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Healthcare Heroes

Nurse Manager, VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System

Her Work Caring for Veterans Is Grounded in a Sense of Mission

 

Julie Lefer Quick

After a decade and a half in the nursing profession, Julie Lefer Quick was looking for a change, and found one at the Veterans Administration’s (VA) outpatient clinic in Springfield.

She also found a level of passion and mission-driven commitment she hadn’t experienced before.

“I can honestly say that I’ve never seen nurses more dedicated to their population; I feel the dedication,” she said. And so do the patients. “Last week, a nurse forwarded me an email that she received from one of her veterans’ caregivers about what great care she took of that veteran, just going above and beyond. And she said, ‘I love my job.’

“Every one of the nurses who works with the VA goes above and beyond every single day,” Lefer Quick added. “And it’s really wonderful to be a part of that, serving such a deserving population.”

She started at the VA in July 2018 as a primary-care nurse. Before that, she worked for a pediatrician in solo practice, including as practice manager, for two and a half years, followed by more than 11 years in the Springfield Public Schools.

“When my son went off to college, I thought, ‘now is a great time to try something new, get back into primary care.’ So that’s when I got the job at the VA.”

When they hear mention of the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System, most people think of the hospital in Leeds, which houses services ranging from inpatient psychiatric mental-health and substance-misuse treatment to primary care; from rehabilitation to specialties like orthopedics, radiology, cardiology, and many others.

“Every one of the nurses who works with the VA goes above and beyond every single day. And it’s really wonderful to be a part of that, serving such a deserving population.”

“And we also have five community-based outpatient clinics, where we primarily do primary care and then, depending on the clinic, some specialties to support the veterans,” she explained, noting that these are located in Springfield, Fitchburg, Greenfield, Pittsfield, and Worcester. “In Springfield, we have a very large mental-health department, and we also have a small lab, physical therapy, a registered dietitian, a clinical pharmacy, and what’s called home-based primary care.”

As it happens, Lefer Quick loves primary care, and missed that during her years working in the schools. “I had missed the ongoing, deep relationships with patients and their families.”

So, with her son graduating from the school system, she craved a return to care in a medical-office setting, and happened to meet some VA nurses at a Learn to Row event through the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club in Springfield, where her husband, Ben Quick, is executive director.

“They were like, ‘oh you should come work at the VA,’” she recalled. So she did — and, not surprisingly, she loved the work. Which is why she was hesitant to take the position of nurse manager when it became available last October.

“I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be a nurse manager. I love taking care of my patients. I love working with my team in the VA,” she said. “Nationwide, we practice a primary-care delivery system called the PACT model, which stands for patient-aligned care team. So there’s one provider, one RN, one LPN, and one admin; it’s sort of like a mini-practice within a group practice.

“We always see the same patients, and I had a great team that I worked with,” she went on. “It’s a good model for the patients; they really love it. So I didn’t want to leave my team or my patients.”

But a mentor encouraged her to try something new, and she accepted the detail.

“As a PACT RN, I was providing direct patient care and education, working with my team to meet population health-management goals, such as certain levels of control for diabetes or hypertension. And now I work for the other PACT nurses, supporting them in their practice.”

The busy community-based outpatient clinic in Springfield

The busy community-based outpatient clinic in Springfield is one of five operated by the VA in Western and Central Mass.

As nurse manager for two clinics — Springfield and Greenfield — she currently supervises 23 LPNs and RNs, with about three more to be hired soon. And she quickly found she could apply her passion for care in this overseeing role.

“In the VA, we have a unique understanding of the military culture that other providers in the community don’t necessarily have,” she said. “It’s a very sad truth that a lot of our veterans have emotional issues when they come back, but we are on the cutting edge of all types of mental-health treatment modalities and therapeutic options, and we also have the support of Congress — it’s a single-payer system, and we don’t have to be bogged down by some of the stuff that community providers have to deal with. So we, as nurses and providers, can really focus on our veterans and come up with innovative ways to care for them.”

