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St. Mary’s children get new care center

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Leah Weinberg (r.) joins her family mother Chaya (l.-r.), brother Zevy and father Marc after speaking during the opening ceremony about the care Zevy has received at St. Mary's. Photo by Christina Santucci
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St. Mary's resident Mary gets her first glimpse of the new pavilion during the opening ceremony. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Staff and children Daria Swinton (l.-r.), senior therapeutic activities therapist; Wilfredo Rosario, pediatric counselor; Demetrius; Jillian Kunz, pediatric day health care program supervisor; Janeal; and Nicholas break through a banner to signify the opening of the new patient pavilion at St. Mary's Healthcare System for Children in Bayside. Photo by Christina Santucci
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St. Mary's resident Kamya (c.) cheers during the ceremony. Photo by Christina Santucci

It was a celebration of accomplishments for the hundreds of onlookers getting their first glimpse at the new patient pavilion at St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children in Bayside — but for the 97 guests of honor, it was a first look at their new home.

Caregivers ushered the St. Mary’s children into the new building amid cheers, tears and songs of joy last Thursday as the grand opening ceremony began at the hospital’s 29-01 216th St. campus. The building was filled with elected officials, northeast Queens residents and St. Mary’s administrators to celebrate a new home for the facility’s patients.

“The reason this building is so beautiful, so extraordinary, so special, is because it has to be to support our beautiful, extraordinary and special children,” said St. Mary’s President and CEO Jeffrey Frerichs, who became choked up with tears before speaking. “I’m in awe of these kids. I’m in awe of the physicians and staff. I’m in awe of the board members and of all of you for coming.”

The ribbon-cutting marked the end of the hospital’s first phase of a $114 million project to renovate its campus and revitalize its services. The new patient pavilion includes new expansive futuristic features, such as a music therapy room with a digital jukebox, to expand its level of care for the nearly 100 children who call St. Mary’s home.

“The staff here makes each person feel like a valued human being,” said Leah Weinberg, whose brother Zev is at St. Mary’s as a patient. “This is a place where all children can feel accepted and their strengths can be cultivated.”

The project, funded through the financing of a bond and philanthropic donations, broke ground two years ago and doubles the size of St. Mary’s to 178,000 square feet. All of the facility’s children will move into the new pavilion, fit with upgraded rooms, new state-of-the-art equipment and a horticultural garden. The project’s second phase will upgrade St. Mary’s’ existing building, originally built in the 1950s, and enhance its existing school trailers.

Elected officials, including Borough President Helen Marshall, former Borough President Claire Shulman and City Councilmen Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), remarked on the facility’s ability to provide top-notch care for its children.

“I took a tour of the facility, and seeing the work these caregivers do is not only heart-wrenching but heartwarming,” Halloran said. “The family atmosphere created in this place is why St. Mary’s is so special and these kids will be forever grateful for what was done here today.”

Marshall, who said she remained involved in the facility’s expansion project, spoke about the quality of care and attention to detail provided by St. Mary’s caregivers.

“There isn’t a person who has walked through these doors whose heart has not been touched,” Marshall said. “We all feel so grateful to have an institution like this for our children.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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