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Never Alone at the Hospital

Malky Lowinger

Whether she’s calming a confused patient, averting disaster, or counseling family members, patient liaison Sima Bachrach eases the stress of hospitalization

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

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CALL ME When patients arrive at the emergency room, they often become overwhelmed and confused, but Sima urges them to stay focused. “First,” she says, “call me. There’s a whole process that patients go through before being formally admitted. They need to be triaged. They need to be seen by a nurse and a doctor. Often, tests need to be run, and that could take hours. There are times when I could push these things along and get the ball rolling

I t’s a rainy Wednesday afternoon and I’m scheduled to meet Sima Bachrach at the Chesed 24/7 Bikur Cholim room in the Guggenheim Pavilion, a 625-bed facility of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. I’ve been told Sima can work miracles, and I’m looking forward to meeting this energetic and caring woman, who serves as Chesed 24/7’s patient liaison for the Jewish community.

But first I have to find her.

The building is massive. I enter the lobby with its gleaming tile and soaring atrium, and suddenly feel very small. A heimish fellow directs me toward the Chesed 24/7 room down the hall on the second floor. As I wait for the elevator, a parade of assorted hospital personnel hurry past, dressed in scrubs or uniforms. This place is a world unto itself.

I enter the Chesed 24/7 room and start making a coffee while I wait for Sima. I’m surrounded by a cross section of New York Jews. A young woman is on her cell phone, a middle-aged man absentmindedly stirs his tea, a few ladies are deep in conversation, others are searching for sandwiches in the fridge. Everybody here has a story.

Sima appears, and leads me from the room through the labyrinth of corridors, navigating the hospital halls like a pro, stopping occasionally to greet a nurse (“Hi Desiree! Are we moving the patient to five? Wonderful!”) or an orderly (“Francine, how are you?”). We arrive at Eleven West, a secluded area on the eleventh floor lined with private patient suites and upgraded services. It’s where celebrities and the well-heeled come to heal.

We arrange ourselves on gray leather couches, a white marble coffee table between us and a breathtaking view of Manhattan in the oversized windows in the background. With its dark mahogany nurse’s station and cheerful smiling staff, Eleven West seems more like a four-star hotel than a hospital ward. But the stark reality becomes clear once Sima begins to speak.

No Typical Day

The work is both physically and emotionally draining, but it’s also rewarding. And along with the sadness and suffering there are also lots of happy endings

I ask her what exactly she does as a patient liaison. What’s a typical day like? She eyes me, clearly amused. Did I really think there’s such a thing as a typical day?

She starts out by telling me how her position developed. Dealing with serious illness is equal parts frightening and humbling, and that’s especially true when a hospitalization is necessary, she explains. The patient may be surrounded by dozens of health-care workers, but still feel very alone.

Chesed 24/7 — the organization founded by the New Square community to aid patients and their families — had already been taking care of the physical needs of patients and their caregivers by establishing and maintaining Chesed 24/7 Bikur Cholim rooms in over 20 hospitals in the New York area. Over half a million people use these rooms during the course of a year! But they realized the hospital patients and their families needed something more.

“Whenever we came to restock our Chesed 24/7 rooms,” says Operations Manager Yossi Greenberg, “we were approached by flustered family members with questions. They needed additional services. They needed guidance. So we decided to bring somebody on-site to help these families.”

Sima, who’d been active in Bikur Cholim at Columbia Presbyterian for years, was enlisted for the job. Tall, graceful, and poised, she exudes a quiet self-confidence and heartfelt sincerity that wins the trust of her many patients.

As patient liaison, she explains, her job is to make a patient’s hospital stay as comfortable as possible. This could mean many different things, depending on the situation. No two patients are alike, and no two circumstances are the same. Sima never really knows what the new day will bring. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 558)

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