 

A Passion for Patients

A quick look at the typically full parking lot at the VA’s Springfield CBOC, which stands for community-based outpatient clinic, testifies to the need for the services it provides, from laboratory and pharmacy to primary care and behavioral health.

“From what I have learned as the spouse of a VA nurse manager, it seems that, while most of these workers could get paid more elsewhere, they stay with the VA because they are passionate about caring for our veterans, and they are energetic about supporting each other in this difficult, important work,” Ben Quick wrote in nominating his wife for the Healthcare Hero recognition.

Yet, nursing wasn’t her first career. After graduating from college, she worked briefly in human resources, found she didn’t like that career, and went back to school for a nursing degree.

“Coming out of nursing school a little bit older than the typical students, I kind of took the first job that I could get,” she recalled. “I had a small child, so I didn’t want to work hospital hours, even though I loved the idea of being in the hospital, so I went to work for a pediatrician.”

Which surprised her, considering that her nursing-school rotations caring for youngsters tended to make her cry because she didn’t want to see them hurt or sick.

“I think there’s more of an awareness of mental-health needs in general in healthcare right now. And certainly, veterans who have seen combat are going to need support afterward. So that’s part of our mission.”

But as a pediatric nurse, “I loved seeing the kids grow over the years, seeing new babies born into families, working with parents on all kinds of different diagnoses to help their kids,” she recalled, and her next move was born of wanting to keep caring for children. “Working in the public schools was a way to be available for my son while also reaching a big population of kids. And I loved it.”

So Lefer Quick felt torn about leaving pediatric care for the VA.

“I remember leaving the public-school job for this, and I was very, very excited, but I had this moment of, ‘oh my gosh, am I doing the right thing?’ I said to one of my friends, ‘but I love my kids so much here.’ And she said, ‘you’ll find new patients in a while.’ And I did.”

In doing so, she’s taken to heart Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote that the VA — established 65 years after he uttered it — has adopted as a sort of mission: “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

“One of the things that almost kept me from accepting the detail to nurse manager was all my patients,” she said, but she understands that all her roles have been supportive in some way: “supporting kids and their families, supporting students at school to be optimally healthy and ready to learn, supporting our veterans, and now supporting the nurses who provide that care to veterans.”

Some of that care is behavioral and substance-related. “We recognize the need for that integrated care for our veterans. I think there’s more of an awareness of mental-health needs in general in healthcare right now,” she noted. “And certainly, veterans who have seen combat are going to need support afterward. So that’s part of our mission.”

She said the VA has felt the strain of a nationwide nursing shortage as much as any other facility, but added that the nurses who take jobs there value the mission President Lincoln put forward — and many are veterans themselves, or come from a strong military family, or are drawn for some other reason to caring for a veteran population.

“That was how I talked myself into the manager position. I thought, ‘well, if I can be a manager with my background, already doing this job, I can support these nurses, which ultimately provides better care for the veterans.’ So I’m not just doing it for my team; I’m helping every single team.”

The COVID pandemic posed challenges across the spectrum of healthcare, but Lefer Quick said the VA was uncommonly prepared for it, as it had already implemented a remote monitoring platform called VA Video Connect, so VA facilities were able to pivot to virtual appointments more quickly than other organizations.

For instance, before the pandemic, “I had a patient who needed monthly monitoring for medication he was on, and he liked to travel. So we would do video visits, and we would have a set appointment to do the follow-up for his medication, wherever he was. So we already all knew how to use this,” she recalled.

And when COVID struck, “we very quickly pivoted to using video for several months, almost exclusively. A lot of our patients did not want to come to the clinic. Nobody wanted to go anywhere. And we already had this in place.”

Their concerns were warranted, as the pandemic hit the elderly population hard in the earliest days of the pandemic. “As you can imagine, a large percentage of the VA population is elderly. I had a father-son set of patients — and the son was 74. So a lot of them, being elderly and therefore immunocompromised, were scared, but the VA already had this amazing video platform, and we had already trained everybody how to use it.”

