Dressed in orange shirts with white letters signifying the official colors of the healthcare network, the employees were taking part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
They had gathered to raise money for ALS research and to pay tribute to Daniel Kane, former chief executive officer of Bayonne Medical Center.
ALS is sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, named for the New York Yankees first baseman in the 1930s, who died in 1941 at age 37 from the disorder.
Although a well-known ailment, ALS has no cure, and more than 15 new American patients are diagnosed with it daily. It is a neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord. When these cells die, voluntary muscle control and movement dies with them. Patients in the later stages of the disease are totally paralyzed, yet in most cases, their minds remain sharp and alert.
Many will die within 40 months of a diagnosis. Thirty thousand people in the United States are suffering from ALS right now. Since the challenge became popular six weeks ago, ALS has raised more than $40 million in that time, and awareness has increased at least 50 percent. The money will go to research for treatment or cures.
Kane, who attended the event in his honor, said he was very moved by the effort and by the fact that coworkers at the hospital had raised more than $15,000 for research.
Lack of money for research, ALS experts claim, is part of the reason for the delay in finding a cure.
“This is overwhelming to me.” – Daniel Kane
Kane, who is credited with helping keep Bayonne Medical Center afloat during its fiscal crisis in 2007, just turned 71, and was diagnosed with ALS in mid-2012.
Despite his progressive disease, Kane has remained a member of the hospital network’s board of directors, and even continued to attend a number of public functions.
“This is overwhelming to me,” he said, seated in a wheelchair near the front lawn of the hospital as workers prepared to dump buckets of ice water on their own heads.
Kane said this showed the commitment that CarePoint has for helping to fight the disease.
“We’re doing this for him,” said Allyson Miller, the Vice President of Marketing and Business Devlopment for CarePoint, who had undergone the Ice Bucket Challenge in late August at one of the other hospitals in the network. CarePoint owns Bayonne Medical Center, Christ Hospital in Jersey City and Hoboken University Medical Center. Top brass from all three hospitals have been taking the challenge for weeks, but the Sept. 9 event was the largest.
Cold for a cause
People taking the challenge can either raise awareness, or donate money, or both. They can also challenge others.
“For every employee who decides to take on the challenge, CarePoint Health will donate $100 to the ALS Association,” Miller said.
Although the event has drawn national attention, this is very personal for CarePoint since Kane, before stepping down as executive director of BMC two years ago, was a pivotal figure in helping to lay the groundwork for saving BMC and creating a model for the other two hospitals in the CarePoint chain.
Kane retired at the end of January 2012, before he was diagnosed with ALS.
Under Kane’s watch, Bayonne Medical Center became one of the first hospitals in the nation to challenge insurance companies and to fight for fair reimbursement rates. Under Kane’s direction the hospital made a number of improvements that allowed it to turn a profit within a year. Cooperative agreements helped the hospital to restore some programs that the prior management had been forced to abandon.
Kane's sons Seth and Josh attended the Sept. 9 event.
Jeff Mandler, Vivek Garipalli, and Jim Lawler, owners of CarePoint Health, also participated in the challenge.
Kane, struggling to speak through his oxygen mask, thanked those who participated, saying that the event meant something to him on several levels, and he was grateful that fellow employees remembered him. But like Lou Gehrig, Kane was a champion, and many understood that the hospital and their jobs would have ceased to exist if not for his efforts.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com