There is something intrinsically curious and even compelling about the professional connection and relationship between Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt and Mercy Medical Center, a division of the Roman Catholic archdiocese in Rockville Centre on Long Island. For the last several years, Dr. Glatt has been the chief executive officer of the hospital, and that association represents a remarkable dynamism that combines the contrasts and similarities between an institution and an individual that is Mercy Hospital and Dr. Glatt.
We have run stories in the past about the growth and development of Mercy Hospital and their coming to the realization that there is a burgeoning and growing community right next door in the Five Towns that can be a source that can keep the medical center functioning near capacity.
Dr. Glatt wrote me a few weeks ago, shortly after I posted a brief item on our website and Facebook page. I described a dramatic and traumatic experience at another hospital in New York City caring for my father-in-law. Dr. Glatt asked if I wanted to take a walk through Mercy with him to see how a medical institution can conduct itself both efficiently and professionally.
I have to say right up front that even though the departments we walked through, including the emergency room, were pretty busy and bustling with activity, there was what one ER doctor described as calm and managed chaos. The doctors were methodically and in an orderly fashion going from bed to bed or gurney to gurney asking the patients what their problems were, what was ailing them, and so on. It was a large, busy room with medical staff milling about but seemingly doing what needed to be done in a cool and professional way.
So there we are, rather speedily walking through the hallways perusing the various departments with me noticing the signs, photographs, and statues reminding staff and patients alike of what the hospital is about—faith and healing. I make a comment about the décor to Dr. Glatt and he stops to remind me or perhaps educate me about the value of what he calls a faith-based medical facility.
I had to acknowledge to myself that I had not recently pondered the value or importance of the existence of these types of institutions. Dr. Glatt reminded me further that as a people, that is the Jewish people, who assign so much significance to the sanctity of life, we have a great deal in common and share many of the values of the Catholic institutions that run this and several other hospitals in the area, including the famous heart hospital, St. Francis.
I then articulated the observation that unfortunately we cannot expect the same high-level value system at some of the more traditional hospitals that are identified with the Jewish community as, for example, Beth Israel or Mount Sinai Hospitals. I cannot speak specifically about any cases or situations in particular, but one gets the impression that the emphasis today on preserving life is perhaps honored to a much greater extent at a hospital like Mercy Medical Center than at some others.
It is also important to observe that a hospital is a business and needs to be run as such. To that end, and with the appointment of Dr. Glatt as the CEO, an effort is being made to market Mercy in the Jewish community, and that effort is obviously being made specifically on Long Island where it is located with a special emphasis on the densely populated Orthodox Jewish communities in the Five Towns.
“It’s unusual to have a doctor who is also a rabbi and prominent member of our community as the CEO of a large and important hospital that can serve the community,” says Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender of the Achiezer organization. The reality is that as far as the Jewish community was concerned, according to many in the field, traveling for care—or if you were a physician, recommending a patient for care—at Mercy was not that common. But that has changed and is now continuing to change in a very big way.
Rabbi Bender, who is also a member of the Five Towns/Far Rockaway Hatzalah group, adds that for a growing number of doctors and for Hatzalah as well, the level of care and attention that patients from the community are receiving today at Mercy Medical Center has changed thinking and rearranged priorities in regard to where to send patients.
At Mercy the other day, Dr. Glatt led me up to the hospital’s second floor where he enthusiastically told me that I was about to see something very special. The setup to accommodate those who accompany patients to the hospital is truly something special and state of the art.
Dr. Glatt opened the door to a large room with about 20 or so chairs neatly arranged with bookcases along the sides, containing siddurim and some sefarim. At the front of the room was a shtender and a small aron kodesh. This was not a meditation chapel or a section of the hospital that is available for a multiplicity of religious services. This is the Mercy Medical Center shul, stated as plainly and simply as possible.
“We could not have gotten this done without Achiezer,” said Dr. Glatt. A few days later, Rabbi Bender acknowledged on the phone, “There is no way this could have been accomplished as quickly as it was without the cooperation of Dr. Glatt.”
In addition to being open and available to people to use for prayer when they are in the hospital particularly over Shabbos, the addition of Orthodox Jewish medical staff at the hospital over the last few years has resulted in a daily Minchah minyan in the hospital during the winter months when darkness descends early.
Rabbi Bender comments not only on the wonderful accomplishment and involvement of the Mercy board of directors in getting clearance to apportion space for the shul, but also adds that it is impossible to fathom what it means to an individual or family that suddenly and unexpectedly find itself confined to a hospital over Shabbos way up on Peninsula Boulevard near the entrance to the Southern State Parkway.
“We had just attended the cutting of the ribbon ceremony at the hospital when just a few days later a man called me to say his wife required emergency surgery and he was at Mercy over that very first Shabbos,” Rabbi Bender says. In addition to the shul that is used both by staff and guests, there is a fully stocked pantry next door, and a newly furnished suite with two beds, a small refrigerator, and a private bathroom. A kosher kitchen, which was sponsored by Chabad of the Five Towns a number of years ago and maintained by Chabad volunteers, has served many patients and families. Achiezer’s participation has benefited the community as well.
“The man called me and was simply choked up and found it difficult to speak as he tried to thank Achiezer and the hospital for setting up accommodations intended in particular but of course not exclusively for shomer Shabbos patients, who do not travel on Friday nights or Saturdays, who find themselves accompanying a patient to Mercy Hospital.”
Rabbi Bender proudly adds that with the cooperation of Mercy, Dr. Glatt, and the community, that amongst other things the kosher kitchen and suite at Mercy—as is the case with other hospitals working with Achiezer—are fully stocked with food for Shabbos.
There is indeed great sensitivity on display here as people are usually at a most vulnerable point in their lives when hospitalization comes into the picture. And that is just one of the reasons why Dr. Glatt as the CEO is so determined to provide those from his community along with the greater and vast client/patient base of the hospital with the most outstanding medical care and accommodations that make the hospital experience a manageable one.
As we walked the corridors of the hospital last week, Dr. Glatt stopped to chat with physicians and other staff almost every few steps that we took. A hospital experience is usually noted for its chilliness and frequent personal indifference. But in my brief visit to Mercy as I accompanied Dr. Glatt on the quick tour of the facility, one could easily discern that this institution under Dr. Glatt’s direction is about personal involvement and most importantly, warmth, sensitivity, high quality medical care, and professionalism. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.