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Meng helps secure $3 million for new labor and delivery wing at Elmhurst Hospital

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng and representatives from the office of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited Elmhurst Hospital to celebrate $3 million in federal funding secured for a new Labor and Delivery unit on the hospital’s fifth floor.

In honor of Women’s Health Month in May, Meng led a “wall-breaking” ceremony before touring the current Labor and Delivery unity to see where the future renovations will take place.

Federal funding for the initiative — which will support the hospital’s goal of improving health indicators for pregnant women and decreasing maternal and infant mortality rates — was made available under the Community Project Funding Program and through the offices of Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.

Black and Native American women in the U.S. are three times more likely to die than white women from pregnancy-related causes, and black babies are twice as likely to die than white babies, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. While 700 pregnancy deaths occur per year, two-thirds of them are considered to be preventable.

Rep. Grace Meng and representatives from the office of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited Elmhurst Hospital to celebrate $3 million in federal funding secured for a new Labor and Delivery unit on the hospital’s fifth floor.

In New York City, black women have an eight times greater risk of pregnancy-related death than white women. They were also three times more likely than their white counterparts to experience severe maternal morbidity, which can include blood clots, kidney failure, stroke or heart attack.

Meng said she was proud to deliver the federal funds to the local hospital, enabling expanded access and care to families. Construction of the new hospital wing is scheduled for spring and summer 2022

“Elmhurst plays a critical role in the health and wellbeing of our communities, and I cannot wait until the renovation is completed,” Meng said. “All families deserve a modern, safe, and equitable maternal health care experience, and investments like this are needed to ensure that the hospital can continue to provide efficient, high-quality and state of the art services that local residents need and deserve. It is also crucial to meet the growing needs of the area. When the COVID-19 crisis began, NYC Health + Hospitals in Elmhurst was in the heart of the epicenter, and this project is an example of how we must build back better and stronger as we work to recover from the pandemic. I’m excited for this renovation to begin, and look forward to the upgrades benefiting Queens families for decades to come.”

Meng also took part in a patient baby shower co-sponsored by MetroPlusHealth, which included educational presentations on prenatal care, breastfeeding, safe sleep, nutrition, and the hospital’s doula program. Community-based organizations CommonPoint Queens and the Queens Museum also joined in the baby shower events. Following presentations, patients had the opportunity to win prizes by answering trivia questions related to well-baby care.

NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst CEO Helen Arteaga-Landaverde said that she is beyond ecstatic and grateful to lawmakers who will help see the project through to its completion..

“Our expectant mothers and newborns will greatly benefit from these investments in infrastructure and improving patient care and patient satisfaction at our facility,” Arteaga-Landaverde said. “We look forward to working closely with our federal legislators to ensure that Elmhurst has the resources it needs to meet the growing healthcare demands of our community.”

Elmhurst resident Helen Sokol turns 100

Born in 1922 in Nanticoke, Penn., Helen Sokol eventually moved to Queens as a young woman to spearhead her life, career, and family.
Now, Sokol celebrates 100 years of life and nearly 80 years of calling Queens home.

Her friends at AARP Elmhurst Rego Park Chapter 2889 organized a birthday celebration for her, in which representatives of local elected officials and other community members attended.

Sokol, whose family came from Slovakia, lived with relatives in Middle Village when she first moved to the city in the 1940s.

She later moved into a one bedroom apartment in Elmhurst, after she married her husband, Emil.

The Sokols had three sons: Emil, Thomas and Edward, and two grandchildren: Katie and Brian.

Edward Sokol, who owns Ace Wine & Liquor on Grand Avenue in Elmhurst, said that his mother is known for many things, but most notably, she’s known as a hard worker.

Before she had children, Sokol worked in communications for American Airlines at LaGuardia Airport. She was also heavily involved with different trade publications, including Billboard.

“Even though she only had a high school diploma at that point, she was able to work herself up and become involved with different publications,” her son, Edward said.

“She was a hard worker from the day she started, to the day that she retired,” he continued. “I could celebrate her every day.”
People also remarked upon her sense of humor and love of swing music and dance.

In celebration of this milestone, New York City Councilman Robert Holden, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, NYS Senator Joseph Addabbo, NYS Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards presented Sokol with various certificates.

As for her secret to a long, healthy life, Sokol said she made sure to always keep busy and surround herself with people who make her feel young.

“A big part of my life was taking care of my mother who had health problems, and then my husband. But I always dealt with young people,” Sokol said.

“I never heard people complain about their aches and pains and things like that, so I never knew what to expect,” she continued. “As long as you’re around young people, you’re curious. And the young people I worked with accepted me as one of their own… as long as you’re feeling young, that’s what matters.”

Elmhurst native makes impact on sneaker industry

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

Sarah Sukumaran, founder of Lilith NYC.

The sneaker and fashion industries were always an interest of East Elmhurst native Sarah Sukumaran, but they were never something she thought she would pursue as a career.

A business graduate of Babson College, she found herself in the world of marketing and tech in New York, working as the head director product at Nike.

It was during March 2020 when she decided to quit her job and launch Lilith NYC, a Queens-based footwear brand for women and femmes in the sneaker world.

