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Dr. Steven Safyer has long viewed the world through the eyes of a social activist. In his youth, he campaigned for civil rights and protested the Vietnam War. As a student at Einstein and after graduation in 1982, he served in Montefiore’s Rikers Island Health Services.
Dr. Safyer completed his internship and residency in social medicine at Montefiore, became board certified in internal medicine—and continued his work at Rikers “because the health needs were staggering and I felt the opportunity to make a difference,” he says. His leadership ability already evident, by 1990 he was executive director of the Rikers Island Health Services, a position he held through 1993. In that capacity he helped develop a program to treat prisoners who had drug-resistant tuberculosis, fought for a state-of-the-art TB hospital and led efforts to stem the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Dr. Safyer has long believed that access to quality healthcare is a human right.
Dr. Safyer now heads the Montefiore Health System, one of America’s largest not-for-profit healthcare systems. During his 33 years at Montefiore, Dr. Safyer has worked to ensure that the community has ample healthcare access and that Montefiore patients receive the highest standard of excellence in care, regardless of their ability to pay. He has led Montefiore to become an Accountable Care Organization, integrating care and reimbursements so that Montefiore does better when its patients do better. His efforts have landed him for five consecutive years on Modern Healthcare/Modern Physician magazine’s list of America’s 50 most influential healthcare executives.
Since 2008, when Dr. Safyer became president and chief executive officer of Montefiore, the medical center has grown more quickly than at any time in its history. It recently acquired several hospitals in the Bronx and lower Westchester, as well as a nursing home. A 280,000-square-foot ambulatory care facility at the Bronx’s Hutchinson Metro Center opened in fall 2014, and now Montefiore is in nearly 200 locations across the Bronx and Westchester.
Dr. Safyer has long believed that access to quality healthcare is a human right—but he’s also a pragmatist who leads an organization with over $4 billion in annual revenue.
“Montefiore takes full responsibility for its patients,” he says. “We provide patient-centered care focused on exceptional quality and improved outcomes that ultimately result in well-coordinated, cost-effective healthcare across all areas of our health system.” He views the Affordable Care Act—with its emphasis on expanding healthcare insurance and strengthening preventive care—as critical to achieving those ends.
The obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease epidemics affecting many of the Bronx’s 1.4 million residents are of particular concern to him. Montefiore’s efforts focus on helping people change a few core behaviors with targeted interventions that can affect outcomes for these chronic diseases.
In 2012, Dr. Safyer had candy- and soda-vending machines removed from Montefiore, and he has championed healthier food options for patients and employees at Montefiore’s sites in the Bronx and Westchester. “We can start losing weight together,” he says. “We’ve got to walk the walk.”
Dr. Safyer’s relationship with his alma mater has come full circle. As the speaker at Einstein’s Commencement in 2010, he spoke about his medical education and the opportunities it gave him to make a difference. At last year’s Commencement, the Einstein Alumni Association recognized his outstanding accomplishments with its 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dr. Safyer has one other important Einstein connection: his wife, Paula Marcus, M.D. ’82. The couple met in the Max L. and Sadie Friedman Student Faculty Lounge on their first day at Einstein and married during medical school. Dr. Marcus is now an associate professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences on the Einstein faculty and director of transplant psychiatry at Montefiore, where she helps address the mental health needs of transplant patients and donors.