When Tony Alfano took over the reins of the bankrupt Sound Shore Medical Center six years ago, the once formidable hospital in New Rochelle was a financial and physical mess. “The facility had fallen apart so badly. The first winter we were here, probably no fewer than 12 pipes burst because they weren’t insulated from the cold,” Alfano remembers. “We went through a lot. It was like The Money Pit.”
Alfano had just been hired by the Bronx-based Montefiore Health System to oversee the acquisition of the independent suburban hospital that at its height as Sound Shore had been a well-respected academic and teaching institution with about 375 beds for patients. (Today, the hospital has a bed count of about 150.) As vice president and executive director of the newly named Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital, Alfano was tasked with restoring financial and physical order to the hospital and bringing the quality of patient care up to Montefiore’s high standards.
Prior to Montefiore, Alfano was a top-level administrator at a number of New York City hospitals, including NewYork-Presbyterian’s Downtown Hospital, Brooklyn Hospital Center, and St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center in Greenwich Village. He also has a good deal of experience working at senior-care facilities, as well as a corporate background with positions at Pfizer, Mobil, and Cablevision, for which he was the vice president of labor relations overseeing Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, working for the infamously difficult James Dolan.
When he came onboard at Montefiore, in 2013, Alfano was also put in charge of the Schaffer Extended Care Center (the nursing home on the same campus as the hospital), and the Dorothea Hopfer School of Nursing in Mount Vernon, now known as the Montefiore School of Nursing.
“Tony has been good at building teams, getting people to work together to enhance patient care…”
—Danielle Kennedy-Shannon, Director of Nursing
At the hospital, meanwhile, the first order of business was restoring a sense of stability. “I’ve closed four hospitals in my career, so I very much know what happens to a hospital when it goes bankrupt and what the ramifications are,” he says. For both patients and employees, “we wanted to make the transition seamless,” Alfano continues.
“Much to their credit, Montefiore painstakingly went out of their way to make sure they retained the majority of employees who worked for Sound Shore,” he says.
On the downside, that meant working with some employees with dozens of years of experience who were very set in their ways and resistant to change.
“When Montefiore came to New Rochelle, the hospital was suffering,” says Danielle Kennedy-Shannon, director of nursing. “There were a lot of different silos with everyone doing their own thing. Tony has been good at building teams, getting people to work together to enhance patient care and make sure that all clinicians are working together to keep the focus on the patient — and bringing in their families as part of the picture, too,” she says.
“Seeing this shift in the culture at the hospital has been exciting,” she adds. “Tony is a very involved leader. He’s very responsive and available pretty much 24/7 — and he’s very personable.”
Not long after Alfano’s arrival, both the hospital and the nursing home began to get a total physical makeover, with new paint, new lights, and new floors, windows, and roofs. In the first couple of years, Montefiore pumped more than $30 million into the two facilities, Alfano says. Under his watch, Montefiore New Rochelle also secured a $44.5 million state grant to refurbish and expand the hospital’s Emergency Department, Ambulatory Health Pavilion, and Radiology Department.
In general, the direction Montefiore wanted to take the New Rochelle hospital was to make it a “strong community-based hospital with safety-net services,” Alfano explains. “In the past, in its heyday, Sound Shore was a large academic hospital with three different teaching programs. This, especially for a lot of the physicians, was a change in direction.”
While the Bronx campuses of Montefiore (just a few miles from the New Rochelle hospital) are large, academic teaching hospitals, Montefiore New Rochelle is focused on being a strong, community-based hospital, and the two work collaboratively. “If you’re coming [to New Rochelle] with a high-acuity issue — a brain bleed or some neurological or cardiac event — we can stabilize you here and then we send you to one of the best hospitals in New York State for treatment [Montefiore’s Moses campus, in the Bronx],” Alfano says. All of the organ transplants are also done at this Bronx campus.
Similarly, White Plains Hospital is also part of the Montefiore Health System now, so Montefiore New Rochelle works in conjuction with its sister hospital in Westchester to offer a wide range of services to county residents.
