By Sophia Chang
Armed with a $3 million bequest from wealthy lumberman Henry S. K. Williams and the saintly goal of helping sick children of all faiths, the Sisters of St. Mary broke ground that year for the Bayside hospital that would eventually become the St. Mary's Healthcare System, a world-renowned leader in convalescent pediatric care.”The new hospital (is) the 'realization of what has been in the hearts of the sisterhood for more than 60 years,'” the Bayside Times quoted Rev. Robert Erskine Campbell, provincial chaplain of the Episcopal sisterhood, on the occasion of the cornerstone laying on May 25, 1950.But while physically the facilities are 55 years old, the hospital is quietly marking its 135th official anniversary this year, tied to the order's decision in 1870 to enter healthcare with a series of temporary hospital locations in Manhattan, Connecticut and the Rockaways before settling in Bayside. No official anniversary festivities are planned, however, in large part because officials prefer letting the hospital's reputation to speak for itself.”Sometimes less is more,” said Dr. Burton Grebin, president and chief executive officer of the hospital at 29-01 216th St. in a recent interview. “Calling attention to ourselves is somewhat self-serving.”While modest, Grebin is largely credited with turning the hospital around. He recalled joining the hospital in the 1970s, when the operations were still overseen by the sisters, who lacked what Grebin called “clinical vision” and the 45 in-patients at the time were “here forever, and family involvement was non-existent,” he said.But what they lacked in expertise, the sisters made up for with their belief in their mission.”While they had no strategic vision for the hospital, the sisters had a strong desire to do good,” Grebin said.Grebin's arrival was the arguable beginning of what the hospital is now known for–the treatment and care of children with serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions and diseases.”In dealing with chronically ill children, I realized there was little to no organization reflective of their special needs,” he said. In addition, Grebin began developing the nation's first pediatric palliative care programs to help make terminally ill children more comfortable while still “exhausting every avenue,” Grebin said.”I began putting together my thoughts about home care and accepting the fact that sometimes we can't fix or cure, but we can only focus on the care,” he said. “The notion of palliative care came into my head, where we manage the pain and distressing symptoms. We can make the children more comfortable and give them dignity.”Along with its palliative care programs, St. Mary's Healthcare System has a highly regarded pediatric home care program, handled by five metropolitan-area offices that serve thousands of children more than its 97-bed Bayside facility can accommodate.In addition, the hospital boasts a top-notch head injury unit, where Kew Gardens Hills hit-and-run victim Angel Reyes recently recuperated, as well as programs for early intervention, pediatric feeding problems, and many others. And while the sisters of St. Mary's Convent, based in upstate New York, no longer take an active role in dictating the hospital's direction, they still have representatives who sit on the board of the secular institution.But through it all, the sisters' legacy still runs deeply at their namesake hospital.”A strong spiritual commitment is an important component of healing,” Grebin said. “It's the notion that there's something special about the care you get in a place that emphasizes spirituality.”Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at email@example.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.