According to Audrey Gruss, smart people do two things: stay constantly aware of their mortality and support their local hospital.
And with her and her husband Martin’s latest endeavor—having their namesake foundation donate $5 million to Southampton Hospital—the Grusses are cornering the market on her definition of smart.
On Monday, Southampton Hospital held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Audrey and Martin Gruss Heart and Stroke Center. If all goes as planned, by the end of summer 2014, East End residents will be able to receive state-of-the-art treatment for all heart conditions and stroke symptoms right in their own backyard.
“Cardiovascular disease, of which heart disease and stroke are the most common diseases, is the leading cause of death nationally as well as on Long Island,” said hospital spokeswoman Marsha Kenny in a press release. “Given a geographically remote location, compounded by excessive traffic during the summer, heart disease and stroke are a particular concern for the communities served by Southampton Hospital.”
The new center “will be transformational for us in that it will significantly advance the hospital’s ability to diagnose and treat stroke and cardiovascular disease,” said Robert Chaloner, president and CEO of the hospital, at the groundbreaking. Mr. Chaloner said the current operating rooms are “1965 vintage, so this will definitely position us for the future.”
The new addition will include a Siemens Artis Zeego, a multi-axis imaging machine that can create real-time, CT-like, high-quality images before, during or after a surgery, and a robotic arm that can perform procedures while surgeons monitor them on a screen, according to Dr. Fred Weinbaum, executive vice president for operations and chief medical officer at Southampton Hospital.
He called the designed operating room, combining imaging and surgical tools in one sterile environment, a “hybrid OR.”
“To be honest, this is how most modern vascular surgeries are done,” said Dr. Weinbaum, who explained that the center will help the hospital recruit a top-notch vascular surgeon because he or she will want to work with the technology they trained on.
Dr. Weinbaum said he was also excited to utilize the center as an educational tool for the already “fine cadre of surgeons who will get to learn with the best, and much-needed, technology.”
“When Bob Chaloner asked and said it would save lives, I think that’s all it really took,” Ms. Gruss said as to their motivation for the donation, which matched another $5 million donation, by John and Jenny Paulson to renovate the emergency room, as the largest private gift to Southampton Hospital.
She then tried to humbly explain that the move was somewhat selfish, if ever a $5 million gift could be construed as such.
“The hospital identified heart and stroke as areas of large concern moving forward. Many of us that spend our summers out in the Hamptons are over 50 and are the same people that demand the best medical care everywhere we go. Yet we never think about whether or not we are going to need that care while we are here in the Hamptons,” explained Ms. Gruss, who said she took many walk-throughs instead of “simply writing a check.”
“With many of us [in the over-50 age group] spending months or weekends in Southampton and the East End, Martin and I felt it was important that our local hospital have the capability to conduct stroke and vascular distress intervention,” she said.
In addition to the $5 million gift, $900,000 of the proceeds from the annual Southampton Hospital Gala held August 3 will be used to build the center. Mr. Chaloner declined to give a ballpark amount for the project, for which money is still being raised, but said those two sums will make up “a significant portion” of the expenses.
Speaking at the groundbreaking event, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., whose own father died of a heart attack at Southampton Hospital, extended thanks to the Grusses for their gift.
“Our greatest resource here on the East End isn’t our beaches, but the people who live here,” Mr. Thiele said, “so thank you for your tremendous gift. I know that this center will save lives and keep families intact.”