Meanwhile, “the nurses that I worked with were coming up with great ways to rotate the staff through the clinic so that we could spread out more to allow for that social distancing and masking in a more comfortable way,” Lefer Quick explained. “And we took on new providers and new nurses, even during the pandemic. We didn’t slow down much.”

 

Cutting-edge Care

In his nomination, Ben Quick boiled his pitch down to three thoughts: the VA’s quality of care is second to none, downtown Springfield has a busy medical practice devoted to healing America’s heroes, and the workers there are humble, passionate, professional patriots. “That’s a Healthcare Hero story that everyone needs to hear,” he wrote.

And now they will.

“The VA is the best employer I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Lefer Quick said. “They value creativity and innovation, and they support us to explore that.

“We really are on the cutting edge,” she added. “The people I work with are doing amazing things and love to be there. No matter where they are, in Springfield or any other part of this country, if someone is eligible for VA care, they really ought to look into it.” n

Healthcare Heroes

Patient Safety Associates, Holyoke Medical Center

Their Lifesaving Actions Shine a Light on a New Position at HMC

Gabriel Mokwuah

Gabriel Mokwuah

Joel Brito

Joel Brito

When Gabe Mokwuah came to this country from Nigeria when he was 12 and heard people talking about ‘football,’ he thought about the sport played with a round ball that athletes try to kick into a net.

The other football, the one that is much more popular in this country? He didn’t know anything about it, and didn’t really want to know anything about it.

But that didn’t stop the football coach at his New York City high school from trying to convince the large, fast, and very athletic Mokwuah to try out for the team. Eventually, and we’re simplifying things here, he succeeded in those efforts. But even then, Mokwuah wasn’t really interested in the sport.

It wasn’t until he started hearing the word ‘scholarship’ and came to understand that football could be a means to an end — a college education and a ticket out of a high-crime area on Staten Island — that he began to really take it seriously.

Fast-forwarding through the next several years, Mokwuah did attend and graduate from American International College, while also playing defensive end and linebacker — so well, in fact, that he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 11th round in 1992 (they only have seven rounds today).

He played in two exhibition games, was cut, tried to catch on with a few other teams, didn’t, and wound up working as a court officer at the Hampden County Jail and House of Correction, a job from which he retired several years ago.

All that adds up to just one of the intriguing backstories that can be told by those now working as patient safety associates (PSAs), or, in his case, patient safety coordinator, at Holyoke Medical Center (HMC).

Joel Brito has one of his own.

He was working for Hulmes Transportation, taking individuals to medical appointments and daily programs while also volunteering his time to help those with substance-abuse issues when he saw an ad posted on Indeed — Holyoke Medical Center was looking for patient safety associates.

“As soon as I saw it, I jumped on it, and here I am. This has always been my dream — I always wanted to be in the healthcare field,” he said, adding that his ambition is to become a certified nursing assistant.

Others now working as PSAs at HMC have backstories as well. Some are retired or semi-retired CNAs who succeeded in finding work that is rewarding on many levels. Others are getting started down the road to careers in healthcare and have taken this entry-level position to explore options and find out if healthcare is for them. Some are in pharmacy programs. One is studying for her MBA.

The PSA position is relatively new to HMC, and healthcare in general, and it represents an imaginative and innovative step forward from the ‘sitter’ or ‘patient observer’ role seen in most hospitals, said Margaret-Ann Azzaro, vice president of Patient Care Services and chief Nursing officer at HMC.

“As soon as I saw it, I jumped on it, and here I am. This has always been my dream — I always wanted to be in the healthcare field.”

Elaborating, she said the role involves not merely sitting with an at-risk patient, but engaging with them as a well, a position that brings more value to the patients and the hospital, but also those who assume that role.

