CREDIT: Polinsky family photos

Arline and Jerry Polinsky, a devoted couple, were married for more than 64 years.

They had been together for 64½ years. My mother was lost without him for those nine days. Bringing them together was the frst thing that popped into my head. It was a no-brainer.”

Joanna Berens


With every patient you lose, it takes a small toll on you. Although the outcome was not the one we wanted, I did feel relieved that Jerry and Arline were able to be together.”

Emilian Cristea, MD


Emilian Cristea, MD, and a team of nurses caring for Jerry and Arline Polinsky made sure the couple could be together as they battled COVID-19. The couple died just hours apart.

It takes a whole team. We all come together to deliver excellent care, and I find that simply amazing.”

Emilian Cristea, MD

Together to the End
Compassionate Care Eases Longtime Couple’s Passing

It was by chance that Emilian Cristea, MD, a Memorial medical staff member, came to be Gerald “Jerry” Polinsky’s physician in April 2020. The 89-year-old Hollywood, Florida, man was among the first wave of patients admitted to Memorial Regional Hospital with COVID-19.

Dr. Cristea, now a nephrologist, didn’t know his patient had worked until he was 83. He didn’t know Jerry was devoted to his daughters and grandsons, that he adored and doted on his wife, that the couple had been married for 64½ years.

But Dr. Cristea knew that Jerry was struggling to breathe with COVID-19 pneumonia — and that there was nothing more that could be done.

“Despite doing the best medical management that we knew of, there was just this gradual decline,” said Dr. Cristea, a native of Romania who joined the Memorial Healthcare System in 2019.

What gives him some peace of mind is knowing that Jerry died with his beloved wife, Arline, by his side — because of the compassion and heroic efforts of Memorial Regional’s care team.

It Was the Right Thing to Do

More than a week before, Jerry had fallen and been found on the bedroom floor in the assisted-living apartment he and Arline shared. It was the senior living center’s protocol that he go by ambulance to the hospital.

“It never entered my mind that this was COVID,” said daughter Joanna Berens of Hollywood.

At Memorial Regional Hospital, the emergency room team found no sign of injury, and Jerry’s vital signs were good. He would be going home. Because of COVID-19 safety measures, Berens was waiting outside to pick him up when she got a call. ER nurses doing a routine, pre-discharge temperature check discovered that Jerry had spiked a fever.

“That was truly the beginning of the end,” Berens said.

A pneumonia diagnosis came first. By the next morning, Berens and her sister, Nancy Polinsky Johnson, learned their father had COVID-19. Berens was terrified.

Nine days after Jerry was admitted to Memorial Regional Hospital, Arline, 86, also fell in their apartment. While she was making the one-mile ambulance ride to the hospital, Berens was on the phone, pleading with an ER nurse: If her mother tested positive for COVID-19, please put her in the same room with her husband.

When the nursing staff brought the request to Dr. Cristea, he said yes without hesitation.

“The nursing team did all the thinking,” he said. “I embraced it, but I want to give them full credit. It sounded like the right thing to do.”

After Arline tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to the hospital, nursing staff wheeled Jerry’s bed to Arline’s room at the other end of the COVID-19 floor. They pushed the couple’s beds together, letting each know the other was there. The nurses took the extra step of lowering the bed rails, so Jerry and Arline could hold hands.

When Arline, who was more alert than Jerry at the time, said, “I love you,” a nurse leaned in and delivered the message to Jerry. He mouthed back, “I love you.”

The nursing staff also arranged for Berens and Johnson to have a video conference call with their parents. They held up an iPad so the sisters could see their mother and father in their side-by-side hospital beds and then tilted it so they could see their parents holding hands. Jerry was stroking Arline’s manicured hand with his thumb, just as he had always done.

The daughters were able to tell their parents that they loved them, and Arline mouthed back, “I love you.”

The couple had one full Sunday together before Jerry died on April 13. Arline seemed aware that he was gone. “Together, Jerry,” she said as he was wheeled out of the room. Arline died just four and a half hours later, on April 14.

The Polinskys are believed to be the first couple in Broward County to die together, Dr. Cristea said.

“With every patient you lose, it takes a small toll on you,” he said. “Although the outcome was not the one we wanted, I did feel relieved that they were able to be together.”