“Spending time at Nike, I realized that I wanted to definitely create shoes for women because for so long, I felt they were underserved in terms of selection, sizing and colorways,” Sukumaran said. “I gravitated towards men’s styles still as a 20-something-year-old, couldn’t get my size, didn’t care for the colorways dropped for women and the silhouettes had still been centered around male sport.”

Sukumaran emphasized that women spend more money on sneakers than men do, owning 80 percent of the wallet share.

Despite this, her time at Nike revealed that the industry is not moving at the pace that she would like, and feels that brands should make an effort to cater to their audience.

Lilith is Sukumaran’s outlet to reach out to other women who love sneakers and explore feminine identity and style through its designs.

“Everything from the brand top down is really through the lens of the divine feminine, because historically, everything has been either hyper masculinized or hyper feminized. In sneaker culture, the expectation for women is super sexually presented through campaigns or ads, or it was the opposite where you have to be a tomboy,” Sukumaran said.

“Especially in 2022, I question how we can express our gender, sexuality or style on a spectrum, and I wanted to do that through the lens of the divine feminine,” she continued. “It’s an energy that we all have, but it transcends the gender binary and doesn’t pigeonhole us the way the industry has wanted us to.”

Lilith’s debut silhouette, the Caudal Lure, is designed by Sara Jaramillo and named after a type of mimicry snakes take on to lure their prey. The shoe’s outsole resembles a snake’s tail.

The serpent, throughout region, culture and time, has been a symbol of the divine feminine, and this imagery is ever present in the brand.

As the daughter of Tamil refugees, Sukumaran expresses her culture through this imagery, since the Hindu goddess of protection is represented with a five headed cobra.

She simultaneously ties in her connection to Queens to the brand through Caudal Lure’s colors, concrete jungle green and amberlou brick.

The green pays homage to the grit of Queens and lush of urban life, redefining the urban jungle, and the amber-toned brick represents the bricks used by architect Louis Allmendinger for homes throughout Elmhurst, Sunnyside and Ridgewood.

Lilith NYC is currently online only, but Sukumaran said a physical storefront in Queens is a goal of hers.

She has participated with in-person popups, such as Queens Collaborative, to share the designs with locals, and hopes to release more colorways and a new design next year.

During Women’s History Month, Sukumaran embraces the fact that Lilith NYC is a women-run brand and commits to sharing women’s achievements through storytelling.

“Whether you’re a woman in tech, footwear or architecture, women’s contributions are constantly erased. They’re constantly overlooked, and sometimes attributed to men,” Sukumaran said.

“That’s why we named it Lilith; she was considered the first feminist because she didn’t want to be submissive to Adam. Historically, she’s been written out of history in a negative light, and so the name is to tell our own stories and men don’t get to dictate it.”

Elmhurst honors those affected by COVID, cancer

The front facade of Elmhurst Hospital now features 655 lights, each paying tribute to a frontline worker, cancer survivor or someone affected by COVID-19.
Last week, the hospital illuminated the exterior exhibit while remembering and honoring those affected.
“Cancer has touched so many of our lives and, as we all know, so did COVID,” said Elmhurst Hospital CEO Helen Arteaga. “Even in my own family we’ve suffered from both cancer and COVID. Today, we stand just a little bit brighter because we are reminded by these lights that there is always light in sadness.”
The first ten names on the 90-foot long installation are staff members from Elmhurst and Queens hospitals that passed away due to COVID-19. Integrated into the exhibit are photos of the community and hospital workers.
Paddle for a Cure NYC, a support organization for breast cancer survivors/supporters, and Women in Lighting and Design (WILD), a networking organization for women in the architectural lighting community were integral in creating the exhibit.
Leah Salmorin, CEO of Paddle for a Cure NYC, expressed her gratitude to Elmhurst Hospital workers who comforted her during her own treatment for breast cancer and COVID-19.
“By coming together, we share our emotional support for each other,” she said. “Be a light to others and be a light to yourselves. The brighter we shine the better the world will become.”
WILD President Kelly Roberts said the exhibit creates a place for people who have been affected by the pandemic to be remembered, especially in one of the areas hardest hit by COVID.
“We decided to use light to bring joy back to the Elmhurst community,” she said. “This connection and interaction with the installation is exactly what we hoped and envisioned for the community.”
Lights are still available to be purchased in tribute of a loved one or friend, to remember those lost or to celebrate those who survived from all cancers or COVID, or to thank a frontline worker. Visit pfcnyc.org/lightforlife