“We thought, ‘let’s come up with a safety role to empower people to not only keep these patients safe, but engage with them as well,” she said. “We don’t have sitters here; we don’t have observers here — we have patient safety associates, and the idea is to give them some education and tools to enrich the experience while they’re sitting with a patient.”

Mokwuah and Brito embody the motivations behind the PSA position and also just how vital these individuals are — to a hospital, to the patients they serve, to initiatives to reduce falls and improve overall patient safety, and, sometimes, much more.

Indeed, both have been credited with saving lives in recent months — Mokwuah in April, by seeing something while in the virtual monitoring room and immediately calling for a team member to check on the patient, and Brito in July for performing the Heimlich maneuver on a patient he heard making sounds of distress while he was sitting with another patient. (More on both episodes later).

Both men were named employee of the month for their respective actions. That’s certainly an honor, and in October, they’ll be receiving another one: Healthcare Hero.

 

Not on Their Watch

There are actually three distinct roles within the PSA position, and individuals with that title handle all three on a rotating basis, noted Brian Toia, Nursing director of the ICU, RN float pool, and patient safety associates, adding that teamwork is what makes this innovative program so effective.

The first role involves one-on-one direct care — staying within arm’s length of a patient with a high safety risk, including those susceptible to falls, patients with dementia, and those who might be suicide risks. The second involves virtual monitoring. Utilizing a camera system placed in rooms of patients with potential safety risks, PSAs working in the virtual monitoring room can keep tabs on up to 12 patients at once.

From left, Margaret-Ann Azaro, Joel Brito, Gabe Mokwuah, and Brian Toia.

From left, Margaret-Ann Azzaro, Joel Brito, Gabe Mokwuah, and Brian Toia.

The third role is what those at HMC call a ‘rounder,’ one person dedicated to a unit who will frequently check on patients, respond to virtual monitoring calls, and also answer patient calls for assistance.

When asked which role he liked the most, Brito didn’t hesitate. “I like being a rounder. I love that it’s a non-stop job.”

But all these roles are vital to the overall mission of keeping at-risk patients safe, said Mokwuah, who coordinates the department and makes the daily assignments.

Before he talked about the PSAs and what they do, he put matters in their proper perspective. “The real heroes are the nurses, the doctors, and the administrators. And they have given us support for this program to take off. Our job is to keep people safe, and our program saves lives — we’ve proven that over and over again.”

“We thought, ‘let’s come up with a safety role to empower people to not only keep these patients safe, but engage with them as well.’”

Azzaro agreed, emphasizing, again, that PSAs are far more than the ‘sitters’ of years ago. These are individuals who can, and do, watch over patients. But they also engage them and help “enrich the experience,” as she put it, while offering some examples.

“We gave them dementia and Alzheimer’s education,” she explained, noting that this, like other aspects of the program, is fairly unique within the industry. “There are certain ways in which we can engage with patients that have dementia, that have Alzheimer’s. One thing that doesn’t help them is to not be stimulated. So the PSAs can read to them, they can play games with them, they can have conversations with them, they can read a book to them, they can put something on the TV or iPad and have the patient watch it with them.”

And while engaging with these patients, or watching them on the monitor, or coming to their assistance as a rounder, the PSAs are ultimately keeping them safe, said Azzaro, noting that there has been a measurable decrease in the number of falls recorded at HMC since the start of the program.

 

Changing Lives, Saving Lives

As he talked with BusinessWest outside the monitoring room, Mokwuah said the facility boasts a split screen showing more than a half-dozen patients in their beds. At this moment in time, all was quiet and normal.

That was not the case one afternoon back in April, when, while watching that same monitor, he noticed a patient that did not appear well, was acting differently, and had a noticeable status change.

He called for a rounder to immediately check on the patient, who, as it turned out, was experiencing a significant medical event, was unresponsive, and had no pulse. Staff quickly began performing basic life support, followed by advanced cardiovascular life support. After two rounds of CPR and cardiac medications, the patient’s own breathing and heartbeat returned.

