SALEM – “I just think it’s so important to make a difference – people don’t know how good they’ll feel until they give back,” said Arthur Epstein, a businessman, philanthropist, and former Marblehead resident about his $5 million gift to North Shore Medical Center.
Epstein’s donation, the largest single contribution in the hospital’s 105 years, has transformed the former Spaulding Hospital North Shore into the newly-renovated Epstein Center for Behavioral Health, Massachusetts’s largest inpatient psychiatry service within a full-service hospital.
“We all owe a special debt of gratitude to our friend, Arthur Epstein who, together with his family, has inspired this wonderful facility and provided a transformational $5 million gift to ensure that it stands here today for our entire community,” said NSMC President Dr. David Roberts.
Epstein, a Malden native who currently lives in Brookline and spent over 50 years living in Marblehead, has long been a supporter of NSMC. He has served on its Board of Trustees since 2006, and given generously each year. Notably, he donated $1 million in 2007 to support the Mass General/North Shore Center for Outpatient Care in Danvers. For Epstein, this latest, largest contribution that will allow for much greater mental health care access on the North Shore is deeply personal. His late wife Eunice, was bipolar, and spent many years in and out of hospitals. Epstein witnessed firsthand both how hard it was to find appropriate care, and to discuss their challenges in a world that stigmatizes mental illness.
“No family goes untouched – it’s universal, and people don’t know what to do, and where to turn,” he said. “There are too many people who have problems, and not enough people who can help them. Mental illness still has a stigma. If you were driving in your car, and you saw an accident – a car smashed on the side of the road, with somebody bleeding, would you get out to help? That’s exterior.
What if you’re bleeding internally?”
Like her husband, who served on many local boards and was vice president of the former Temple Beth-El in Swampscott (now Congregation Shirat Hayam), Epstein’s wife was a pillar of the Jewish community, who served as the president of the sisterhood at Temple Beth-El, and was active with the former Jewish Federation of the North Shore.
But behind closed doors, all was not well. “When my mother’s illness showed up in full force, it was all-consuming for her, my dad, and of course, us kids. The need for hospitalization was critical, yet often difficult to find,” said Lauren Rubin, Epstein’s daughter, who spoke about her family’s experiences at a Sept. 10 ribbon-cutting ceremony, to a standing ovation. “Having a facility like this on the North Shore will allow patients from the northern suburban communities greater access to local psychiatric treatment, and get them out of the ER’s more quickly.”
The Epstein Center, which opened Oct. 1, nearly doubled the amount of inpatient beds, from 66 to 120. It is part of a larger $207 million renovation project that will consolidate a number of quality health care facilities onto one Salem campus, which means that Epstein Center patients will have access to a full-range of medical and psychiatric care in one facility. NSMC’s collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital will allow patients access to MGH specialists. The new center also includes a therapeutic garden and a children’s play area.
“Beyond providing valuable financial support for the construction of the Behavioral Health Center, Mr. Epstein’s gift makes a tremendous statement about the fundamental importance of taking care of the mental health needs of our community,” said Dr. Mark Schechter, NSMC’s Chair of Psychiatry.
Epstein, 82, grew up in Malden in a traditionally Jewish family in a close-knit “Jewish colony,” as he referred to it, where his parents, Hyman and Ida, always stressed the values of kindness and caring. “In those days, you went to services on the High Holidays, and a lot of kids were hanging out outside, and they’d all be together,” he said.
Jewish as they were, Epstein’s father owned a business making Christmas tree decorations and wrapping paper. Epstein wanted to go into business like his father, and like many of the other Jewish kids he knew, he spent six days of the week helping at his father’s business. He graduated from Malden High School, then went to Boston University. In his late 20s, he bought a Midas Muffler tire shop in Malden from a family friend.
It was an apt purchase, because Epstein seemed to have the Midas touch. Over the years, he bought 30 Midas locations all over New England. He was also a successful investor. He partnered with his high school friends Mort Ruderman, the co-founder of Meditech and founder of the Ruderman Family Foundation; Neil Cooper, a Swampscott lawyer and long-time president of the Jewish Federation; and Barry Stone, owner of Stone Construction, to start Cres Development, a real estate investment firm.
Epstein and Ruderman also provided seed money for many young peoples’ companies, with the stipulation that they give back some of their earnings to charity.
He and his former wife moved to Peabody, and then to Marblehead, where they became one of the first Jewish families to purchase a home on Marblehead Neck. He has since married Bryna Litchman, whom he calls “his partner in all things,” and moved to Brookline.
Epstein has used his wealth to donate to hospitals, research organizations like the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, and Jewish life. He has given generously to a number of Jewish institutions, like Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Hebrew SeniorLife in Roslindale, Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott (where he and his family attended for many years), the Jewish Federation of the North Shore, the Robert I. Lappin Foundation, the Jewish Journal, and notably, the Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead, which was renamed in his honor in 2017 after he donated $5 million. “I want to perpetuate the Jewish community. I think the younger people today – I’m talking people 35-50, as soon as their kids are bar mitzvahed, they walk away,” he said.
Epstein says that the key to his success is also what makes him the happiest. “The key to success is one word: people. The right people. Everything you do in life relates back to people. Being a leader is about taking care of everybody,” he said. “You judge success by the difference you can make in many other things: helping people, and helping communities, and ensuring that the organizations that practice tikkun olam are able to successfully complete their mission.”