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First responders honored at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital

Norma Corwin, Helen Reiss and Taylor Reed remember with great clarity the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic when, as members of the Greenport Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services team, they transported dozens of patients to Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital.

“We never stopped,” said Ms. Corwin, who has been an EMS volunteer for more than 30 years. “I remember one woman. She was talking to me when we arrived and died right then.”

“And that was on top of all the other calls,” added Ms. Reiss. “In 2021 we had 900 calls.” Those included COVID-19 cases, rescues, and a host of accidents. “And we are all volunteer and we love what we do.”

In spite of the massive workload in Greenport, Ms. Reed, who also works in outpatient services at SBELIH, said, “I am very grateful for it. We do what we have to do. It’s stressful, yes. Some shifts there are so many calls we never get out of the ambulance. But we get through it. We all live here. This is our community.”

On a gorgeous Tuesday, the three volunteers and dozens of other first responders gathered under a tent outside the Greenport hospital’s emergency department for a celebratory lunch. This is the second year these volunteers and first responders have been honored.

Tuesday’s lunch featured food-truck pizza set up just a few feet from the turquoise-blue waters of Stirling Cove, where dozens of boats were docked. The lunch was paid for by Southold real estate broker Sheri Winter Parker, who has her own COVID-19 horror story.

Emergency medical volunteers Helen Reiss (from left), Norma Corwin and Taylor Reed attend a thank-you lunch for first responders Tuesday at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport. (Credit: Steve Wick)

“I have done this for two years now,” she said as volunteers lined up at the pizza truck. “And I will continue to do it. I owe these people my life — they saved me.”

In March 2020, just as the pandemic was exploding in severity and numbers, she felt sick. “I wasn’t well,” she said, adding that there were a few medical missteps before an ambulance brought her to the emergency room in Greenport.

“I was intubated and then sent to Stony Brook,” she said. “If I had not gone to this hospital and been intubated, I would have died in the ambulance. I was fighting for my life. I was told I was the first patient who had been intubated to get out of Stony Brook alive.”

Looking around at the volunteers enjoying a beautiful day and very good pizza, she said, “This will not stop. I will not forget. I am indebted to these volunteers.”

The lunch brought two EMS volunteers from Shelter Island to Greenport. James Preston and Peter Humphrey pointed out how different it is being a volunteer on an island.

“It is different for us, but the goal is the same,” Mr. Preston said, pointing out that in the summer the Island’s population swells to 15,000 and calls for help increase. “I say it’s different, but at the same time we have been very successful over there. Our biggest challenge on Shelter Island is the distance to the hospital.” 

Mr. Humphrey pointed out that both the north and south ferry companies close late at night but keep people on call in case someone has to be transported to the hospital. 

“We can always get someone to the help that is needed,” he said. “Even on an island.”

ELI may be the only hospital in the region that can be reached three ways: by air, by boat or by ambulance.

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