The doctor known for his patience with patients remains one busy man. As Dr. Lloyd Simon sees it, having recently retired from private practice, he now has only two full-time jobs instead of three.
Dr. Simon, 67, hasn’t been one to shy away from work. He worked his way toward becoming a physician: East Islip High School; University of Buffalo; University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; a three-year residency in primary care/internal medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, Mass.
And then he worked a whole lot more.
On July 11, 1983, he opened his practice in Southold. That same month he began his ongoing association with what is now called Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.
That was 38 years ago. Dr. Simon is SBELIH’s longtime chief medical officer, senior vice president of medical affairs and medical director of the hospital’s inpatient substance addiction program, Quannacut, as well as clinical assistant professor in medicine for Stony Brook Medicine.
“He really has been the forefront and the anchor of this hospital,” said Linda Sweeney, the SBELIH vice president foundation/external affairs. “He wears many hats.”
Dr. Simon removed one of those hats last Friday. His last day at Southold Internal Medicine was otherwise typical. He spent the morning at the hospital, making the rounds at the substance abuse 20-bed inpatient rehab unit and 10-bed inpatient detox unit. Then there were various meetings in his capacity as chief medical officer, an administrative/supervisory position.
Around 1 p.m. it was onto his Southold office, where he has been assisted by his wife, Phyllis, a registered nurse, whom he called “the heart and soul of the practice.” (The Southold couple has three daughters — Gabrielle, Alyssa and Jessica). He saw about 12 patients in the afternoon. Some current and former staff members who had worked with him for decades brought in lunch and gave the Simons some going-away gifts. And then, Dr. Simon said, “I had to pack my stuff.”
He called the experience “bizarre. You know, my identity for so long has been being a primary care doctor, and it was very strange to leave that behind.”
The new arrangement will allow Dr. Simon, board certified in internal medicine and addiction medicine, to devote more time to the hospital.
“As I explained to all my patients, this is something that I wanted,” he said. “My wife is retiring completely. This is something we both wanted, but it’s very bittersweet.
“It’s been an emotional month. My kids will tell you that I’m a big mush. Some patients are easier to say goodbye to than others. I’ve had a lot of tearing up in the last number of days.”
Having Dr. Simon now spend his full work days at the hospital, five days a week, is a big plus for SBELIH, said the hospital’s chief administrative officer, Paul Connor.
“He absolutely enjoys what he does,” Mr. Connor said. “I always said, ‘At some point, Lloyd, there’s going to be a way for us to get you here more often to help us deal with the day-to-day activities.’ … The day is upon us now, and we’re happy to see him here.”
Dr. Simon has become one of the hospital’s more recognizable — and respected — faces. By his count, SBELIH has only two staff physicians who have been at the hospital longer than him, “but I guarantee I will outlast both of them.”
He figured he has treated at least 3,000 patients in his private practice over the years, and doubles that estimate when taking into account hospital patients he doesn’t have long-term relationships with.
In 1989, the hospital put out a call for doctors needed to work in its new addiction treatment program, and Dr. Simon responded. Addiction treatment became a passion for him.
“Well, first of all, the patients need the help, and they need the people to interact with them in a nonjudgmental way,” he said. “What I always tell everybody, because I’ve been involved in substance abuse units longer than anybody else at the hospital, too, is that we always have to remember that we’re not dealing with bad people, we’re dealing people with a bad disease, and if we approach it that way and we approach it in a way that we want to help them, that we’re not judging them, that we’re trying to get them on a path that can help them get their lives back on track, then people respond the same way. They realize we’re trying to help.”
The addiction issue, he said, is getting worse, no thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Unfortunately, it’s still a growth industry,” he said. “It is always becoming a bigger problem, and the pandemic … really set a lot of people back. They lost a lot of their support networks, 12-step meetings, stopped meeting in person. Zoom meetings were just not the same for many people. People were isolated. They lost all their social support networks and many, many people relapsed, and unfortunately as much as there were people dying every day from COVID, there were people dying every day from their addictions, also. And that was not an excuse, it was real. We took every strut that was helping people stay afloat out from underneath them.”
It may seem as if Dr. Simon is addicted to work, considering the workload he has carried. It was upon becoming a doctor, he said, when he truly understood how demanding the profession can be.
“I don’t think you really understand exactly how much you will work,” he said. “For instance, the 38 years I have been doing this, for at least 30 of them I was on call every other night and every other weekend.”
All that work brought rewards. Dr. Simon said he has been listed among the Castle Connolly top doctors about 20 times. “That’s been nice, but that’s not the most important kind of recognition,” he said. “The important recognition is from the patients.”
Dr. Simon has earned a reputation for his ability to communicate with patients and explain complex medical issues in an manner understandable to the layman.
“Once you’re in practice, you learn really about taking care of people, and your patients teach you how to do that, also,” he said. “As I’ve been saying goodbye to some of my patients, I tell them now they have to break in a new doctor.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Simon is still keeping busy, very busy. Old habits die hard.