a college campus in an ambulance.
From there she became a physician’s assistant, a role she served in for 28 years.
In 2002, she became a supervising physician assistant for LIG Medical Center, where she oversaw the daily operations of the hospital’s emergency department fast track, before becoming a corporate director of Northwell Health’s Employee Health Services in 2007.
In that role, she helped develop and launch a COVID-19 employee vaccination program that has immunized more than 50,000 staff members, as well as Northwell’s first injury management and prevention program for employee safety.
Chambers Lewis said that having this diversity of experience, including working as a frontline and emergency healthcare worker, has given her a unique perspective on healthcare work, which enables her to view a patient’s perspective with a wider lens.
“I think that in my clinical career, I’ve had the honor of being a part of these different environments that give me a full 360 degree view to the experiences that the patient goes through,” she said.
In her new role, Chambers Lewis succeeds Susan Browning, who led the Queens hospital since 2015, but is now taking on the role of senior vice president of Business Development for Northwell Health.
“Our community has been a strong advocate and partner in all that we have thus accomplished at LIJ Forest Hills,” Browning said. “As we continue to move our many initiatives forward, including the broad expansion of our ambulatory network, this partnership will remain critically important.”
Touching on some of the challenges that she faced as the hospital’s administrative head, Browning noted that “LIJ Forest Hills serves the most diverse patient population in arguably the entire country.
“Add to it that the demographics of Queens is constantly changing and you can imagine the challenge of trying to meet the health care needs of patients coming into our hospital,” she added.
The community’s diverse population is an aspect that Chambers Lewis has a particular sense of connection with. A first-generation American born to Jamaican parents, Chambers Lewis said that she understands the trials that people can face when dealing with health issues in an unfamiliar environment.
“We prioritize being sensitive to what people are feeling and the differences in how everyone addresses healthcare or addresses pain, what they communicate, what they don’t communicate,” she said.
Serving the community is a nearly equally diverse workforce according to Chambers Lewis, which she believes is equal to the task of meeting those challenges.
“We speak hundreds of languages, from every corner of the world there is someone who works here,” she said. “Having a diverse workforce puts us in a really great position to meet the needs of the community best.”
While there are many priorities Chambers Lewis has set for her hospital, tackling the coronavirus pandemic that is seeing a resurgence remains at the top of the list.
After more than a year of hard-earned experience, however, she is convinced that her team is more than up to the task of doing so.
“This community was hit very, very hard and the team here had to learn and adapt in a time where there was no vaccine,” Chambers Lewis said. “We didn’t know where this was going, how contagious it was and the treatment has evolved so much.
“The team feels much more prepared and I think that’s what’s changed,” she added of potentially facing a second wave of COVID. “Even if something changes again, we know how to pivot. We won’t get caught off guard.”
Chambers Lewis said prioritizing the mental wellbeing of staff members is also a priority for her team.
“We have to prioritize and make sure that we are taking care of our team members,” she said. “We are going to get a better outcome and it is going to be better for them.”
COVID is still a top priority at the moment, but Chambers Lewis stresses that there are still other health issues that residents need to prioritize and encourages people avoid using the pandemic as an excuse to not tackle other needs.
“I worry about advanced illness and advanced diseases not being diagnosed, not being addressed,” she said. “We want to make sure that people know there are still things to take care of other than COVID.”
Chambers Lewis can often be seen roaming the halls of her new hospital, saying hello to patients and getting to know her staff members. She can also be spotted at various local events around the area.
“In Queens, I think it’s really important to be a part of the community, for people to see you,” she said. “I would like to learn more about this part of Queens. I think there’s always an opportunity to learn more, so I may ask a lot of questions sometimes and hopefully folks will see value in that.”