About a block away from Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Medical Center at Valley Stream, there’s a small workshop on Franklin Avenue. It’s filled with planks of wood and enough odds and ends to build anything you can imagine. The man inside the shop works for the hospital in his own, different way. He builds and repairs every piece of furniture that can be used at LIJ Valley Stream. No stethoscopes or blood pressure monitors in his work space, but saws, nails, hammers and all things used to create.
“Whatever they want, I make. There hasn’t been anything that they have given me to fix or to build that I haven’t been able to do,” says Howard Levine, whose official title is maintenance mechanic, but he essentially serves as the chief carpenter for the hospital.
Mr. Levine has been building and repairing furniture for the hospital for eight years. He says he started working with his hands when he was a child, and worked in his father’s woodshop for 30 years. Repairing the surfaces and interiors of a hospital can be a bit like surgery, even if it’s only metaphorically speaking.
“If they break it, we pick it up, take it out, fix it and bring it back,” Mr. Levine explains. “It’s always add a panel, this counter chipped, add a patch, they chipped the mica off over here, they broke this, the draw fell off, the leg fell off, and on and on. It never ends because they hit stuff with beds in the hospital. I’m used to it. They go through walls, they hit furniture, they hit everything… It’s not intentional, but it’s a place where you always have to upkeep and fix something.”
Mr. Levine says he’s always busy with repairs that are a necessary and daily task. But when he’s asked to create something from scratch, the payoff is more rewarding. “It’s exciting making new furniture and getting rid of a piece that’s old or been there for years,” he explains. “I made three desks for the critical care unit. They were three big cherry desks, with solid surfaces. Everyone went crazy in the building when they saw them. It’s nice to have a desk in that area where people are working and it’s functional. If you saw what it looked like when I took it out...”
Mr. Levine’s handy work goes beyond patient rooms and areas where medicine is being practiced at the hospital.
“I’ll get a call, especially if they need to put together an office on the weekend,” he says. “Where can you go to furnish an office on the weekend? Nowhere, so they call me and say, `I need two counters, two shelves and a file cabinet, and we need to paint the room and have it ready by Monday.’ And we get it done. It feels great. It’s good working for a hospital I like it.”
Stephen Bello, the hospital’s executive director, suspects most people do not understand the importance of furniture in a hospital. "Every patient room, exam room, operating room, every waiting area and office needs furniture or some kind of construction layout,” he said. “Having Howard here at the hospital saves us upwards of $100,000 a year that we would have spent on outside vendors doing new construction and repairs. Howard has managed to literally put his mark or personal touch on the entire hospital for nearly a decade."
Mr. Levine says his hands are rarely idle, even on his days off.
“I’m always building something, even on the weekends,” he said. “If there weren’t carpenters in the world, you wouldn’t have buildings, you wouldn’t have anything… You wouldn’t have a roof over your head.”