Susan Fox (center) insists that the credit for White Plains Hospital’s reputation for excellence belongs to her dedicated staff. Photo by Ken Gabrielsen/ Courtesy of White Plains Hospital
Allow us to present 12 outstanding individuals who prove that Westchester’s health and wellness are in very good hands.
By Regina Molaro, Deborah Skolnik, and Nick Brandi
Fans of astrophysics and science fiction know that an event horizon is a boundary beyond which an event, like a black hole, cannot affect an observer. But when it comes to the coronavirus, it often felt like no matter how tenaciously we tried to claw our way out of the seemingly inexorable gravity inside its event horizon, we’d just get pulled in deeper, desperately fearing that we would inevitably be sucked into its inescapable abyss. Now, in 2022, things are looking more auspicious than they have since March of 2020, yet this year’s roster of amazing Healthcare Heroes remains replete with tales of heroism and self-sacrifice related to the pandemic.
This year, doctors are featured especially prominently among the winners. We deem it significant that at least two of our Healthcare Heroes currently work in emergency medicine and that at least two more arrived at their current positions following careers in emergency medicine. They account for a full one-third of our honorees this time around.
Still, we have an uplifting diversity of people to celebrate in 2022, just as it should be. In addition to the aforementioned, we have chief administrators, a brilliant surgeon, a standout nurse, a cutting-edge research scientist, a respiratory therapist, private-practice physicians, a mental-health professional, and a president/CEO. Each of these laudable individuals has, in their own way, gone above and beyond the call of duty while demonstrating tireless dedication to the wellness and welfare of our community. They keep us healthy. They keep us strong. They save our lives.
You will meet these exemplary people in the pages that follow. Please join us, then, in celebrating our 2022 Healthcare Heroes, for they are among the vital pillars that make Westchester great. —Nick Brandi
President & CEO, White Plains Hospital (WPH)
Throughout the pandemic, Susan Fox brilliantly brought out the best in each of White Plains Hospital’s 4,000 staff members. As always, she empowered them to innovate. “During COVID, that happened nearly every day,” Fox says. Some initiatives were noticeable: outdoor COVID-19 testing tents, for instance, and a hotline for community members desperately seeking direction. Others were less obvious — like how, under Fox’s watch, the hospital increased its beds from 250 to 375 and boosted the ICU’s capacity from 16 to 82.
Yet for Fox, overseeing a hospital is more than just managing logistics; it’s also about boosting morale. “To help staff visualize the impact they were making, we adopted the butterfly as a symbol of hope,” she says. “Each COVID patient who was discharged received a paper butterfly to take home, and we placed a second butterfly on the walls of our main hallway in celebration. Within weeks, hundreds of butterflies lined those walls, serving as a powerful reminder of the staff’s dedication and effort.”
Even during the crisis, Fox kept moving the institution forward. WPH opened a new Center for Advanced Medicine & Surgery last June and launched a cardiac surgery program in November. Healthgrades ranks the hospital among the top 10% nationwide for patient experience. Many, though, rank it number one. Fox cites a grateful letter from a recent patient, extolling the virtues of the staff that Fox is so proud to lead: “She specifically mentioned 12 people by name who made a lasting impression on her,” she says. For Fox, that’s the kind of tribute that matters most of all.
NITIN GUPTA, MD
Board-Certified General Pediatrician, Rivertowns Pediatrics
Even prior to COVID, Dr. Nitin Gupta would drive to new parents’ homes to spare them and their babies a trip to his office. When the pandemic shuttered most urgent cares, he went another mile beyond that proverbial extra one, making house calls to patients’ mothers and fathers if their kids needed stitches. “It was a time when it was almost a guarantee: You go to the ER, you’re getting COVID,” Dr. Gupta says.
As the 2020 flu season began, he and his staff started administering drive-by flu shots to patients’ families. Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner caught wind and reached out. “[Feiner] asked, ‘Would you do it for non-members of your practice?’” Dr. Gupta says. With an assistant and intern by his side, he wound up vaccinating 1,000 people in 12 weeks.
