Having just begun his tenure on Nov. 26 as president and medical director of Silver Hill Hospital, Dr. Andrew Gerber could perhaps be excused for still bringing himself up to speed on the inner workings of the New Canaan-based psychiatric facility.
That, however, is far from the case.
“Silver Hill’s reputation has been built over 80 years as one of the premiere private psychiatric hospitals in the country, if not the world,” Gerber declared at his office on the facility’s 44-acre campus at 208 Valley Road. “Throughout my career, I’ve certainly known about Silver Hill, its staff and its cutting-edge work with individuals with complex psychiatric issues.”
Gerber joins Silver Hill from Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he had been medical director and CEO since 2015. Having received his medical and psychiatric training at Harvard Medical School, Cambridge Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College, he served as chief resident both at the latter’s Payne Whitney Clinic and at the Columbia-Cornell New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
He also praised Silver Hill’s “very stable leadership” as being a key point of attraction. Although Gerber is only the hospital’s ninth president and medical director since it was founded in 1931, the man he replaced — Dr. John Santopietro — held the post for a little over a year before resigning in September to join the Hartford Healthcare Behavioral Health Network. Santopietro had followed Dr. Sigurd Ackerman, who held the Silver Hill position for 14 years before stepping down in 2017. He now holds the president emeritus title.
Gerber said he’d first been contacted by Silver Hill about taking the job soon after he began at Riggs. “The timing just didn’t work,” he said. “I’d just moved my family to Stockbridge and was settling in at Riggs.” When Santopietro announced his exit and the hospital called Gerber again, “I was not going to let the opportunity pass by again,” he said.
He joins a facility that by most accounts is in strong shape. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, exact financial information is not readily available to the public, but according to tax data the hospital posted total revenue of nearly $41.9 million and net income of $4.3 million for its fiscal year ended Feb. 28, 2015. An independent audit by KPMG determined that its net assets rose from nearly $40.9 million on Feb. 28, 2014, to nearly $45.3 million on Feb. 28, 2015, and $47.7 million on Feb. 29, 2016.
The hospital says that it admits over 3,000 adolescents and adults annually for disorders ranging from addiction, depression and bipolarity to eating and personality disorders and schizophrenia. That it reportedly has treated such big names as Mariah Carey, Jon Hamm, Billy Joel and Nick Nolte is perhaps underscored by its costs: deposits of up to $13,000 are required at the time of admission; a 28-day stay in a private room can run up to $88,600; and the base cost of a private room in its 42-day persistent psychiatric disorder program is $109,200.
The facility is staffed by 236 people, including 15 full-time board-certified psychiatrists and some 20 social workers. Gerber said roughly half of the total is made up of operations staff.
“To run a hospital like this, one needs all hands on deck,” he remarked. “I’m talking with everyone, first and foremost our staff and our board of trustees, to get a sense of our needs and where we can go about creating a long-term plan to develop new partnerships.”
One such partnership, announced in March, is “The Steward House at Silver Hill” program. A collaboration between the hospital, Yale New Haven Health and Yale Medicine, the clinical arm of the Yale School of Medicine, the program is designed to provide personalized psychological and medical treatment that promotes personal growth and is responsive to professional issues that often can complicate treatment. Gerber said the program has “been doing extremely well. We’re learning about the needs of those patients and what we can do that is most useful for them.”
The hospital also officially opened its new 8,000-square-foot Sigurd Ackerman, M.D. Center for Evaluation and Admissions at the end of September, part of a 12-year project to modernize certain of Silver Hill’s buildings. Admissions were formerly conducted in a cramped, aging house.
“That provides us with the opportunity to make the admissions process as effective and quick as possible,” Gerber said. “When an individual with psychiatric difficulties or their families come in on what is a difficult day, the last thing they want to do is sit around.”
Further construction projects are unlikely, at least in the near term, he said.
The greatest challenge the hospital faces, Gerber said, is the same one that most health care facilities are encountering: what he calls “the unfortunate disorganization of our national health care system.
“Given that health care is so expensive and that one in five individuals in this country suffer from some sort of mental health disorder, the needs are immense,” he said. “We are constantly looking for how we as a society can pay for this, and how we can make it fair so that everyone can afford the kind of care they need.”
Even so, Gerber said he believes that the industry is “at an inflection point” when it comes to better understanding how the brain works, through a combination of research and technological advances. “There is no end to the number of new technologies that have emerged over the past several years that allow us to better study the workings of the brain,” he said. “What we need now is the time and money to take that work to the next level.”