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Publication: Syracuse New Times
Author: Griffin-Nolan, Ed
Date published: November 23, 2010

We should all consider ourselves lucky if we live long enough to be a patient of Dr. Sharon Brangman. Brangman, of SUNY Upstate Medical University, will be honored by the 100 Black Men of Syracuse organization at its annual dinner to be held Friday, Dec. 3, at the Holiday Inn, 441 Electronics Parkway, Liverpool. She is among four honorees selected to match the theme of the event, "Setting New Standards in Health and Wellness."

Brangman serves as chief of the Division of Geriatrics at SUNY Upstate University, specializing in medicine for the aging, and is currently the president of the American Geriatric Association. She also serves as fellowship director for geriatric medicine at Upstate and director of the Central New York Alzheimer's Disease Assistance Center. The busy doctor is also an attending physician at James Square Health and Rehabilitation Center and is medical director of Greenpoint/The Hearth Senior Living Communities in Syracuse.

Asked about the state of medical care for our aging citizenry, she has a lot to say, and anyone hoping to age comfortably had better take heed. "We need a new model of retirement in this country," said Brangman, speaking in her third-floor office at the edge of Interstate 81 in the Regional Oncology Center just west of University Hospital. "We have millions of competent and productive people in this country and for some reason we've gotten the idea that the best thing they can do is to play bingo. That idea needs to change."

The average age of her patients is 78, and most of them are at home and eager to remain there. Her job, as she sees it, is to help all of us "age successfully."

SUNY Upstate has created an endowed chair in geriatrics in her name in order to attract a geriatric specialist to teach at the hospital's medical school. Brangman is happy to lend her name to what has become her passion-teaching health care providers and the public about the needs of an aging population.

"Not all doctors who treat older people are geriatricians," she pointed out. "I always say that the best geriatric care begins with good pre-natal care. Older patients see neurologists, cardiologists, orthopedic doctors, a whole range of providers, and physicians in all these specialties need to know how to help people age successfully."

Part of the problem has to do with health insurance, said Brangman. Insurance reimburses providers for procedures and not for patient care. "Our patients are complex," she said. "What we do is really monitor and manage a patient's care. This takes a lot of time, a lot of coordination with family, and a lot of coordination with other providers. We refer patients to other providers for services, and the reimbursement is for those services." The result? "There are no geriatricians in private practice in Syracuse."

The recent reforms in health insurance are a mixed blessing for the elderly, according to Brangman. "There are some improvements in Medicare Part B, such as closing the doughnut hole on prescription drug reimbursements, but the cuts in Medicare reimbursement that are coming will have a negative effect."

Brangman was born in Syracuse, attended Nottingham High School, Syracuse University, and SUNY Upstate Medical University, where she graduated in 1973. She worked for years at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx before coming back to Syracuse in 1989. Like a lot of young professionals who move away, she was drawn back home when her children were young. She and her husband now live in DeWitt and their two children are grown.

"Sharon has always been the most generous colleague," said Dr. Sandra Lane, a public health researcher who holds a joint appointment at the SU College of Human Ecology and the medical school. "Just last week I asked her if she would work with one of my students as a mentor, and 15 minutes later she sent an e-mail back saying yes. She was raised in the community and has always been very supportive of students, very involved in a lot of things."

The sponsor of the banquet, 100 Black Men of Syracuse Inc., is a non-profit, non-partisan volunteer organization founded in 2007. The group was inducted in June 2009 as an official chapter of 100 Black Men of America Inc. The primary focus is mentoring local male students. The group has started mentoring programs at Fowler High School, Blodgett Elementary School and Percy Hughes Magnet School, as well as its own "Manhood Training Academy." Members of the organization also support a variety of other community initiatives, including the Eradication Squad Precision Drill Team, SAT preparatory classes and other education, health and wellness and economic development programs.

"I have always admired the work they do from a distance," said Brangman, "and this is my chance to get to know them a little better."

Other honorees at this year's dinner include Dr. Saundra Barnett-Reyes, a psychiatrist in private practice, Dr. Ruben Cowart, founder and longtime director of the Syracuse Community Health Center, and Dr. Sylvia W. Norton, founder of the Syracuse-based West African Eye Foundation.

Banquet tickets are $50 person in advance. Call 443-8749, e-mail 100bkmsyr@gmail.com or visit 100blackmensyr.org.

-Ed Griffin-Nolan

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