By the time Rivertowns Pediatrics received adult COVID vaccines, in April 2021, most people who wanted the shot had already received it. But Dr. Gupta was determined to protect as many people as possible, so he again took to the streets, vaccinating both homebound seniors and food-pantry clients. When the vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds was approved, his pediatric practice became the first in Westchester to administer it. A drive-by daylong clinic he organized for that weekend vaccinated 220 children both in and out of his practice.
Praised by patients for his humility, Dr. Gupta insists his acts of heroism were merely his duty. “It was a pandemic, and we did what we had to do to protect members of our community, and even non-members of my practice,” he says. “Anybody who called, we tried to help.”
RAFAEL E. TORRES, MD
Chief Quality Officer, White Plains Hospital (WPH)
Figuratively speaking, Dr. Rafael E. Torres has healthcare in his DNA. This is eloquently demonstrated by a meteoric career arc that has seen this youthful and energetic physician hold positions such as director of Emergency Medicine at Montefiore Westchester Square in the Bronx (the first free-standing emergency department in NYS) and director of Emergency Medicine at White Plains Hospital prior to his current position as WPH’s chief quality officer.
Born in Bogota, Colombia, Dr. Torres’ parents met while working together in a New York City hospital. His Colombian father was a respiratory technician; his American mother was (and still is) an operating room nurse; his aunt and grandmother were also nurses. “It was the expectation that I’d become a doctor,” says Dr. Torres of his preordained career path.
At the start of the pandemic, he led the county’s busiest ER through the fear and unknowns of early testing and treatment. “My role was to handle the surge of patients and, importantly, ensure the safety of my staff,” he says. By the time vaccines were rolled out, Dr. Torres was promoted to chief quality officer, and his focus shifted to ensuring equitable access to the vaccine for everyone who wanted it, by getting out into the community “in ways that no other Westchester hospital that I know of was doing, as well and addressing vaccine hesitancy within communities and changing minds one-by-one.”
Currently, Dr. Torres is responsible for not only the quality of care WPH delivers but also the quality of patient and family experiences, as well as the overall operation of the organization. His unique talent is to “de-silo” and smoothly sync traditionally disparate functions of the hospital to create an institutional synergism that results in optimum healthcare and patient experiences for all.
RENU C. MITAL, MD
Senior Associate Attending, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (NY-P) & Assistant Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine & Co-Director Faculty Wellness Program, Weill Cornell Medicine
“Physicians have to be at their best to deliver the best care to their patients,” says Dr. Renu Mital. Beyond her many achievements, which include helping NY-P develop telemedicine services during the pandemic, Dr. Mital has been a tireless advocate for physician wellness since 2016.
The comprehensive program she developed with a colleague has helped organizations prioritize the well-being of their physicians, focusing on mental health resources, peer support, team building, and operational improvements. The three-pronged peer-support program, which includes individual, group, and litigation support, addresses the stress and isolation physicians experience. “It was designed to transform a culture of silence into one of strength and stability,” says Dr. Mital.
After a colleague tragically took her life during the pandemic, Dr. Mital rallied to spread a national message on the role of wellness as a critical cornerstone for delivering excellent patient care. Her research was published in the Physician Leadership Journal in 2017 and presented at the National Academy of Medicine in 2018. In 2021, their institutional plan was published in the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst and today serves as a model for other healthcare institutions.
Dr. Mital serves on the National ACEP Well-Being Committee, NYC Well-Being Alliance, and Hackley School’s Medical Advisory Board. She was recently honored with the NY American College of Emergency Physicians 2020 Physician Well-Being Award.
“It has been very rewarding to be on the forefront of a culture shift in medicine to care for the caregiver,” says Dr. Mital.
