By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]
In honor of 70 years of treating the Forest Hills community, staff at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills hospital celebrated with recollections and a shared vision for the upcoming decades.
“I realized that we actually just hit 70 years, and that this is a point of pride, it’s not hard to find somebody here who’s worked here for 40 years,” said Executive Director Lorraine Chambers, who stepped into the role two years ago. “I really wanted them to be very proud of what they accomplished and all the transitions over the years.”
Over the decades, the hospital has changed both owners and names numerous times while it remained stationed on 66th Road and 102nd Street.
Chambers took the initiative to plan the celebration and invite special guests, including several former employees who she refers to as “LIJ Forest Hills Alumni.” The dozens who couldn’t make it recorded heartfelt video messages which were compiled and played at the party held in the hospital’s cafe.
“The people here are so tight knit, and they have such an amazing work family culture,” said Chambers on how the hospital manages to retain many of its employees for decades. “So many of the workers here are from the community, so it’s an extremely diverse workforce that can meet the challenges of serving healthcare for an extremely diverse community.”
The hospital debuted as privately owned Forest Hills General with 150 beds and seven stories in 1953. After an insurance scandal shuttered the site a decade later, it reopened as Laguardia Hospital under new management. Its expansion in the 1970s added three new floors and doubled its bed count.
But financial difficulties in 1996 led to another name change, North Shore Hospital at Forest Hills, after the North Shore Health System, now known as Northwell Health, based on Long Island took over. In 2006 the moniker was shortened to Forest Hills Hospital, and in 2016 it acquired its current name.
At the celebration, City Councilwoman Lynn Schulman presented LIJ with a proclamation from the city council which recognized its impact on the community. Local elected officials, including Borough President Donovan Richards and State Senator Leroy Comrie, also delivered remarks at the celebration.
“I’ve known this hospital since it was LaGuardia hospital. So that’s how many years I’ve been around. And it didn’t always have a great reputation,” recalled Councilwoman Schulman, a Forest Hills native. “I have been a patient here, and the care has been amazing. The facility, not so great.”
To help the hospital upgrade, Shulman announced that she will allocate four million dollars from city funds, which Northwell agreed to match. She also called on Senator Comrie, who gained representation of the hospital in last year’s redistricting, to contribute state funds during her speech.
Attendee Lee Solomon, 96, spent over 30 years volunteering inside the hospital. After she moved to the Forest Hills area, her search for new connections and a purpose led her to dedicate some of her free time to clerical work. She said the decades-long commitment brought many friends who she considers family into her life. Soloman still lives two blocks from the hospital.
“I don’t think it’s changed that much,” she said. “To me, it’s the people. I’ve found some good friends.”
Another special guest, Alan Gogarty, was miraculously revived after he spent 23 minutes without a pulse detected inside the hospital. Following strange symptoms, Gogarty checked himself into LIJ and subsequent bloodwork detected he was having a cardiac episode. The staff’s unwavering efforts to revive him led to a full recovery.
“I was a little bit shocked, but then I found it slightly amusing as well,” said Gogarty, recalling waking up from the near death experience. “I wouldn’t be here if not for them.”
Gogarty, an Irish singer who has played professionally for over 33 years, returned to the hospital for a solo guitar performance at the celebration.
He arrived in Queens from Ireland in 2002 and has lived in Sunnyside, Maspeth and Glendale for the past seven years. You can find him playing alone, and with various bands, at Irish bars in Sunnyside.
A two-tier cake featuring an aerial image of 150 employees forming the number “70” was unveiled at the end of the speeches. Old and new employees connected over a slice while trading stories. And while the hospital may continue to change, it has a way of making people stay.