‘He was one of a kind’

Photo by Ron Leir Relatives, friends and elected offi cials attended last week’s dedication of the Dr. Stanley J. Siwek Health Center in Harrison.
Photo by Ron Leir
Relatives, friends and elected officials attended last week’s dedication of the Dr. Stanley J. Siwek Health Center in Harrison.

Well before there was Obamacare to address the health needs of the poor, Dr. Stanley J. Siwek of Harrison kept up a routine of visiting patients in two hospitals and three nursing homes, had office hours and made house calls during a six-decade career that began in 1946.

He also took care of Harrison school kids and municipal employees and, as team physician, attended every Harrison High football game – home and away – from 1960 until his retirement in 2006.

Last Tuesday, the Town of Harrison dedicated the Dr. Stanley J. Siwek Health Center, 326 Harrison Ave., in his memory. Siwek died in May 2015.

Among the dignitaries and honored guests attend were Marianne Siwek-Mulligan and Katherine Siwek- Landau, two of the doctor’s daughters. They, along with the doctor’s son Dr. Jay Siwek and daughter Patricia Siwek- Jack, have made a generous donation to the new center.

The family medicine facility, which will be run by the North Hudson Community Action Corp., begins seeing patients Feb. 1, although a WIC (Women, Infants & Children) program, which provides financial and nutritional assistance and counseling to low-income pregnant women and moms with toddlers under age 5, is already up and running on the center’s lower level.

NHCAC President/CEO Joan Quigley said the clinic, as a Federal Qualified Health Center, will treat patients with no insurance as well as those covered by Medicare and Medicaid and an anticipated “10 to 15%” with private insurance. She said the center is eligible for N.J. Uncompensated Care reimbursement.

“As a FQHC,” Quigley noted, “we have to meet high standards.”

U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (DWest New York) called the Harrison center “a godsend” for those unable to afford the high costs of health care. When Congress was asked to “bailout” banks and corporations, Sires recalled that he and other like-minded lawmakers “fought for $600 million for social service agencies and health agencies like this. We have to struggle every year to get that money. This is much too important to let them take it away from us.”

Joining the chorus of approval, State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen) said: “There is a health center in North Bergen but nothing like this. I’m jealous.” And, he added, “Where do you go when you have someone in school who isn’t a citizen and needs help? You go here. It’s going to be a great asset.”

NHCAC Board Chairman Joseph M. Muniz credited the late Harrison Mayor Raymond McDonough with “the vision to have this center” but “opening it was a major undertaking” that was delayed by having to remove an old bank vault from the lower level of the building and by a funding shortage.

Photo by Ron Leir Joan Quigley, president/CEO of North Hudson Community Action Corp. (l.) and Dr. Carmen Mallamaci, CAC's chief medical officer, stand in one of several examining rooms at the new Dr. Stanley J. Siwek Health Center in Harrison.
Photo by Ron Leir
Joan Quigley, president/CEO of North Hudson Community Action Corp. (l.)
and Dr. Carmen Mallamaci, CAC’s chief medical officer, stand in one of several
examining rooms at the new Dr. Stanley J. Siwek Health Center in Harrison.

But McDonough’s successor, Mayor James Fife, “never skipped a beat and he put this [project] as a priority,” Muniz said, “with help from Joan Woods and Maria J. Vila.”

And there was help from Hudson County as well, he said.

“We were short a quarter of a million dollars to complete this project,” Muniz said. “So our CEO said, ‘Let’s go see the county executive [Tom DeGise] to see if we could get CDBG [federal Community Development Block Grant] money.’ Within five minutes, we had [a pledge for] the cash.”

Soon after that, Muniz said, the county freeholders authorized the CDBG funding and “gave us additional money.”

Quigley also credited the late Vincent Urgola, longtime NHCAC director of operations, for helping shape the project.

But Fife revealed that the project actually “was born at a golf outing” when the then- Harrison Schools Superintendent James Doran and Urgola “had a conversation” about NHCAC taking the lead in the enterprise.

Doran, now personnel director for the school system, took the opportunity to echo praise for Stan Siwek as “the doctor you went to when no one was around. He would go out of his way to make sure someone got help. We’re happy to have that tradition continue here.”


An old school doctor dedicated to profession

Former Harrison Health Officer Karen Comer, who retired after more than 25 years on the job in December 2011, remembered Dr. Stanley Siwek as “the only doctor we knew [at the then-municipal health clinic] who would do house calls.”

Comer, among those attending last week’s ribbon-cutting for Harrison’s new health center named for Siwek, said that if he was running late on evening appointments, “he would tell a patient to leave the house lights on and he’d come by at, say, 11 p.m.”

Siwek, who also put in time at the town clinic, would also gladly give flu shots to those in need, Comer said.

At his medical office on Central Ave., where he saw private patients from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m., “he accepted all types of payment,” she said, including “baked cookies” or “washing his car,” if a patient was hard up for cash.

“He was one of a kind,” Comer said.

Further evidence of his benevolence, according to former town Fire Chief Tom Dolaghan, was Siwek’s readiness to accompany the Blue Tide gridiron squad on the road even though he would receive compensation only for home games.

So many Harrison residents owe their lives to Siwek – literally – since it was he who delivered them into the world – or treated them for various ailments – during a 60-year career as a medical practitioner.

Jack Pettigrew, a former Kearny firefighter who now works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that Siwek “was my grandparents’ doctor, my dad’s and uncle’s doctor, myself and my siblings.”

Pettigrew’s sister, Mary Anderson, became a registered nurse and recalled that Siwek “would always be assisting on surgeries performed on any of his patients” at the old West Hudson Hospital in Kearny. “That was considered unusual at the time,” she said.

And while he was not known as a medical researcher, Pettigrew said it was Siwek who investigated the circumstances leading to drivers and other employees at St. Johnsbury Trucking at the old Turco site in Kearny contracting the same type of serious illness.

“There was a yellow substance coming from the parking lot that was making people sick,” Pettigrew said, and Siwek “discovered that it contained hexavalent chromium which caused cancer. He sounded the alarm.”

By the late 1990s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency got involved, declared the property a federal Superfund site and initiated a cleanup protocol.

Still, the doctor – who was always serious about the business of health – also had a lighter one.

After completing his evening rounds, Siwek would slip down to the Fire Department for a round of ping pong with the rank-and-file, said Dolaghan.

“His favorite joke would be to tell someone, “See my pride and joy?” and then he’d reach into his pocket and pull out one of these cards,” producing an advertisement for Joy the detergent.

And at his office, when patients would leave, the doctor offered them this farewell: “Happy Days!”

– Ron Leir 

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