LORI SOLOMON, MD, MPH
Medical Director, Family Health Center, New York Medical College (NYMC)
Exceeding expectations is a guiding principle for Dr. Lori Solomon. Earning two of her degrees at NYMC, she joined the faculty in 2002 as a family physician. She currently serves as chair and clinical associate professor of the Department of Family and Community Medicine.
Dr. Solomon is the visionary behind Family Health Center — an on-campus outpatient facility that opened in 2019. It provides medical, preventive, and urgent care for patients of all ages, including members of NYMC and the community.
When many health facilities shuttered during the initial surge of the pandemic, the Family Health Center remained open. Dr. Solomon was often the only physician on-site to provide care.
Her persistence led her to be among the first to obtain COVID vaccinations when they became available. When additional doses were on hand, she personally delivered them to others to ensure they were used before they expired.
Under Dr. Solomon’s guidance, Family Health Center was among the first facilities in Westchester to offer vaccinations for pediatric patients. “I was proud of our ability to get children vaccinated before the holidays,” she says.
She also played a key role in establishing the innovative partnership between Family Medical Center and NYMC’s Touro College of Dental Medicine. Dr. Solomon also serves as faculty advisor for the Westchester-based, student-run clinic La Casita de la Salud, which opened in May 2021.
Beyond providing free medical and dental care to uninsured adults, La Casita promotes a model of care that recognizes the link between oral and systemic health. “The medical and dental students learn from one another,” she says. “It’s about service and education — two things that really drive me.”
GREGORY VEILLETTE, MD
Section Chief of Surgical Oncology & Hepatopancreaticobiliary Surgery, WMCHealth
While Dr. Gregory Veillette has a long and impressive title, many of his patients append just four words to his name: “He saved my life.” In all of Westchester, he’s one of only several surgeons who perform hepato-pancreato-biliary (HPB) procedures — operations on the liver, pancreas, or bile ducts to treat cancer or other conditions. These surgeries are considered among the most complex and demanding in existence, but Dr. Veillette’s expertise is world-class. In fact, he’s the sole physician in the county skilled in the famed Whipple procedure, depicted in nearly every TV medical drama, an HPB operation that treats pancreatic cancer and certain benign conditions of the organs. Kidney and liver transplants are his other two specialties; he performed close to 50 of the latter in 2021 alone at WMCHealth, the only hospital in Westchester where transplants are done.
It’s not unusual for Dr. Veillette to endure a grueling marathon in the O.R. (a Whipple, for example, takes about 6 hours) and then visit a patient’s bedside. While some surgeons might send a subordinate, that isn’t his way. “If I operate on a patient, I am committed to that,” he says. “I come in on my weekends off or if there’s ever a problem. I see my patients two, three, four times a day sometimes.” Yet he doesn’t stop there; he gives endless encouragement. “Some of these patients with pancreatitis and pancreas cancer, they’re going through the gates of hell,” he says. “Commitment is not just doing an excellent surgery; there’s more to it. There’s the mental piece, the psychiatric piece. If patients aren’t reassured by their surgeons, then what hope do they have?”
JIM DWYER, MD
Chair, Emergency Medicine, Northern Westchester Hospital (NWH)
For those of us who get woozy from a paper cut, it’s hard to imagine how emergency physicians cope. But Dr. Jim Dwyer does more than just take each day as it comes: He helps prevent young people from landing in his ER in the first place. Nearly every spring since 2016, he has participated in panel presentations on alcohol and drugs to Westchester high school seniors and their parents.
Dr. Dwyer tackles these tough subjects from a medical perspective. Here’s two examples: “We’ll talk about how combining two substances can make each one more potent. We’ll also talk about respiratory depression and how people can die from alcohol and drug use because their ability to breathe and protect their airway can go away,” he shares.
In the NWH Emergency Department, he spearheaded universal screening in the ER for substance-use disorders and backed other initiatives, such as giving preference to non-opioid pharmaceuticals for pain management. Despite these Herculean efforts, he never tires of educating our county’s youth, sometimes driving straight to a presentation after a long day at the hospital.
