Our Highly Rated Medical Care Facility

It's 5-Star, It's Here and You Probably Know Little or Nothing About It

David Stone
It's 5-Star, It's Here and You Probably Know Little or Nothing About It
Photo Credit: Roosevelt Island Historical Society

"Hear and learn about Coler, the programs, administration and residents. Coler receives little publicity but is home to 900 patients and has many unique programs that you can learn about," Judy Berdy, a volunteer on the Community Advisory Board encouraged," adding, "and free breakfast."

It's hard enough to turn Judy down without a free breakfast. With one promised, it's impossible."

A motivation in starting The Roosevelt Island Daily was to give the community a more inclusive view, to cover people, places and events routinely ignored by the dominant print media. The Main Street WIRE, I learned while preparing to take over as Editor and Publisher, sold advertising based on readership that included Coler's residents without bothering to include them in coverage.

Invisible they were too to the Residents Association Common Council, even though its three-term President lives across the street. The Council inflates the Association's membership by counting Coler but cannot be shamed into giving them the slightest representation at the table.

That needed to change, and until Judy Berdy, whose fingerprints as a volunteer are found on almost every social event on Roosevelt Island, prodded me, I hadn't done much better.

Now, I sat at a table, sipping an after breakfast cup of coffee while Robert K. Hughes, CEO at Coler, told us about the 815 bed chronic care facility he manages.

Top Rated On a National Scale

One item of which Hughes is justifiably proud is being recognized a "Much Above Average" in a comprehensive grade awarded by the government's official Medicare website. To be clear, Much Above Average is government-speak for the top of the pack, the highest ranking available. It's accompanied by five golden stars.

A decade ago, when I first worked with the city's Health & Hospitals Corporation, you didn't find many positive stories about the facilities it managed, hospitals or nursing homes. I remember sitting across the desk from the top purchasing executive as she nodded at a member of her staff, commenting that "She drops the dime."

Dropping the dime was code for calling the press anonymously from a pay phone to report alleged improper purchasing practices, including fellow buyers who expected to receive cash for extending the privilege of meeting to outside sales reps.

All that changed in succeeding administrations as the largest municipal health care system in the U.S. has been honed into an award winning collection of facilities, most ranked among the finest in the city. That's an enormous achievement for a public benefit corporation that battles each year for every dollar it gets from federal, state and local government budgets.

Coler and its sister chronic care facilities add significantly to the impressive level of service. 

Coler's History

Named to honor Bird Sim Coler, New York's first Comptroller and author of books on good government, it opened in 1952. Like its older sibling to the south, Goldwater Memorial, and other institutions situated here through history, the hospital was built to handle challenges outside the mainstream community across the East River in Manhattan. 

The result is one of the most scenic nursing home environments in the nation and an ease of mobility on an island long committed to barrier free design.

Sadly, though, few efforts have been undertaken to involve the mostly long term residents at Coler in the Roosevelt Island community. Judy Berdy, Gladys Dixon, Padmini Arya and others serve on the Community Advisory Board and, as we saw with the recent Legislative Brunch, devote efforts to local awareness. But the media continues to treat our northernmost neighbors like distant cousins.

Worse yet, the Residents Association refuses to acknowledge more than 800 neighbors, the majority of whom have lived among us for years. Average residency may exceed that of most apartment complexes. We are left to draw our own conclusions as to why, but good reasons are hard to imagine.

Coler Today

Coler is what remains of a 1996 merger with Goldwater Hospital that ended when Goldwater was demolished. The economics of keeping it open no longer made sense. Cornell Tech is now being built on the site.

Inside, the hospital's easy access along clean, well-lit corridors makes it a pleasant place to call home or to visit friends and family. A thoughtfully landscaped, low key entrance welcomes. Buses curl in front along the drive.

In good weather, residents can be found enjoying the waterfront promenade and using wheel chairs to expand their neighborhood north into Lighthouse Park and south into the newer apartment complexes. Current residents are likely to forget that Coler was here first, decades before the WIRE buildings rose up around Good Shepherd Plaza.

A professional staff tends to the daily needs of more than 800 residents. (On scale, Coler is a giant among nursing facilities, which makes its highly rated management still more remarkable.) Innovative as well as routine medical support goes on quietly, invisible to the larger community.

CEO Hughes described a pioneering procedure using music fed to patients via iPods that connects them with songs from their past, enhancing long term retention. It's getting noticed as an inexpensive, non-invasive way to lessen the pains of memory loss among the elderly.

Taking Judy Berdy up on her invitation was a useful first step in getting to know more about the Coler community and, now, letting locals know more about it too. We don't intend to stop there. Judy probably won't let us anyway. In spite of the Residents Association, we will expend some efforts getting to know our northernmost neighbors and telling our readers as much as we can about them.

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