Doctoring by the River …
Hospitals were sacred territory to my physician-dad. Clean and caring at a minimum; life transforming and medically heroic at their best. He spent the major portion of his professional career inside those walls. Oddly enough, he was comfortable there.
My father was a passionate advocate for America’s hospitals — more than 6,100 nationwide today — unafraid to gave full voice to guard and recognize their hard work and achievement. Although he knew well their limits, he didn’t take kindly to criticism of hospitals or their employees.
Dad’s doctor stomping ground was Riverview Hospital on Front Street in Red Bank. Today, it’s the huge Riverview Medical Center — with its own address (1 Riverview Plaza) and $1 billion+ in annual revenue. Whatever it has become I’ll always have good vibes about the place for a number of reasons. Mostly because I was born there — along with six of my siblings. “Brand New From Riverview” was what they called us back then.
My father practiced medicine at the hospital and served on the medical staff for five decades. He was its President for a two-year term from 1979-1980 — real go-go growth times for the hospital. The challenges he faced in that leadership post — mixing medicine with politics — could be “living hell” he told me. I saw that it took a lot out of him and probably adversely impacted his family and medical practice. I once asked him why he did it and he replied simply and dutifully with: “it was my turn.”
The hospital’s late Roaring ’20s beginnings are quite humble. Incorporated as “Red Bank Hospital” in November 1928, it started in an old Union Street boarding house with just 29 beds and one OR. Claiming an unmatched look at Navesink River, it embraced the elements in August 1929 adopting the named “Riverview” at the suggestion of Ada Asay. A Long Branch native who died in 1950, Ada was awarded a Silver Cup for her efforts.
“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”
—Dr. Sigmund Freud
By the time my father arrived in 1955, it still wasn’t a big deal. In a sense Dad was a pioneer at Riverview. He was an internal medicine specialist and a core member of a group of smart, young post-World War II physicians who came to Red Bank in the early 1950s. These multi-specialty doctors — exceptionally educated and trained — brought stature and high-quality care to a little healthcare institution.
Among the best doctors of his day — he told me he was — my father’s talent was at patient diagnosis (along with his medical partner, Dr. George Sheehan). The ultimate clinician, Dad helped establish Riverview’s cardiology department, was among the first doctors to promote physical rehab for stroke patients, and served as a strong advocate for Riverview’s doctors and nurses. And he did it all in a pre-tech era — making his diagnostic abilities all the more remarkable.
Back in Dad’s time they didn’t give out awards or make lists for the best hospitals, but I think his workplace would have done well. As for today, according to US News & World Report’s 2023 Best Hospitals rankings, Riverview still does good work. Among nearly 100 New Jersey hospitals, Riverview was 13th. Today’s healthcare is very corporate, Riverview included. It’s part of the giant Hackensack Meridian Health network — New Jersey’s biggest hospital system with 18 hospitals and more than 36,000 employees, 7,000 physicians and $6.8 billion in operating revenue.
Dad’s tenure as medical staff president coincided with Riverview’s 50th anniversary. It was a time when the institution was celebrating its Golden Anniversary and contemplating its future. A major expansion and technology plan was on the drawing-boards back then. While it wasn’t like the big bucks ventures of today, it was still a very sizable investment (about $50 million when finished in 1983) and some thought it too much for the time and the place.
So my father went on a local radio program to help promote the project. When he was asked about the need and the cost, I’ll never forget his response: “If we don’t make these improvements, we run the risk of being labeled a second-rate hospital.” I say Dad gets credit for helping make Riverview, indeed the entire Hackensack Meridian system, the exceptional healthcare leader and provider that it is today. “First-rate” all the way.