The sisters will be forever grateful that Memorial Regional Hospital staff went the extra mile to make sure their parents were side by side in death, just as they were in life. They have kept a video image of their parents holding hands.

“My parents were in the right place at the right time with the right people,” said Johnson. “It was so comforting to know that they were in such good hands with professionals who had hearts of gold.”

Devoted to Each Other and Their Family

Jerry was a gentle soul, his daughters said.

“Everybody who met him would say, ‘Oh, he was such a gentleman. He was so kind. He was so thoughtful,’ ” Johnson said.

He also adored their mother, the sisters added. Despite battling chronic leukemia, Jerry still did all he could for Arline, who had Alzheimer’s disease. It was only within the year before they died that they had to move from independent living to assisted living at their senior complex.

The couple met in January 1951. Arline, who was 17 at the time, went to visit cousins in St. Louis. Determined to show her a good time, the cousins arranged for several young men to accompany her to various events during her visit. One of them was Jerry, then a senior at Washington University who took her to a Wash U basketball game.

“We talked and talked,” Arline wrote in her diary. “Boy, can he talk!”

Jerry and Arline kept in touch after she went home, and they would marry on Dec. 26, 1955.

Their daughters said Arline and Jerry were devoted to one another, their family (including three grandsons), and their Jewish faith. Most of the trips they took were to visit family or to attend family weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and family reunions.

"Family made them both very happy,” Johnson said.

Jerry worked as a college history professor and then on the administrative and management side of higher education. Arline had worked as an interior designer and later as a real estate agent.

While their mother’s medical history “could fill a phone book,” their father was remarkably healthy. Jerry was never hospitalized until he was admitted for COVID-19, the daughters said.

In summer 2014, Jerry and Arline moved to the senior living residence in Hollywood from their longtime home in Columbia, South Carolina. Berens said she took comfort in knowing the hospital was less than a mile away from her parents’ home.

It was Memorial’s Dr. Fernando Diaz-Calderon, Arline’s endocrinologist, who expressed concern about Jerry’s declining health and encouraged the elderly couple to make the move from independent to assisted living. And Memorial oncologists Dr. Jennifer Zikria and Dr. Jose Sandoval-Sus were treating Jerry’s leukemia.

Dr. Charles Stone, Memorial medical staff member and Arline’s primary care physician, “was incredible through the preliminary COVID process,” Berens said. He fast-tracked COVID-19 tests at a time when rapid tests were unheard of, she said.

Compassionate Care in Action

It was a dedication to compassionate and empathetic care that spurred quick action on Beren’s request to bring Jerry and Arline together.

“The nurses at Memorial are great,” Dr. Cristea said. “In the case of Gerald and Arline, they understood the situation very well and felt what was needed from a spiritual standpoint, what would bring the most meaning. I think this said a lot about Memorial — that we’re treating the patient as a whole, not just treating this disease.”

He also praises the nurses for keeping the family informed and making sure the daughters had an opportunity to say goodbye to their parents.

“When they saw them together, I think they had a little bit of closure,” Dr. Cristea said.

Johnson remembers marveling at how the nursing staff made time for their concerned calls.

“We were hearing on the news about what healthcare workers were going through and how the rooms were filling up with COVID patients and there weren’t enough ventilators,” Johnson said. “We would call, and it wasn’t easy to get through, but when we did, the nurse would say, ‘I’m going to be suiting up and going in their room shortly. I’ll call you back when I’m in there.’ She would hold the phone up to Daddy, and I was so grateful and, simultaneously, so astonished, thinking every other family is asking for the same thing.”

Dr. Cristea and the nursing staff were “very patient and very compassionate,” Berens added.

“The nurses who were with them in their final moments — as frustrating as it was for me to not be able to be there — I couldn’t believe they had to handle it, and they did it in as graceful a way as possible,” she said.

Though Berens and Johnson are still grieving the loss of their parents — and Berens is coping with the sudden death of her husband, Eli, from a suspected heart attack less than five months later — they hold on to the positives.

“We saw silver linings immediately,” Berens said. “The fact that they went together was the largest one. The fact that one of them didn’t have to mourn the other.”

The care Memorial took with their parents — and with the family — is another silver lining.

