Simsbury philanthropist plans to give Baystate Health $1 million in thanks for ‘high caliber’ care
SPRINGFIELD — Paul Cohen is 88 years old, sounds good and feels younger. And he knows who to thank — and how.
“I’ve been very fortunate. Whenever I was confronted with a problem, the people at Baystate had a solution,” Cohen said after announcing a $1 million planned gift to the Baystate Health Foundation Tuesday.
The co-founder and chief financial officer of Planned Furniture Promotions said the gift was to support the greatest needs of Baystate Health, but Cohen also said it was a show of gratitude for all the Springfield-based health system had done for him.
“Having lived through many different ailments, no one can appreciate the advancements in medicine more than myself. With the high caliber of Baystate Health, there’s no need to go beyond Springfield for ongoing health maintenance and for specialized expertise,” said Cohen, who emphasized the need for health care that was not only of high quality but also convenient and accessible.
Still active in his business and charitable causes, Cohen does not take health — or health care — for granted. He survived a 2000 bout with cancer, and a longer struggle with achalasia, a condition where damage to nerves prevents the esophagus from squeezing food into the stomach. That condition plagued Cohen from as far back as the early 1960s.
“It causes you to regurgitate your own food. But whenever I faced these situations, I followed the advice of my medical people in Springfield,” he said.
“Paul’s generosity and foresight provides us the benefit of having funding to support innovation and advancement for the future of healthcare,” said Dr. Mark A. Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health. “This gift will impact the next generation served by Baystate Health and help to support the longevity of quality healthcare in this region.”
Cohen is a fan of Keroack.
“He’s the face of Baystate. I love hearing him speak. He inspires me,” said the businessman, who also praised the work of Kylie Johnson, Baystate’s senior philanthropy officer and planned giving manager.
The gift is planned through the provisions of a will.
Born in Springfield, Cohen and his late wife Harriet were deeply engaged within their communities throughout their lives. Now residing in Simsbury, Connecticut, he continues to travel to Baystate for his care.
Over the years, he has also donated funds to support multiple clinical areas, including pain management, gastroenterology research and education, and heart and vascular care.
“My business partner, Eugene Rosenberg, supports programs in the Hartford area while I keep my Springfield contacts,” Cohen said.
The partnership has worked splendidly for 59 years.
“I’ve been very fortunate. Our business now has 1,500 employees. People might think there is no substitute for making money, but I’ve received more enjoyment when I can give it away,” Cohen said.
Cohen’s most recent gift honors John Bedford, a Baystate Health internal medicine specialist who served as his primary care physician for more than 20 years. The gift will be recognized with the naming after Cohen of a heart and vascular care patient floor at Baystate Medical Center.
There will also be special recognition to Bedford, who helped connect Cohen with vascular surgeon Marc Norris when Cohen experienced vascular difficulties in 2019.
“Dr. Bedford was wonderful. He took care of me in every single situation. When I had poor circulation in my legs, he treated me,” Cohen said.
“Being recognized by Paul is truly an honor,” Bedford said. “He is an uncommonly generous individual who is committed to using his success to help advance quality healthcare in our area.”
Cohen appreciates the wonders of modern medicine. Timely and accurate prescriptions and medications have allowed him to avoid painful and difficult rehabilitation more than once.
“I hate exercise,” he said.
Even when Cohen has had surgeries at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, all the follow-up work has been done in Springfield, he said. He hopes his gift will encourage others to recognize and support their local health care system in meaningful ways.
“Yes, I hope this inspires more people to come forward,” he said. “People in Western Massachusetts should be very proud of Baystate.”