Dr. Susan Maltser doesn’t spend much time in her office at Glen Cove Hospital. Promoted to chair of the rehabilitation medicine department in September, she can often be found making her way to or from one of the hospital’s various therapy rooms. And it usually takes her longer than planned, because Maltser’s colleagues often want to say hello, which, she said, she relishes.
“I like working in a small hospital, because everyone knows your name,” she said with a smile that appears often. “It creates an amazing work environment.”
The day she took on her new job, Maltser also became the vice chair of Northwell Health’s physical medicine and rehabilitation department. The chair, Dr. Adam B. Stein, said that both promotions were well deserved.
Maltser, who lives in Queens, understands the value of teamwork and leads by example, not by dictate, Stein said, which goes a long way. “When you see leaders go down into the trenches to work with the team,” he said, “it means a lot to them.”
Maltser, Stein added, “is someone who is warm, personable and enthusiastic. Susan strives to make the workplace joyful.”
Born in Ukraine, Maltser, 41, moved to Brooklyn with her family when she was 10. She was introduced to biology when she was 14, prompting her to read any books she could find in which the characters were physicians. Although she can’t remember the titles of any of them, she said that her favorite book remains “To Kill a Mockingbird” — not a book about medicine, but one that relates to the profession, she said.
“One of the takeaways from the book is to put yourself in others’ shoes,” Maltser explained. “As doctors, we need to do that. We need to have empathy.”
When Stein interviewed her in 2011, she told him that she wanted to make a difference in rehabilitating cancer patients and others with critical illnesses. Her enthusiasm and that vision, Stein said, were the reasons he hired her.
Maltser attributes her dedication to rehabilitation to an elective in rehabilitation medicine she took as a medical student at New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Every day, people would line up for physical therapy in their wheelchairs,” she recalled. “They were so motivated, and that was motivating for me to go into this. And when I think of my own struggles, I think of my patients that are disabled and motivated to help themselves.”
When she began working for Stein in 2011, Maltser was given permission to create a cancer rehabilitation program. She had been exposed to one, she said, while doing her residency at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU Langone. She built the Northwell program from the ground up in Manhasset, with the help of a team of administrators and therapists.
Her specialty became treating cancer patients who required rehabilitation services. She saw patients at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, in Lake Success, and outpatients at Northwell. She became Northwell’s director of cancer rehabilitation in 2015.
Even though Maltser is now an administrator, she continues to work with patients at Glen Cove Hospital as a physiatrist, a physician trained in rehabilitation and physical medicine. Most of those who need rehabilitation have neurological disorders. The hospital’s approach, she said, is team-based, with doctors and therapists working together to determine the best care.
Stein said he always knew that Maltser would be a perfect fit for Glen Cove. “It’s our main acute rehabilitation center,” he said, “and Susan has the skills to navigate the culture there.”
The patients at the 65-bed center are some of the most disabled in the region, Maltser said, adding that she is committed to introducing new programs to help them.
She said she's impressed with the hospital's intensive two-week Parkinson's rehabilitation program. Dr. Lyubov Rubin, a neuro-rehabilitation physician, created the program in collaboration with the rehabilitation department in May.
“People decline at home, where their access to therapy may not be enough,” she said. “Bringing them here makes all the difference. There are amazing people here, with so much expertise, and they’re very compassionate.”
Maltser said she was trying to expand Glen Cove’s cancer program. Many of the patients it treats have cancer of the brain and spine, but those with other types, like lung cancer, are often admitted for treatment for pneumonia or pain. Maltser would like the hospital to offer rehabilitation treatment to these patients too.
“Our goal is not to restore functionality 100 percent but to help patients adjust to their level of disability,” she explained, “so they can go home.”
The hospital also has 55 beds for general rehabilitation. And a brain injury unit was built in 2014.
“What I like here is that we have the time to delve into what patients’ needs are,” Maltser said. “And I like that our patients wear their clothing, and not hospital gowns.”
The hospital’s unique equipment includes a robot that helps patients relearn what many people take for granted, like how to walk. There is a simulated car in which patients practice getting in and out, which, Maltser said, helps to relieve the anxiety that may keep them from leaving their homes.
Her wish list includes another robot, to help those with upper extremity damage, and for the hospital to become more of a research center. She is also hoping the community becomes more involved philanthropically.
But, Maltser said, regardless of what happens in the future, she will remain committed to patient care at Glen Cove. “I never want to lose what made me want to be a doctor, or lose the joy of what I do,” she said. “It’s important for leaders to remain clinicians.”
Stein said he was confident that Maltser would bring a great deal of positive change to the hospital. “It’s been amazing working with her for the past nine years,” he said. “She doesn’t rely on title to effect change. Susan’s strategy has always been to get everyone around her involved and excited to make changes.”