NEW YORK – Astoria physician Andreas Cosmatos, member of the Medical Board of Mount Sinai Queens, and Clinical Instructor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the Division of General Internal Medicine, spoke with The National Herald for a recent edition of the Periodiko
He has also served as Vice President and Treasurer of the Hellenic Medical Society and is a mentor for the younger generation of Greek-Americans attending medical school.
When Dr, Cosmatos learned he would be profiled in the Periodiko, he expressed his joy, because his late parents, Gerasimos and Argyri, read the Herald and he also reads it avidly. “My relationship with the Herald is unique because Publisher-Editor Antonis H. Diamataris is my koumbaro and one of my best friends,” Cosmatos said.
Five years ago, the Mt. Sinai Queens Hospital benefited from the generosity of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) with one of the largest donations ever received, earmarked for the construction of the new wing of the hospital. This wing was inaugurated two years ago and the ER was renamed for SNF.
“The construction of the new wing and the renovation of the existing building have changed things for the best, and today the hospital has greater potential and can provide comprehensive medical treatment equivalent to the best hospitals in Manhattan and Long Island,” said Cosmatos, noting that the Astoria hospital is a member of the Mount Sinai Health System.
Cosmatos was born in Kefalonia and came to New York in childhood. He graduated from Queens College and from the Medical School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
Although staying in his homeland and birthplace was extremely appealing, after graduation he returned to New York and later opened his own medical practice. He speaks Greek, English, and Spanish, and for more than three decades has served the Greek community and the wider community of Astoria.
He completed his residency in internal medicine at the New York Downtown Hospital, where he served as chief resident of his program.
During that time, Cosmatos and his wife, Doris, had their daughter, Alexandra.
In 1984, when Dr. Athanasios Zeris decided to retire, he suggested Cosmatos take over his practice.
At the turn of the new century, he partnered with five other expatriates, mostly doctors, to build the Astoria Medical Plaza, where several Greek doctors set up their offices.
In 2016, they decided to sell the building and Cosmatos transferred his offices to the new wing of the Astoria hospital.
Asked about why they sold the building, he said that all the partners are approaching retirement age. “Maintaining and managing a property, let alone in New York, is not an easy task. When we started, the property tax was $15,000 and when we sold it had reached $162,000 a year. We are talking about a tenfold increase in taxes and the cost of maintaining the building.” As far as his new office is concerned, he said that “there is more support.
“We have the same radiologists, specialists and above all the most Greek doctors from any other hospital in America. That, if anything, is very important to patients, because they continue the specialized examinations in the same complex.
Asked how the medical profession has changed over the past three decades, he said back when he started, “the patient paid $25 for the examination, and today there is the co-payment and you expect the insurance to pay you. Economically, the profession has been destroyed. To make ends meet, you need to see 25 to 30 patients a day. It is very difficult to see so many patients because patients are entitled to more attention. Needless to say, we always recollect the golden years of the 1980s and 1990s.”
With regard to the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), Cosmatos pointed out that it has enabled hundreds of thousands of poor people to obtain medical insurance.
“Many patients did not have access to the medical system and were seeing a doctor for the first time when they had a heart attack or when they lost their vision due to diabetes. By then it is too late. Early prevention and treatment of diseases is the alpha and omega in medicine. Medical examinations are too expensive and if you do not have medical insurance, you cannot pay for a colonoscopy, for example.
“A few weeks ago, a patient came in who was 25 years old and had asthma and when I examined her for the first time she started crying. When I asked her why she cried, she said, ‘No one had examined me before.’ She had Medicaid. When she went to the doctor, they gave her various medications, and no one took the stethoscope to listen to her heartbeat and lung function. Now that there are these insurances available, the doors opened for many patients and for this patient class,” he said.
“What the Republicans and Trump are trying to do is destructive. In all the civilized countries of the world there is health insurance for everyone. That’s what they have to do here,” he added.
Regarding the impact of Obamacare on hospitals, he said hospitals with Obamacare were obliged to implement measures that improve the quality of medical care. “Obamacare, despite its problems, has helped many people. If you do not have insurance it is difficult to pay the costs required for specialized examinations.”
Asked about the changes that occurred in the last three decades in the patients’ mindset, he noted that they are visible. “Patients today are very well informed and ask for an explanation before proceeding with any treatment.”
Regarding the percentages of the population being vaccinated, he pointed out that the elderly are almost all vaccinated and that young people much less. “The world has a phobia for vaccines. This phobia is not scientifically justified, but because of public opinion. This also affects the younger generation. All people over 50 years of age should be vaccinated because at this age even influenza can lead to complications.”
Asked about the number of Greek patients, he said, “in recent years, because many Greeks have moved to areas of Long Island and to other suburbs, the number of new Greek patients has dropped from 80% to 60%. This is because the Astoria population is constantly changing.”
As for the Hellenic Medical Society of New York, he said it is the oldest in America and, most importantly, has the most members.
The late Dr. Antonios Vasilas, who was director of the Radiology Department at Beekman Downtown Hospital and also president of the Hellenic Medical Society in New York, played a vital role in that organization.
“I served the Society from various posts,” Cosmatos said, “including treasurer and vice-president. But when you have your own office it is very difficult to have time for the presidency of the Society,” he said.
Cosmatos was born in in 1952, a year before the devastating earthquake that, he said, “changed the lives of his family and thousands of other compatriots” from his native Kefalonia.
“My father was a pastry chef and had his own bakery in Argostoli, which was completely destroyed by the earthquake. At that time, he was 23 years old and found himself in a dilemma whether to start there from the beginning or to try where he had heard that streets are paved with gold.
“His uncles, Demetris and Angelos, who had immigrated to America in 1917, brought him over in 1957. “Two years later he brought over my mother and my younger brother, Dionysus.”
His father worked in a restaurant on the 42nd Street where they sold hot dogs. “My father was a worker, he fed us, paid the rent, we went out on weekends and he eventually made enough money to buy his own restaurant. America in the 1950s and 1960s was a land of golden opportunities. Today, with the same job and with $12 an hour you cannot do anything. When we came here I was seven years old and my brother was three. We started school in Washington Heights, we learned English. We grew up there and stayed until I was 16 years old and I have the best memories. The neighborhood changed. My father bought a house for $35,000 and we moved to Astoria,” he said. He studied at Long Island City High School.
“I was lucky because I had a teacher who suggested that I participate in scientific experiments and that program awakened my interest in science and medicine. I graduated with honors and was accepted at Queens College, where I met my future wife, Doris (Dorothea). My father died young and we were poor. Life was nice and easy, without cell phones, but with more human communication,” he said.
After college, he wanted to study at one of the New York’s medical schools. His late mother worked in his father’s restaurant and things were difficult. “A friend from New Jersey told me if you go to Greece you can study for free at the University and you can be admitted by taking a foreign student exam. I went to my homeland and gave it a try. They first accepted me at Thessaloniki and I liked it because it had a nice campus. We lived there for five years. Because we had finished college here [in the U.S.] they placed us in the second year for medicine. We had a lovely time and we have always been nostalgic about those years. We traveled and became familiar with all of Greece and the neighboring and other European countries.”
Cosmatos’ daughter, Alexandra, is a neurophysiologist. She is married to Rory Young and they have a young son Gabriel, whom they baptized last summer in Kefalonia’s Faraklata.