Tony Alfano (seated, middle) is described by peers as an involved and responsive leader who has helped bring efficiency and stability to Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital. Alfano’s long career also includes important roles in senior care and in corporate America.
Three years ago, in 2016, Montefiore asked Alfano to add its 750-employee Home Care system to his administrative portfolio. It provides in-home healthcare to elderly and sick residents of the Bronx and Lower and Central Westchester. This means he is currently in charge of four major Montefiore institutions, so, as one might imagine, “the days go pretty quickly,” he admits. “There’s a lot to do, but it’s fun.”
The hospital, Schaffer, and the nursing school together have 1,293 employees, and another 492 doctors and other clinicians are credentialed to practice at the hospital and nursing home. “People often ask me, ‘When are you moving to New Rochelle?’” Alfano says that it won’t be soon, as he and Annie, his spouse of 41 years, have five grandchildren, all of whom live in Huntington, LI. The five range in age from just a few months old to nearly seven, so, “inevitably, we’re babysitting for somebody on some day of the week,” he notes.
The Alfanos have lived in the Long Island community for 36 years, and they love it there. On weekends, you’ll find them kayaking on Long Island Sound, which is just a few blocks from their home, or playing tennis and swimming at a local fitness club.
Huntington is also home to the Alfanos’ two sons, Justin and Michael. “One’s a cop; one’s a lawyer, so we call them Law and Order,” he jokes.
Alfano’s family ties spell a long commute for the 67-year-old — a good hour and 20 minutes each way, he says — from the North Shore of Long Island to Southern Westchester. He uses the time in the car to “catch up with people I couldn’t reach in the office,” he says. Or he’s just enjoying what he can find on the radio.
“I go way back… I’m an old rocker,” he adds. “I would have loved to have been at Woodstock.”
In fact, Alfano and a group of friends were supposed to go to the iconic music festival 50 years ago, but Alfano’s godfather died, and he had to stay behind for the funeral. His friends ended up not going, either — and no, they still haven’t forgiven him for it.
As a longtime administrator at some of the area’s biggest and best hospital systems, Alfano has a wise and well-worn sense of what lies ahead for hospitals and nursing homes, as well as their patients. He sees outpatient ambulatory care and home care (“trying to keep people in their homes as long as possible,” as he puts it) as the future of healthcare.
“If you look at where the government is directing things, it’s everything and anything but having to go into a hospital or be institutionalized in a nursing facility,” he says. “When I first started in this industry, if you went in for a cardiac catheterization, you would be in the hospital for three days. Today, these patients are sent home that day.” (He adds that the same protocol is also true for knee- and hip-replacement surgeries.)
Nonetheless, he asserts that high-quality suburban hospitals with great doctors and nurses are here to stay. Ten years ago, “if you had cancer, you went to Sloan Kettering in Manhattan, or you went to NewYork-Presbyterian or Mount Sinai,” he says. “What has evolved is that now you can get that same quality in Westchester, on Long Island, or in New Jersey.
“What we try to instill here,” he continues, “is that, especially in this day and age, we should be thanking you for your business, thanking you for giving us the opportunity to care for you. It’s no longer: ‘I’m a doctor, and I’m taking care of you, and you have no say in your care.’ All hospitals have great doctors; what separates them is how patient-friendly and patient-focused they are.”
And that’s where his being in charge of the Montefiore School of Nursing ties in: The goal is to impart that philosophy of
patient care and friendliness while creating a “feeding school” for their hospitals and other medical programs. “Anywhere from 35 percent to 55 percent of [our nursing school] graduates get hired into the Montefiore system,” Alfano explains.
As for his management style, “I’ve always believed that you’re a professional and that you know your job,” he says. “I try to give people as much leeway as I can. I’m not a micro-manager, but if I ask you to do something, I expect you to respond [like a professional].”
With all he’s accomplished, there are many in Alfano’s shoes who might be eyeballing retirement. He is not one of them: “Nope. As long as I have my health, and as long as Montefiore is happy with me, I’m in no rush to go anywhere.”
Bill Cary is a freelance writer who splits his time between an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and an old chicken farm in the Ulster County hamlet of Stone Ridge.