Here’s a common misconception: Actors don’t get sick.
Luckily, The Actors Fund—a supportive organization for anyone involved in the performing arts—knows the truth: Actors, directors, designers, and ushers, while often forced to exhibit abnormal stamina and determination, are human, too. That’s why the organization partnered with Mount Sinai Doctors to establish the Samuel J. Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts in March 2017. The center focuses on the specific needs of the performing community and is located on the 12th floor at 729 Seventh Avenue (between 48th and 49th Streets).
“The reality is that if your body and your voice and your mind aren’t working, then you can’t do your job,” says Alex Gibson, a swing and understudy for Squidward Q. Tentacles in SpongeBob SquarePants on Broadway. “And if you don’t do your job, then you don’t get paid, among other things.”
Gibson is one of many performers who have taken advantage of the specialized health services at the Friedman Health Center. “Because we are so physical and because we do eight shows a week and have only one day off, it’s pretty important to maintain our health,” adds Jesse JP Johnson, a swing and Ethan Slater’s understudy in SpongeBob.
Unique work hours, industry-specific injuries, and ever-fluctuating insurance coverage make the entertainment community particularly vulnerable when it comes to health care. And the Friedman Health Center knows this. In addition to primary and specialty care, the center offers extended hours and expedited referrals within the Mount Sinai Health System for anyone involved in the arts, on and off the stage.
“Any standard physician is treating you as if you’re just trying to go back into the office to work,” says Gibson. “And they might not understand how intense the risk and the need is for what you’re talking about.”
But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill health center—that much is clear upon entry. The center’s waiting room has shed the requisite stacks of People and Us Weekly for an assortment of Playbills advertising the current season on the marquees a few stories below.
Past the waiting room, the doctors know their clientele as well. “They have the same needs as anybody else,” says Dr. Ramon Pesigan, an internist and sports medicine doctor, in the Friedman Health Center. “But being in the industry that they’re in, there are so many more demands on them that often times, just like any machine, [they] break down more often, often times more seriously.” In addition to preventive care, the doctors at the Friedman Health Center aim to get sick patients back on their feet as quickly as possible.
“We hate the expression, ‘the show must go on,’ but we get it,” remarks Dr. Jason Kindt, a family medicine doctor at the Friedman Health Center. “We understand the business. They have to work and get paid. But it’s hard on their bodies.”
For Doctors Pesigan and Kindt, both Broadway fans, working at the Friedman Health Center is especially exciting. ““We’re Broadway’s docs, and we love this community. We see nearly everything and Ramon is always playing the cast albums here at the office,” says Kindt. “We have tremendous respect and admiration for what they do. It’s an honor to participate in their care.”
In addition to personal care, the Friedman Health Center offers various wellness seminars for the Broadway community. Previous topics have included eating healthy on a budget, a dancer’s guide to preventing repetitive stress injuries, and mindfulness meditation tools for surviving the industry.
But for many patients, continuity of care is the greatest advantage of the Friedman Health Center. The center accepts most insurance plans and offers free and unbiased health insurance counseling on site. Uninsured patients can also be seen at the center through a subsidy from The Actors Fund if they qualify. With the ever-shifting nature of jobs in the entertainment industry, this is especially appreciated.
While the Health Center specializes in care for those connected to the industry, it is also open to treat the health needs of any patient (regardless of profession) who walks through its doors.
“It’s nice to have something that is available for you no matter what your situation is or where you are within your journey of your work,” says Johnson. “It’s like, you’re covered. There’s always someone there to help if you need it, health-wise.”
For more information about the Samuel J. Friedman Health Center, visit actorsfund.org.