Beena Alexander, MD
Beena Alexander, MD
NYC Health + Hospitals/McKinney
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Caring for the Most Vulnerable New Yorkers
As the daughter of a nurse who often recalled her experiences with labor and delivery, Dr. Beena Alexander grew up listening to stories of early life. “She would talk about holding newborn babies and how satisfying it is,” says Dr. Alexander of her mother. “I didn’t realize at the time how special that is. But now I do.”
Now, as an attending physician running more than two units at NYC Health + Hospitals/McKinney, Dr. Alexander witnesses the other end of life: recovery from hip surgery, cardiac surgery, pneumonia or simple falls. There’s also an epidemic of stubbornness. One patient, she recalled, didn’t change his ways until a brush with heart failure.
Dr. Alexander’s heart, by contrast, is working just fine.
“When I started years ago, I didn’t enjoy nursing homes. I was young then and just wanted to stick around for two years. Instead of two, I stayed at that first job for 22 years because I really enjoyed it: seeing people face the challenges of aging with passion and purpose. It’s more challenging, but also more interesting,” she says. “So many of them are vulnerable and the hardest vulnerability is feeling unloved. They see us doing rounds every day. They’re happy to be seen. It gives the rounds a lot of joy on both sides. It’s surprising how much even one short visit can accomplish.”
Her work has deepened her empathy with her own parents, uncles, aunts, and other elderly loved ones. “I’m more aware of what they’re thinking and feeling,” she says. “I see in my patients that small favors or even spending just, like, 10 minutes with them makes a big difference in their quality of life. They remember it. And I see that elderly relatives remember it as well.”
She has taken the new challenges of loneliness in the pandemic and ongoing tensions and responded with new approaches to connectedness. Her secret weapon? Pineapples. A habit picked at her church’s prayer services on Saturdays is her sumptuous hobby of baking, with pineapple cake being her specialty (as well as banana bread). But don’t assume it’s upside-down cake. “No,” she says. “Everything I do is right-side-up.”
It’s an approach that has its own challenges of labor. And it delivers — down to Dr. Alexander’s own daughter following in her footsteps. She’s now a third-year resident.