By: Douglas Jablon
Executive Vice President of Community Relations & Special Assistant to the President at Maimonides Medical Center
About five years ago, I was making my rounds in Maimonides Medical Center and I walked into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (“NICU”). I saw a woman crying, and she said her baby was born prematurely at only 23 weeks and only weighed one pound. She wasn’t sure if her child would survive. I said, “Don’t worry, one day your child is going to give me a good kick in the leg.”
A few months ago, as I was walking down 13th Avenue, a boy ran over to me and gave me a strong kick in the leg. It hurt. I thought to myself, who is this child? Then I saw a mother come running towards me and she said, “Douglas, this is my son who was born in the Maimonides NICU. You promised me that he would give you a good kick in the leg. Here he is. Thank you for everything.” For me, this story represents everything that is special about Maimonides and why I’ve dedicated my career to it for the last 47 years.
As Jews, we know that we are responsible for one another, and that bikkur cholim is one of the most essential mitzvot. I was born and raised in Boro Park. I grew up in a loving home with my brother, parents, and grandparents. When I was ten years old, my grandmother, racked with Parkinson’s, held my hand and said to me, “When you grow up, I want you to help people.” Her words stayed with me, and I am fortunate that as an outreach liaison for Maimonides, I get to spend each day honoring my grandmother’s wishes by helping the community that raised me.
It is hard for me to believe that I have been working at Maimonides for nearly half a century, baruch Hashem. While my focus is on the emotional, social, and cultural needs of patients and their families, I have learned that this is everyone’s priority at Maimonides. I am amazed at how well the doctors, nurses, and all team members approach the religious needs and sensitivities of the Jewish community. They know that their work is about so much more than medical care; it is understanding how the community copes with illness and death, respecting the particular dietary needs of each patient, and understanding the importance of modesty and Shabbos restrictions. I have also seen the number of patient representatives grow tremendously. Their job is to interpret, mediate, and expedite matters between patients and doctors, nurses, and everyone else. We know everyone deserves prompt care, attention, and advocacy, and we are constantly striving to improve the patient experience.
Maimonides is much more than medical care and much more than just a hospital. We are a home away from home when it’s needed. A few years ago, a frail, terminally ill mother was at Maimonides. She knew she had very little time left, and she made one final wish: she wanted to be at the wedding of her engaged daughter.
Miraculously, we were able to arrange a wedding ceremony and small reception on the sixth floor of Maimonides with just a few days of planning. We arranged the cantor, the chuppah, and a violin player. We styled the mother’s makeup and pushed her down the aisle in a stretcher. Although she was greatly infirmed, her heart was full. She profusely thanked us for the opportunity to celebrate with her daughter and family on a joyous day. Seven hours later, she passed away peacefully.
And we have held bar mitzvot for pediatric patients, including a boy who had his appendix taken out on the day of his bar mitzvah. We have held brissim and pidyonei habanim for babies that still needed in-patient care. We have also overseen numerous vocational training programs and volunteer activities for members of the HASC Center.
As an Orthodox Jew, I am proud of how Maimonides is particularly sensitive to end-of-life care. To my knowledge, it is the only hospital to employ a rabbi who is a qualified posek and is uniquely sensitive to families’ choices concerning end-of-life treatment. Community rabbanim are consulted in regard to the utilization of feeding tubes and ongoing medical treatment for elderly or terminal patients, with the utmost respect for halachic demands. A few years ago, a rabbi of a large yeshiva insisted that he be transferred from a Manhattan hospital to Maimonides. He came here because, like many other Jews, he knew his wishes would be respected and carried out in accordance with rabbinical law. I believe it is impossible to find another hospital that so strictly adheres to halachic custom in the way that Maimonides does.
Indeed, in the spirit of bikkur cholim, Maimonides CEO Ken Gibbs made every effort imaginable to ensure that visitation and religious practices continued unabated during the pandemic, including the ability of friends and family to help patients with tefillin, prayers, and rabbinical support. And like so many members of Maimonides staff, he lived in these hallways every day. We should all be grateful that the entire team of healthcare workers at Maimonides helped Brooklyn get through the darkest days of the pandemic, sacrificing their own health to serve our community.
While Maimonides faces certain structural challenges, many of which are rooted in how our healthcare system is organized and funded, we can and are striving every day to be better. But more often than not, I have witnessed extraordinary medical and patient care during my tenure carried out by some of the best and the brightest in health care.
The amount of pride I have for Maimonides can only be exceeded by its own excellence and my love for the people I call family who help make it the world-class institution that it is.