Medicine with a personal touch

“I love a person-centered approach,” says Sherri L. Sandel, DO, FACP, the recently appointed medical director of Northern Westchester Hospital/Northwell Health in Mount Kisco. “It starts with the patient and making the process all about that.”

Usually when you meet a new doctor — and especially as a journalist when you interview one — you try to find out all you can about the physician beforehand. It’s rare that you discover that the doctor knows all about you.

Yet that was the case when WAG called Sherri L. Sandel, DO, FACP. Our reputation had surely preceded us. But we quickly realized that this was key to Sandel’s perspective on medicine:

“I love a person-centered approach,” she says. “It starts with the patient and making the process all about that.”

It’s a philosophy that has guided her to her new post as medical director for Northern Westchester Hospital/Northwell Health in Mount Kisco, where she continues to implement the kinds of programs that integrate staff and give patients a starring role in their own care.

“It used to be that each department was separated by profession,” she says. “The nurses did nursing. The doctors did their thing. But it’s a team that takes care of the person. And one of the most important people on that team is the patient. The patient has to have a voice….”

At Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan — another Northwell Health hospital, where Sandel served in various capacities, including physician adviser for patient experience and chief of the hospitalist division — she was cited by the health network for two innovative, large-scale programs. Goodnight Rounds found doctors and nurses checking in on patients together in the evening to review their day and see what was coming up in the next. Let’s Connect enabled staffers to voice their needs and those of the patients — anonymously and in weekly huddles.

This integrated approach continues at Northern Westchester Hospital, which Sandel joined in 2018, serving as associate medical director, director of hospital medicine and director of medical education before becoming medical director last October. House Calls involves a team — including a case manager, a nurse, a nurse practitioner and a doctor — caring for the homebound. Presurgical Home connects the patient with everything and everyone s/he needs before surgery, thus eliminating last-minute pressures and anxiety. And Readmission Reduction takes a multidisciplinary, SWAT-team approach, Sandel says, to cases involving those who make more frequent hospital visits, usually at the end of life, to see if they need to be in a hospital or at home — thereby decreasing hospital stays and infections. (Sandel says that the hospital has not seen a urinary tract infection in four months and few cases of C.diff (Clostridioides difficile, a bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhea and colitis).

Another area of interest and expertise is teaching. Sandel — who has been an assistant professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in Hempstead, New York, since 2017 and remains director of medical education at Northern Westchester — says the hospital has medical students from New York Medical College in Valhalla and physician-assistant students from Pace University in White Plains. It does not yet have residents but will apply at the end of the year to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) to establish an internal medicine residency program at the hospital. Applications would then be accepted in 2023, with residents arriving in 2024.

Sandel — who grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and holds Bachelor of Science degrees in biology and Spanish from Muhlenberg College and a doctor of osteopathy from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine — started out in the more research-oriented field of immunology before switching to the more holistic one of internal medicine. She completed her internal medicine residency at Lenox Hill, becoming chief medical resident. There she also received an HIV Fellowship certification under Ladan M. Ahmadi, M.D., whom she still considers a mentor.

Sandel sees parallels and differences between the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and the Covid pandemic of today, which has killed more than six million people worldwide, about a sixth of them in the United States. 

From the 1980s when it was first identified — it actually developed in Africa in the first half of the 20th century — until 2020, AIDS has killed 36 million people. Some 37 million are living with the disease, more than half of them in Africa. And while there are reports of two people being cured of AIDS, a more virulent HIV variant has been discovered in The Netherlands. In general, AIDS remains an illness that can be treated, but not cured, with an antiretroviral drug therapy.

It took, however, years for that drug therapy to be developed, Sandel says, whereas it was only a few months before we had the vaccines to mitigate Covid-19. She marvels at the “wonderful therapies” that have become the chief weapons in combating these infectious diseases but notes that just as AIDS has become a chronic disease, like certain cancers, Covid will remain with us like the flu, moving from pandemic to epidemic status. 

What Covid has taught us is the importance of the basics — hand-washing, which is most important, she says; other forms of hygiene; and something that always went against the American grain:  “If you don’t feel well, don’t go to work.”

At the same time, she says, “People need to get back to living, to be outside and socialize.”

Sandel is a black belt in mixed-martial arts and does kick-boxing and Krav Maga, a kind of military self-defense and fighting system developed by Israel. The Somers resident is also married with two boys ages 10 and 7.

Of them, she says:  “They take it all away at the end of the day.”

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