Sign up for our Newsletter

When Sonja Reinholt Derr went in for a biopsy at The Grossman Imaging Center in Manorville in 2021, she felt jaded. 

She was used to having additional tests done after mammograms; her dense breast tissue often made them difficult to interpret. After each test, she would receive a call from the center reporting that the results were benign. This time around, however, was different. 

“You’re thinking, ‘All right, another biopsy,’ and then you get the phone call that it’s cancer,” said Derr. “There’s shock, and then, it’s interesting, you sort of just get to work.” 

Like many others in her position, Derr wondered what her options were. The Greenport resident had heard positive feedback from other women about Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, but her general practitioner informed her of an alternative option closer to home. She recommended that Derr be under the care of Dr. Susan Lee, a fellowship-trained breast surgeon and the chief of breast surgery at Peconic Bay Medical Center. Following her doctor’s advice, Derr set up an appointment with Dr. Lee to discuss her recent diagnosis. 

“She explained the whole process to me in such a calm, simple and informative way,” said Derr. “I have five pages of diagrams and information that she gave me … I didn’t have a single question after I left there. 

Following the appointment, Derr scheduled a lumpectomy with Dr. Lee to remove the cancerous breast tissue, as well as reconstructive surgery with Dr. Elizabeth Marie Sieczka, a plastic surgeon and affiliate of PBMC. 

“They’re phenomenal women and doctors,” Derr said. “Many people feel that if they don’t go to Sloan in the city, then they’re not going to get the best care. I’m certainly not going to say don’t go to Sloan, because it’s an incredible hospital and incredible treatment program, but I just want to illuminate that we have some really fantastic doctors and treatment centers here.” 

PBMC is one of the fastest growing hospitals on Long Island. Located in Riverhead, the 200-bed nonprofit has been working to improve health care access across the East End. 

“Advanced health care out here has been notoriously second-tier and it’s unacceptable,” said PBMC executive director Amy Loeb. “That’s why we’re bringing in the best medical professionals, implementing advanced medical technology, and growing into areas of Suffolk County.” 


Over the last few years, the hospital has made particularly significant strides in women’s health, like advancing its breast medicine and urogynecology programs. Specialists like Dr. Lee have been brought on to lead these growing efforts. 

“There was a tremendous need for a full-time breast surgeon out here,” Dr. Lee said. “I was splitting my time between here and then also Queens and Manhattan and realized that I needed to dedicate myself out here full-time in order to really concentrate on growing the program.” 

Before Dr. Lee’s arrival in 2017, treatment for breast cancer on the East End, especially on the North Fork, was limited. According to Dr. Lee, PBMC was considered a low-volume hospital and saw less than 30 breast cancer patients a year. “It was very rudimentary,” she said. Many patients would travel as far as Manhattan, braving the notoriously congested Long Island traffic, to get the care that they needed. 

Travel could especially take a toll on cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, who often require routine visits for treatment. 

Today, PBMC offers comprehensive treatment and follow-up care for breast cancer, including the latest reconstruction methods. Since the medical center’s expansion of its breast medicine program, Dr. Lee says that the number of yearly breast cancer patients that they’ve seen has tripled. 

“I don’t think it’s so much that the amount of breast cancer has increased in three years — that would be too dramatic. It’s that patients now are able to find everything that they need within the community,” she explained. 

“We hear incredible feedback from patients who are so glad that they don’t have to travel … it’s a tremendous amount of reassurance that they feel confident that they’re getting the best and latest care without having to leave their community.” 

Over the summer, PBMC introduced its latest plan to advance women’s health services in the region — a new women’s and children’s health unit in Riverhead.

“We will be growing our women’s health footprints here at the hospital to include state-of-the-art labor and delivery, neonatal care, postpartum care, as well as women’s surgical services,” Loeb explained. 

The initiative, led by renowned OB-GYN Dr. Brian McKenna, includes the recruitment of personnel and experts in maternal-fetal medicine, reproductive endocrinology and infertility. 

“With this expansion, women will not just have their general OB-GYN close by but also all women’s health subspecialists,”’ Loeb said. “PBMC’s collaborative framework allows us to remove the bottlenecks, confusion and stress of the referral process and enables us to work with each patient individually to customize their treatment and make it directly available to them.” 

Mental health providers will also be incorporated into the new unit to address a range of issues that may arise in a woman’s life, including postpartum depression, anxiety disorders and stress. 

According to the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, one in five women will experience maternal mental health conditions during pregnancy or the first year postpartum, and 75% of those women will go untreated. Generalized anxiety also disproportionately affects women, with approximately 3.4% of women in the United States experiencing the disorder versus 1.9% of men. 

The expansion also includes increasing women’s healthcare access in areas surrounding PBMC, like the development of a comprehensive women’s health center in Manorville. 

“Women have unique medical needs that sometimes go ignored and they need to be addressed; everything from childbirth to menopause issues,” Loeb said. “There’s a broad spectrum of issues that are unique to women that we want to be able to provide for and the women of the community have asked us for.” 

Keeping the health of the community in mind, the medical center has also ramped up its outreach efforts to increase community screenings for diseases like breast cancer. 

Though breast cancer is not unique to women, it affects more women than any other type of cancer and is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. On average, a woman has a 1 in 8, or about 12.5%, chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. 

“Because of COVID, I was about four months behind on my mammogram,” Derr said. “I caught it early, but if I waited another six to 10 months, who knows what could have happened.” 

“We saw that there was a decline in screenings during the first and second years of COVID, so we just want to double down on our efforts around screening and really encourage folks,” Loeb said. Currently, the hospital offers free cancer screenings to uninsured residents of Suffolk County who meet eligibility requirements. It has also planned a $400,000 expansion to its breast imaging services, investing in technology that could better detect cancer and decrease operative time. 

“This is going to revolutionize breast surgery at our hospital,” Loeb said. 

“I don’t think it’s just a tiny community hospital anymore,” added Dr. Lee. “All the people that work there are very dedicated in terms of seeing the hospital grow and bringing the quality of care that the area deserves and needs.”