“I want to be able to thank them in person one day,” Berens said. “I want to give those nurses who were with our parents at the end a hug. Just to be able to say thank you would mean a lot to me.”


Aharon Sareli, MD, Memorial’s Chief of Critical Care Medicine, gets his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14, 2020. Sareli was the first clinician in South Florida to be vaccinated.


CREDIT: Images from The Miami Herald @2021 McClatchy. All rights reserved. Used under license.

Memorial Takes a Lead in Florida Vaccine Rollout

When the medical miracle of a COVID-19 vaccine arrived in December 2020, Memorial caregivers were relieved: Now they would have an effective weapon to help them in a war that they’d been waging since early March.

“The vaccine was liquid gold to all of us,” said Dorinda Segovia, PharmD, MBA, Vice President and Chief Pharmacy Officer.

Like everything else about the COVID-19 pandemic, the process of distributing it was a fast-paced and daunting one. Memorial was one of just five Florida health systems that the state identified to receive and distribute the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Additionally, in Broward, Memorial was designated as the central distributor of the vaccine for five area healthcare providers: Cleveland Clinic Florida, Broward Health Medical Center, Westside Regional Medical Center, Florida Medical Center and Holy Cross Health.

UP FIRST: Front-Line Workers

So once news broke on Friday, Dec. 11, that the FDA had issued the first Emergency Use Authorization for the vaccine, Memorial raced to prepare for the arrival of 19,500 doses the following Monday. The plan: to give the first round of vaccinations to front-line workers in the emergency departments and critical care areas — medical staff, nursing staff and any clinician at risk for contracting the virus.

To anyone watching the first vaccinations at Memorial Specialty Pharmacy on the afternoon of Dec. 14, it was a smooth and even joyous event. What wasn’t readily apparent: the complicated pre-planning that was necessary to make it all happen. Memorial was responsible for a dizzying array of logistics, all of which had to happen before the first shots could go into arms.

“We left work that Friday not knowing when we’d get the vaccines,” Dr. Segovia said. “But that same evening, we received notice of approval through media channels, plus shipping information from Pfizer with an estimated arrival time. Over the weekend we set up our vaccination site to be ready for Monday.”

The pharmacy team had to determine how to receive the vaccine, store it in special subzero freezers, defrost it, manage its dating requirements and safely prepare each syringe. (They even had to measure the dimensions of the individual Pfizer vials and packages to calculate how much refrigerator space they would need for storage.)

They had already worked with colleagues across the system to develop criteria for eligibility and to create an IT infrastructure to support the operation — all of which would need multiple updates as new information became available.

Then, with the news that the FDA had issued Emergency Use Authorization for the Moderna vaccine, Team Memorial had to do it all over again — determine its preparation, dosage and storage as separate inventory. (At the time, the FDA did not consider the two vaccines to be interchangeable.) Special labels had to be made to safely barcode and document the Moderna vaccine’s administration.

The work continued through the rest of December and into the New Year. Once its front-line healthcare workers were inoculated in the first phase, Memorial turned to vaccinating other area providers and, finally, people age 65 and older when Florida expanded the eligible recipient population.

NEXT: Long-Term Care Facilities

After front-line care workers, Memorial began inoculating seniors in long-term care facilities.

The Florida Department of Health selected Broward and Pinellas counties to enact a pilot program for vaccinating patients and caregivers in 112 long-term care facilities. By January, Memorial had opened its second vaccination center at Memorial Regional Hospital’s Conference Center and began inoculating at its nursing home, Memorial Manor — going room to room to give shots to its 120 residents and setting up a clinic in one of its conference rooms for staff.

In all the phases of the vaccination rollout, Memorial had to move nimbly in response to changing information. Employees pitched in, working around the clock even after 10 difficult months on the front lines. And a 2020 holiday season already upended by the pandemic became even more so. To thank people for giving so selflessly of their time and energies, Dr. Segovia made Christmas ornaments out of empty vaccine vials — souvenirs of a remarkable effort in an unforgettable year.

“No matter what holiday you celebrated, if you were part of the team that made this miracle happen, you got an ornament,” she said.

hospital visits
(including repeat visits)
Tests a Day
monoclonal antibodies patients