by Rick Pezzullo
Since 2009, educators from the Hoch Center for Emergency Education at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in Sleepy Hollow have formed a special bond with a little-known country in the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas to provide medical training overseas.
In early November, Anne Castioni and Emily Kaplan spent two weeks in the Kingdom of Bhutan, a nation of 750,000 people, training 131 physicians and nurses on American Heart Association resuscitation techniques for adults and children.
“They’re very appreciative of what we provided them,” said Castioni, Emergency Medical Education Coordinator for the Hoch Center who has made the 25-hour trip to Bhutan three times since 2012. “They try to reuse everything. You just have more of an appreciation of what you do have (here) in terms of people and supplies.”
“It was amazing to see the emergency training we provided in 2014 and the way it’s being utilized now,” said Kaplan, who first traveled to Bhutan in 2014. “They have a much more holistic approach to medicine. They’re very forward thinking. It’s one of the most international countries I’ve ever been to.”
The Hoch Center for Emergency Education, which has 45 adjunct professors, opened in 2007 and was the “brainchild” of Dr. Emil Nigro, according to Castioni.
“He had the vision and foresight to see the need for emergency training at a community level,” said Castioni, who has been a paramedic for 36 years. “He fought tooth and nail to get the funding he needed.”
Area resident and philanthropist Lisina Hoch and her husband, Frank, helped jumpstart the construction of the 7,000-square-foot training center at Phelps, which bears their name, with a donation of $500,000. They were also instrumental in initiating the relationship between Phelps and the Bhutan Foundation.
“They gave us an opportunity to have an international footprint,” Castioni said of Lisina and Frank Hoch.
During the first trip to Bhutan, which is bordered by Tibet and India, in 2012, Hoch Center educators taught 27 people. That number increased to 108 two years later.
Having an emergency education facility on the hospital campus, equipped with a simulated ambulance, makes Phelps a rare exception in the region, according to Castioni and Kaplan.
“It’s very unusual, very unique,” Castioni stressed. “Most hospitals don’t provide this service.”
Kaplan said the Hoch Center for Emergency Education trains individuals from other hospitals in Manhattan, New Jersey and Connecticut, along with Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.
“People come from all over locally,” said Kaplan, who has been a paramedic for the last 15 years.
“Whatever people call us for we try to provide,” Castioni said. “We are the content experts in emergency care.”