SIUH’S INSTITUTE OF SLEEP MEDICINE IDENTIFIES AND TREATS SLEEP DISORDERS, AN OFTEN OVERLOOKED AREA OF HEALTHCARE
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS © AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY
After untreated sleep apnea disorder was cited as a contributing factor in several recent local train derailments, the New York City MTA turned to Northwell Health to provide preemptive screenings for its team of 20,000 engineers, conductors, and operators.
“These tragic incidents have put sleep apnea under a microscope,” said Dr. Thomas Kilkenny, director of Staten Island University Hospital’s Institute of Sleep Medicine, which has become the tri state area’s epicenter for sleep studies in the wake of catastrophic crashes in Hoboken and on Long Island. “Governor Cuomo has made it mandatory for all drivers and workers in a ‘sensitive position’ to be evaluated for sleep apnea. That includes those in the MTA as well as Con Edison, Verizon, and other agencies. So Staten Island’s Institute of Sleep Medicine and Northwell Health have become a major player evaluating patients from Brooklyn, New Jersey, Rochester, and Long Island. We’re seeing record numbers of patients during this ongoing effort.”
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts, causes loud snoring, and a feeling of exhaustion even after a full night’s sleep. It is one of several conditions treated at SIUH’s Institute of Sleep Medicine.
“The Institute was founded here in 1992 and moved around to various parts of the hospital,” noted Kilkenny. “But you have to understand, the whole field of sleep medicine had just started to evolve in the late 1980s. There wasn’t yet a lot of knowledge about sleep disorders, and there were very few sleep specialists I was the thousandth in the world to be board certified; my certificate number is 1,000. But services expanded rapidly here, and by 1997, the program had much more of a presence both in the hospital itself and within the tri-state area.”
Kilkenny, a graduate of Monsignor Farrell High School and St. Peter’s College, earned his bachelor’s degree in biology before attending the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He did his internal medicine residency at SIUH and a pulmonary critical care and sleep disorder residency at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. He then returned to Staten Island and started a private practice.
“I chose pulmonology because I saw it as a challenge,” Kilkenny said. “It’s a diverse specialty you do anything from taking care of asthma to working in the ICU and I was very interested in the study of sleep disorders, which was quickly developing while I was still in school.”
Kilkenny joined the pulmonary team at SIUH in 1997 and within two years was named director of its then developing Sleep Medicine Program.
“What began as a two bed facility quickly expanded to eight beds,” he recalled. “We gradually grew to encompass pediatric services, and now have a full service facility with three boardcertified adult sleep specialists and two board certified pediatric sleep specialists. We also maintain connections with ancillary staff dental, neurology, and psychiatry for whatever corresponding conditions require treatment. Over the past 20 years, this center has seen tremendous growth.”
In the early 2000s, SIUH’s Institute of Sleep Medicine was designated a “Center of Excellence,” which earned the hospital regular referrals from insurance companies and area doctors.
“Over the years, this center has become well known for the way we evaluate and treat sleep disorders,” Kilkenny said. “Everything you need for the diagnosis and treatment of your disorder can be found here.”
Innovation has been scarce in sleep medicine, Kilkenny noted (“Specialists rely on tried and true treatments; no major breakthroughs have been reported in the last 10 years”), adding that the future of the field is dependent upon community outreach.
“Rising medical costs continue to threaten this field,” he said. “Referrals to sleep specialists are dwindling because, in many instances, they are not covered by insurance. Primary care doctors are doing sleep tests in their offices, and there are over the counter take home kits. But for someone with a serious sleep disorder, that’s not enough, so we’re continuing to expand our services and reach out to the community to help patients better understand the severity of their problem.”
Part of that outreach includes helping people understand just how vital sleep is to health.
“Our entire population is burning the candle at both ends, and it’s a major issue,” Kilkenny said. “Six hours a night is the absolute minimum you should be getting for children, it’s 10 and most people we see here are sleeping five or less. Sleep has become secondary; instead of going to bed at a decent hour, both children and adults are lying in bed looking at their phones or playing video games. It’s affecting how they function and work, and education is suffering because of it. You need six hours of sleep to function, seven to feel rested. Eat, drink, and sleep. Everything after that is elective.”
To correct the problem, Kilkenny suggests sticking to a set bedtime seven days a week.
“To be well rested, you have to go to bed and get up at the same time every single day, even on the weekends,” he advised. “If you have to be up at 6 a.m., you have to close down your day at 10 p.m., lights off no later than 11 p.m. Sleep is so important that’s what we want to stress to the Staten Island community.
Northwell Health Institute of Sleep Medicine at Staten Island
375 Seguine Avenue / 718.226.2331 / northwell.edu