For two years, those days have been incredibly challenging. Not only has Dr. Dwyer treated COVID patients, he’s seen people who have developed problems such as advanced cancer because they were afraid to visit a hospital before now. But every day, he gives his all to all of them. “That’s the one guiding principle, I think: How do you best care for people?” he says. “Don’t let anything get in the way.”
DEREK H. SUITE, MD, MS
Cofounder, Full Circle Health
Though he began his career in emergency medicine, Dr. Derek Suite eventually switched to neuroscience and psychiatry. “I was so interested in the patients as I was treating them [in the ER] that I would actually spend more time talking with them and getting into their stories,” he recalls. “Patients were coming back to the ER and waiting to talk to me after my shift.”
Today, Dr. Suite is co-owner (with his wife, Darcel) of Full Circle Health, an award-winning behavioral healthcare practice that provides comprehensive mental health services to residents of Westchester, the Bronx, Manhattan, and parts of lower Connecticut. The Westchester office, on the Eastchester/ Mount Vernon border, and the Manhattan outpost go by the name of Full Circle Confidential, which provides private counseling and confidential executive coaching services to top executives, professional athletes, and A-list celebrities. To a one, they value Dr. Suite’s expertise, discretion, and holistic approach.
As COVID raged, rather than retreating to that posh roster, Dr. Suite mobilized to help the urban community spearheaded by his Bronx office. For the first few months of the pandemic, he says, “We gave all of our mental health services [at that practice], including our education, training, and outreach programs, at absolutely no charge.” In doing so, Full Circle Health made mental healthcare more available and accessible to the urban community during a time of crisis. Eliminating barriers to mental health services is just one of many ways Dr. Suite and his Full Circle team make a positive difference in the practice of mental healthcare. “Full Circle has been a wonderful experience for us overall,” he shares. “We’re still as excited as when we started, back in 1999.”
KAREN MCCOY, RRT
Director of Respiratory Therapy, Burke Rehabilitation Hospital
“I don’t like to talk about myself,” says Karen McCoy, a Burke staffer for 34 years. But colleagues can’t stop talking about her indomitable spirit and leadership abilities. In early 2020, she found herself apprehensively wondering if she’d soon put those qualities to the ultimate test. As COVID inched closer, she hoped it might not be as horrific as feared, “like when they say the snowstorm of the century is about to hit, then it doesn’t happen,” she says. While a blizzard never materialized, in March, a tsunami of recovering COVID patients did, and McCoy faced it head-on.
At one point, Burke was caring for 90 patients — a record high. McCoy helped the administration’s efforts to obtain scarce respiratory equipment. “We purchased an extra 40 concentrators,” she says, referring to devices that separate nitrogen and oxygen molecules in air and then supply the latter to patients through a nasal canula (a lightweight tube with two prongs placed in the nostrils). She also assessed which patients could get by with a concentrator and which needed more concentrated, piped-in oxygen. In addition, she worked in the blood gas laboratory, where patients’ oxygen and carbon dioxide levels were measured via blood samples.
When the time came for a patient to return home, McCoy made sure they had everything they’d need, from nebulizers to oxygen. More than 500 COVID patients have recovered at Burke, and thanks to her, each is able to continue their healing journey. While some pandemic-weary health professionals have left the field, McCoy wouldn’t dream of it. “After all this time,” she says, “I still like my job.”
ALVIN MOYER, MD
Chief Medical Officer, Elizabeth Seton Children’s Center (ESCC)
Before joining ESCC as a pediatrician in 2008, Dr. Alvin Moyer was in a private practice, where he gained experience coordinating care for children with life-limiting conditions. After giving end-of-life care to one of his own family members, he was inspired to make a change.
“I became board-certified in hospice and palliative medicine because I appreciate caring for families when they’re at their most vulnerable,” says Dr. Moyer. Since 2012, he has directed the palliative care program at ESCC. After serving as interim CMO in 2020, Dr. Moyer was permanently promoted to the role in March 2021.
