Illyria medical practice turns 10

Father Peter Popay and Imam Edin Gjoni shared a meal at the Illyria Family Practice tenth anniversary celebration. Photo by Dritan Haxhia

Ten years ago, some 10,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo fled the Balkans and settled in the Bronx. Ten years ago, pediatrician Dr. Alan Ross sensed a need. Ten years ago, a one-of-a-kind medical practice was born.

“It is a joy,” Ross said. “The children are a delight. We help them adapt to the Bronx.”

The Illyria Family Practice at Jacobi Medical Center celebrated its tenth anniversary on Friday, June 5 at Eastwood Manor. Patients and physicians enjoyed food, music and Albanian dance. Councilman James Vacca, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. spoke. Former assemblyman Steve Kaufman emceed and more than 400 people attended.

When the Kosovo refugees arrived in the Bronx, there were few nurses and doctors fluent in Albanian. The young immigrants learned English right away but the grandparents encountered trouble.

“The older people don’t speak English,” Ross said. “The older people are isolated. They tend to stay away from the hospital.”

Prior to opening the practice, Ross spent time tending to children in Balkan refugee camps. He understands how to treat children traumatized by relocation and war.

“I visited the practice myself,” Vacca said. “It is important to support doctors who are sensitive to the challenges that immigrants in our neighborhood face.”

When the Kosovars arrived in 1999, the Bronx was already home to a substantial ethnic Albanian community – Albanians, Macedonians, Montenegrins. In 1996, Jacobi formed a sister relationship with the Mother Teresa University Hospital Center in Albania. Jacobi’s Hannah Nelson helped Ross launch the practice.

The anniversary was an opportunity for the patients to celebrate the fact that they have made America their home.

Ross, pediatrician Charlotte Shandley and practitioner Evia Nano comprise the Illyria Family Practice team. They and other Jacobi employees speak Albanian, Montenegrin and Serbo-Croat. On June 5, the practice recognized Ross, Nano, Columbia University’s Dr. Robert Bristow and practice coordinator Lena Catalic. Diaz Jr. congratulated the honorees and thanked the Albanian community for its support.

Ross enjoyed watching members of the Albanian community mingle at the celebration. The Illyria Family Practice waiting room is a great place for to meet and greet, he said. An Albanian imam and Albanian priest each blessed the event.

“It is one thing to find a translator on the phone,” Ross said. “It is another thing to meet and speak with someone face to face. It is what we always hoped the practice would be.”

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