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“These Are Our Children”

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| by Barrett Seaman |

Alone among those who spoke out at the July 20 Irvington village board meeting about Monte Nido’s plan to use 65 West Clinton Avenue as a home for adolescent eating disorder patients, Dr. Mary Bongiovi voiced her approval.

Dr. Bongiovi, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University as well as an Irvington resident (though not near the proposed site), said she “would have been thrilled” if Monte Nido had bought a house near her. “We are the demographic with children who are at risk for eating disorders,” she said. As someone who treats anorexic and bulemic young women at an in-patient unit of Columbia Presbyterian, Dr. Bongiovi is well qualified to describe the likely behaviors of such patients, and she offered to talk to any of the West Clinton neighborhood residents “to find out what their concerns are.”

“Monte Nido’s patients tend to come from upper middle class families,” she said. “You’ve got to pay a lot of money to go to one of these places. There is an opportunity here to offer a service that is lacking in the river towns.”

That was the message Vicki Kroviak Grieder never got to convey to prospective neighbors. “These are the kids who are applying to Ivy League schools,’ she explained on the eve of the village meeting before leaving for California on business. They are the super-achievers, the grinds, obsessed with grades, with success in sports. They are not inclined to act out or cause trouble, as was occasionally implied in neighborhood complaints.

“These are not violent kids,” added Lisa Kinigstein, a White Plains psychiatric social worker who has treated eating disorder patients for 35 years. “These are kids who act in, not act out,” she remarked. “They’re usually very good in school. They do community service. They’re good for the community, not a threat. It’s not as if [Monte Nido] were opening Sing Sing in the neighborhood.”

The onset of eating disorders often falls in the 13-to-17 age bracket Monte Nido was aiming to treat, say experts. The rate of remission is very high if caught early. Most go on to live normal, productive lives. As Mary Bongiovi wrote in a letter to trustees following the meeting, Monte Nido was offering an adolescent-only program that would have been “an important alternative for patients—and likely lessen some of the stress for families seeking care. These girls come from all walks of life, and in fact any one of these girls could attend our middle or high school.”

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