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Jun 30, 2009 7:09 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

New show a real 'pain' for hospital

Jun 30, 2009 7:09 PM

A new television series about a doctor in the Hamptons has taken some digs at the quality of health care on the South Fork—and local doctors and hospital workers are none too happy about it.

Characters on the USA Network show “Royal Pains” have referred to the hospital as a “taco stand” and “the local cemetery.” And in one episode, a character who is talking about an ailing model says, “For something more advanced than a Band-Aid, we’d have to get her to Stony Brook or Manhattan.”

The remarks were actually made about a fictional medical facility, called Hamptons Heritage Hospital. But since there is only one hospital on the South Fork, Southampton Hospital’s staff is taking offense.

“I was so angry,” Southampton Hospital President and CEO Robert Chaloner said Friday as he recalled seeing the premiere of “Royal Pains” last month. As he watched, Mr. Chaloner said, he began composing a letter to the editor to vent his frustration, but when he discussed it with the hospital’s director of marketing and public affairs, Marsha Kenny, she told him to let it go. “Bob, it’s just a TV show,” he recalled her saying. “Focus on the real problems out here.”

Mr. Chaloner said the hospital employees are still ticked off, especially the doctors. “We work out butts off, and they make us look like idiots,” he said they tell him.

One doctor who felt particularly slighted is a surgeon who, ironically, reattached a finger for a USA crewman who severely injured his hand while filming “Royal Pains” in Bridgehampton back in September.

The cast and crew were in front of a Surfside Drive mansion that acted as the Gin Lane home of a character on the show, a 16-year-old hemophiliac patient who had been in a car crash. The crewman hurt his hand while working on a car tire. He was tended to by the set doctor and a Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance member whom USA hired to be stationed on set in case of such an accident. Then he was taken by Bridgehampton Ambulance to Southampton Hospital to have his finger reattached.

“I know how hard people are working in this place,” Mr. Chaloner said. The show doesn’t do them justice, he added.

Mr. Chaloner said that the show’s focus on the concept of “concierge doctors”—physicians who are on retainer to treat wealthy patients on an on-call basis—in the Hamptons is not invented, but the doctors’ relationships with Southampton Hospital is much different than TV doctor Hank Lawson’s relationship with Hamptons Heritage. For instance, Dr. Steven R. Goldfarb, an on-call Southampton physician with MDVIP, is on the Southampton Hospital Board of Directors, and another concierge doctor, Dr. Ralph Gibson of East Hampton, has all his patient testing done at the hospital.

“There is a palpable fear out here of being remote,” Mr. Chaloner said of the South Fork, explaining why some people turn to concierge medicine. He said patients fear they won’t have immediate access to a doctor when they want it.

In one scene in the “Royal Pains” premiere, high-society matron Ms. Newberg, played by Christine Ebersole, calls up Dr. Lawson, played by Mark Feuerstein, from the Hamptons Heritage Hospital lobby, insisting she has a medical emergency. Dr. Lawson drives to the hospital to find that Ms. Newberg’s emergency is that one of her breast implants deflated, and she is just tired of waiting her turn at the emergency room.

“Lines are for the cidiots!” she declares.

Mr. Chaloner said he gets calls every weekend, all summer long, from people who want special care when they get to the hospital. “I don’t care if you’re a donor or not. I’m going to help you out,” he said. “I want everyone talking well about the hospital.”

The hospital is not alone in the show’s crosshairs: Westhampton Beach was also skewered by an offhanded remark by one character, who disparaged it as “Worsthampton.”

“We like to refer to ourselves as the Firsthampton,” said Bob Murray, vice president of the Westhampton Beach Historical Society. “We think it’s rather amusing, and we’re kind of proud of the fact that we’re not caught up in the celebrity lifestyle of the other Hamptons. And we’re proud of our family-oriented Hampton.”

“In the writers’ case, it’s a matter of real ignorance of the real community,” said Hank Beck, an advisory board member of the Greater Westhampton Beach Chamber of Commerce and co-chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee-West.

Mr. Beck is also the chairman of the Hamptons Visitors Council, and he said he’s been working with Suffolk County and bringing more film and television production to Westhampton. “This doesn’t really help things,” he said of the “Worsthampton” remark.

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Relax doctors and hospital staff- its a fictional show with fictional doctors and a fictional hospital and the only one who can make you look like an idiot is you -
By jacks (70), hampton bays on Jul 1, 09 10:11 AM
1 member liked this comment
My kids and I have been having fun recognizing all the local spots used in the show. What is ironic about the character of "Newparts" Newburg who declares that "Lines are for the cidiots!” is that she is a prime example of one.
Have actually met people like this, like the one in the grocery store who asked, rather loudly, why can't the locals shop during the week so she could have the store to herself on the weekend.
By Basz (1), Southampton on Jul 2, 09 4:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
I am sick and tired of being treated as a second class citizen just because i was born and raised here. We all share the same blood. We all need to respect each other equally.
By local (106), north sea on Jul 6, 09 9:59 PM
1 member liked this comment
Relax is right! The point in making those critiques of the FICTIONAL hospital in the show is to draw sympathy for the Jill character as she tries to improve the hospital and also tempt Dr. Lawson into joining the staff there.
By Rich Morey (378), Brooklyn on Jul 10, 09 5:19 PM