The children’s residential medical center that Dr. Moyer helms operates under the same strict guidelines as nursing homes. As the pandemic raged on, Dr. Moyer used his expertise to implement new policies based on shifting data and regulations, often ahead of NYS DOH regulations and mandates.
“Most regulations were designed for adults, and our children, in many ways, are more vulnerable, since many are not age-eligible for vaccines and developmentally unable to wear masks. All of them have medical conditions that put them at risk for more severe disease,” says Dr. Moyer. His keen decision-making was successful in keeping all 169 patients COVID-free for the first 300 days of the pandemic.
Dr. Moyer has been actively involved in the planning of a young-adult center, which will fill a long-neglected gap in the care of young adults with medical complexity who age out of pediatric facilities. The Westchester-based center will serve as a nationwide model and is expected to open in 2024.
STACEY DAVIS, BSN, RN
Assistant Nurse Manager, Field Hospital & Special Projects, Northern Westchester Hospital (NWH)
When nonessential surgeries were halted during the pandemic, Stacey Davis stepped up to assist patients at NWH’s field hospital — a temporary structure erected in the parking lot for administering monoclonal antibody therapy. Experience gained from a decade in the Medical Surgical Nursing and Emergency Department primed her for the role.
“These infusions provided people with a bit of hope. I was happy to become a part of the team,” says Davis.
Her leadership skills and expertise quickly earned the respect and recognition of her colleagues. Shortly after joining the team, Davis was appointed charge nurse with the responsibility of managing the day-to-day operations of the unit.
Since the infusions were new, patients needed information. When they arrived, Davis was quick to answer questions and respond with compassion. “A bit of reassurance and kindness goes a long way,” says Davis, who spent lots of time engaging in friendly conversation with patients.
When the COVID numbers declined, the field hospital was dismantled, and Davis and her team were instrumental in relocating the program to NWH’s Emergency Department. She remained onboard, in a leadership role.
“Teamwork was one of the main reasons it ran so smoothly and efficiently, and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of from the whole experience,” she says.
When an opportunity arose, Davis was promoted to her current position. “Her ability to seamlessly perform in her dual role provides further proof that Davis is a nurse with distinction,” says Carolyn Oates, MSN, RN, NE-BC, patient care manager of the Short Stay/Pediatric Unit.
SALOMON AMAR, DDS, PHD
VP for Research, New York Medical College (NYMC), and Senior VP for Research Affairs at Touro University
Dr. Salomon Amar, a periodontist and leader in molecular immunology research, is globally recognized for his achievements in linking oral health to systemic inflammation. “I spent the greater part of my life studying how bacteria travels through the bloodstream and can precipitate the formation of plaque into the brain or heart and can aggravate rheumatoid arthritis,” says Dr. Amar.
This concept came to fruition at NYMC with the establishment of a family-medicine clinic contiguous with the dental school clinic. This enables, for the first time, a cross-collaboration between medical and dental students on the evaluation of patients with systemic inflammation.
Dr. Amar has also made significant contributions to COVID-19 research. Three weeks after New York State reported its first COVID-19 case, NYMC and Regeneron began a clinical drug trial at Westchester Medical Center. Dr. Amar worked closely with leaders to expedite the approval process, which generally takes several months. It was completed in just seven days.
“This set the stage for use of the monoclonal antibody therapy that we’re currently using for COVID-19,” says Dr. Amar.
Other accolades include leading the expansion of BioInc@NYMC, the Hudson Valley’s only biomedical incubator on a health-sciences college campus, and launching a Bench-to-Bedside Seminar Series, which addresses issues in translational medicine. Through the collaboration with Regeneron, a new zebrafish facility was created at NYMC. It allows for a significant expansion of NYMC’s biomedical research footprint.
This summer, Dr. Amar will lead a study to help determine what causes the severity of COVID-19 disease symptoms and whether current testing is accurate.