Elmhurst Hospital commemorates 9/11 survivors

Woodside resident Dominick Artale says he probably has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (CPOD), as a result of volunteering at Ground Zero in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, although he’s yet to be officially diagnosed.
Battling different types of cancers and suffering from severe lung problems and sleep apnea, Artale can still recall what it was like to watch the events unfold from across the East River.
“It was a beautiful day, but it turned to hell,” Artale said. “I’m thankful I wasn’t down there. I would have been, but I had a fight with my work partner two weeks before. He didn’t want to work or I would have been in the tower.”
Artale’s work partner would develop thyroid cancer as a result of being exposed to the dust cloud, and the horrors of that day threatened Artale’s physical and mental health.
“I thought it was a nightmare,” Artale added. “Every morning I would wake up and see the smoke on the way to work. I went down to volunteer to help, I wanted to play my part in it as an American. I felt helpless.”
Two decades later, the memories of that day are still stuck with Artale, now 66. But he’s not alone.
For the past three years, Artale has been part of the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program at Elmhurst Hospital, which was created to provide no-cost medical and behavioral health services to the first responders and survivors.
At Elmhurst Hospital, services have been provided to approximately 900 survivors. The WTC Health Program also operates in Manhattan at Bellevue Hospital and Gouverneur Hospital, caring for more than 13,000 patients at the three NYC Health + Hospitals locations.
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Elmhurst Hospital recognized and paid tribute to the survivors they have cared for since 2011.
Hospital CEO Helen Arteaga, praised the partnership between the health providers and the patients, which she says brings a sense of community to Elmhurst Hospital.
“For us, it’s not just the physical and clinical work,” Arteaga said. “For us, it’s that true partnership of holistic care. We are there for our community during the good, bad and the ugly.”
Arteaga was working in the emergency room at Northwell Hospital in Manhasset on September 11, preparing for an expected flood of casualties. Instead, she recalls a somber moment when no patients showed up.
“It was the worst silence of my life,” said Artega. “I remember when we realized no one was coming, just the tears, because we felt so helpless that we couldn’t help anybody.”
Patients in the program have access to psychologists, physicians, social workers and more support staff within the city’s hospital system.
Enrollment for the WTC Health Program remains open and eligible for New Yorkers, including those who are now in their 20s and 30s who were children when the attacks occurred.
“They listen to me and they understand,” Artale said. “They know that I’ve seen things that a lot of people didn’t see. I could call them at any time and they will be there for me.”

Midwives at Elmhurst rally for fair contract

Dozens of health care workers and their supporters took to the picket line outside Elmhurst Hospital last week to demand a fair union contract for the seven full-time midwives who work at the facility.
“We happily worked through the pandemic with all of the positive moms and babies,” said Keeley McNamara, who has been a midwife at Elmhurst Hospital for the past 10 years. “We changed our schedules, we rearranged everything in our lives and some of us got COVID, yet we continue to work without a contract.
“We are only asking for parity with other HHC hospitals so that we can hire and retain good midwives and continue to serve the community we love,” she added.
Midwives at Elmhurst Hospital Center, who are health care professionals trained to assist women in childbirth, are part of the Mount Sinai Health System.
The group unanimously decided to join the New York State Nurses Association two-and-a-half years ago, but they say the hospital network has refused to negotiate a fair contract, leaving them overworked and underpaid.
“This community was the epicenter of the epicenter of the pandemic,” said Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, one of several elected officials who attended the rally last Wednesday to support the cause. “We opened our windows and banged our pots and pans to thank our essential workers, yet our midwives were working overtime with lesser pay literally saving lives every day. They are our heroes and ‘she-roes’ and we demand equity.”
Jonathan Forgash, co-founder of Queens Together, an organization that provided meals to Elmhurst Hospital staff and its midwives since early April 2020, said he joined the picket line because he knows firsthand about the sacrifices that were made by the midwives during the pandemic.
“Keeley lives in the same apartment building as me and my family,” he said. “When the midwives were switched from maternity to COVID patient care, we saw her come home to her family exhausted every night.
“We heard stories about their work and care for those sick and dying,” Forgash continued. “We heard stories about insufficient PPE or none at all. I knew we needed to show them some love, that people were grateful for their personal sacrifice and care.”
Elmhurst Hospital’s chief midwife Margaret Re, who has been working for the facility for more than 20 years, said she contracted COVID at the hospital during the pandemic but returned to work as soon as she was able.
She admits the hours are grueling, but said she does what she does for the community she is committed to serving.
“Why is it so difficult?” asked Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz. “Mount Sinai should be at the table in good faith listening to the needs of folks who, quite frankly, are serving a community that is making [Mount Sinai’s] pockets pretty rich.
Yet they don’t want to talk about giving this amazing team of midwives their just due,” she added. “We are not asking for much. We are simply asking that they get the dignity, the respect, and the money they deserve.”

Queens Vietnam Veterans Memorial vandalized

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Elmhurst Park was vandalized sometime between Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
Graffiti vandals spray-painted “Baby Killers” and swastikas, among other things, in the shadow of several wreaths that were placed there last Thursday morning during a Memorial Day ceremony.
The memorial was dedicated on December 26, 2019. It culminated a decade-long push for the $2.85 million monument, which features a curved bench flanked by two semi-closed granite walls.
One wall bears the names of 371 men from Queens who fought and died in the Vietnam War. The second features a timeline of the war and a map of key locations.
An additional plaque honors the lives of veterans who died from illnesses related to their service in Vietnam. It includes the name of Pat Toro, a former president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 who began the push for a memorial in 2008.
He passed away in 2014 due to complications from exposure to Agent Orange during his time in service.

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