While serving as interim chair for the Department of Emergency Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital in 2018, Dr. Nicole Berwald recognized that opioid addiction had reached epidemic levels in the borough. In response, she designed and implemented an Emergency Department based buprenorphine program for patients battling the disease. The medication assisted treatment, which offers patients immediate therapy to ease withdrawal symptoms and minimize cravings, can help curb physical dependence and motivate patients to sign on for long term treatment. After she was officially named department chair last November, Berwald made the program a major part of her focus.

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“When it comes to substance abuse issues, it’s important for people to understand how to navigate the problem,” she said. “We know how critical this issue is for our borough, and we are working diligently to combat it.”

Berwald earned a B.A. in biological sciences from Brandeis University and then got her medical degree from the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. She trained in emergency medicine at the State University of New York at Downstate Medical Center and the Kings County Hospital Center. She joined the Emergency Department at SIUH in 2008 as an attending physician, and a year later was named assistant director. Since 2012, she has served as associate chair, overseeing the department’s daily operations and medical staff performance and implementing an electronic medical informatics and medical scribe program.

She took on interim chair duties in the Emergency Department in May 2018 when its preceding chair, Dr. Brahim Ardolic, was named executive director of SIUH.

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“Dr. Berwald is a mission driven leader who continues to examine and change emergency medicine’s process to deliver the best care to our community,” Ardolic noted. “She’s helped see our hospital through some of the most difficult challenges in its history—from evacuating it ahead of Hurricane Irene, to the events of Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath, to being at the forefront in the fight against opioid addiction… working collaboratively to tackle this issue in our community.”

Berwald plans to leverage the resources of the Northwell Health System to SIUH’s advantage. “We are all under the same umbrella,” she noted. “So we need to share ideas and maintain an ongoing conversation to stem this crisis.”

She also plans to use her current research interests in the area of opioid prescribing from the Emergency Department to help establish a solution for the Staten Island community.
“My underlying focus is to deliver safe, efficient, and effective healthcare to the patients of Staten Island and maintain a safe environment for every one of our patients,” Berwald said. “As a hospital that residents trust to deliver optimal care, we also have to remain connected to the community in every possible way.”

With that latter goal in mind, SIUH has launched several outreach programs this year, sending nurses and physicians into local high school classrooms, offering insight into the multitude of opportunities available in the healthcare profession. Additionally, a series of roundtables, hosted by Berwald, has been initiated in an effort to keep the hospital and its Emergency Department connected to the community.

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Berwald, who serves on the board of directors for the New York Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians and currently holds the title of secretary and treasurer for the group, brings a wide breadth of regional collaboration to SIUH. She is also a councilor for the American College of Emergency Physicians and collaborates, as a member, with various organizations, working on projects addressing a range of issues, including diversity, inclusion, and gender equality.

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“We recently started a division of diversity and inclusion, which is extremely important and current,” Berwald said. “And we are in the midst of starting an initiative with a geriatric focus, because we have an aging patient population and we need to be sensitive to the needs of that group. We will also be placing focus on palliative care: If someone has a life limiting illness, how do you start the conversation to navigate that illness?”

And, of course, Berwald plans to continue to guide SIUH’S Emergency Department and the residents of Staten Island through any misfortune the borough might face, thus sustaining the hospital’s stellar reputation for responding to public and personal emergencies, large and small.

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“We are always there,” she concluded. “For each and every heart attack, stroke, or burn, or whatever unfortunate event our patients may suffer. And in times of disaster, we plan, prepare, and execute. That’s what emergency medicine is all about.”

Staten Island University Hospital / Northwell Health
475 Seaview Avenue 718.226.9000 /