Joel Brito (left) and Gabe Mokwuah

Joel Brito (left) and Gabe Mokwuah have both been credited with saving patients’ lives in recent months.
Staff Photo

Joel Rivas, director of Nursing Medical-Telemetry, who nominated Mokwuah for employee of the month, said at the time, “it is my professional opinion that, had the patient’s change in condition not been identified as early as it was, by Gabriel, we would not have had the positive outcome that we had.”

Similar things were said after another incident in early July, when Brito again showed the importance of HMC’s innovative PSA program.

He was serving as a rounder and sitting with a patient when another team member came in to provide patient care. During that time, Brito overheard a patient from another room making sounds of distress. Confirming that his one-on-one patient was safe and in the care of another team member, he stepped into the next room to check on what he’d heard.

“In the beginning, I didn’t pay too much attention to it, but something told me to get up and check that room, and when I did, I was really surprised because the lady was essentially purple,” he said, adding that he quickly positioned himself to perform the Heimlich maneuver and helped to dislodge the obstruction in the patient’s airway.

“This is a job where you have to be humble, you need to have some empathy, and you have to love people. That’s something my mom and my family instilled in me growing up, so I try to live my life that way and help people. This job gives me the opportunity to do that.”

Like Mokwuah, Brito was credited with saving a patient’s life, said Toia, adding that, had it not been for establishment of the rounder’s role within the PSA program, it’s unlikely that someone would have been able to respond as quickly to the situation as he did.

Looking back, Brito said he relied on his instincts and his training, and was thankful to be in a position where he could help people and make a difference in their lives — the most gratifying aspects of the PSA position.

Mokwuah said essentially the same thing.

“This is a job where you have to be humble, you need to have some empathy, and you have to love people,” he said. “That’s something my mom and my family instilled in me growing up, so I try to live my life that way and help people. This job gives me the opportunity to do that.”

 

Big-game Players

Gabe Mokwuah didn’t get to be a hero on the gridiron, at least at the pro level. But his life and career, especially this latest chapter, show that our heroes come from all walks of life. And they take all kinds of titles.

Patient safety associate is a relatively new one at Holyoke Medical Center, an innovative initiative that is helping to prevent falls, improve overall safety, and, as these cases show, save lives.

Mokwuah was right when he said that doctors, nurses, and administrators are heroes. But so are those with badges that read ‘patient safety associate,’ especially these two lifesavers and Healthcare Heroes.

Healthcare Heroes

Clinical Psychologist; Assistant Professor of Graduate Psychology, Bay Path University

She Impacts Lives — and the Next Generation of Mental-health Professionals — for the Better

Kristina Hallett

It’s not easy to cover everything Kristina Hallett has done in her wide-ranging career in one story. At least, not cover it in a way that fully conveys her impact.

Her past titles convey some of it. Director of Brightside Counseling Associates and then director of Children’s Services at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, both in Holyoke. Supervising psychologist at Osborn Correctional Institute in Somers, Conn. Director of Psychology Internship Training at River Valley Services in Middletown, Conn. And currently, associate professor in Graduate Psycholology and director of Clinical Training at Bay Path University.

Oh, and she’s maintained a private psychotherapy practice in Suffield, Conn. for the past quarter-century.

There are some common threads.

“Dr. Hallett’s career spans over 25 years, during which she provided invaluable psychotherapy, consultation, and supervision to medical and mental-health professionals, addressing myriad relationship and major life issues. Her expertise in complex trauma and dissociative disorders is instrumental in supporting and empowering those facing significant psychological challenges,” wrote Crystal Neuhauser, vice president of Institutional Advancement at Bay Path, one of three people who nominated Hallett as a Healthcare Hero.

Just as importantly, “she is a guiding influence in shaping the next generation of mental-health practitioners. Her commitment to education and mentorship showcases her passion for instilling excellence, compassion, and cultural competence in students. She is especially passionate about guiding under-represented caregivers into the profession to help underserved communities see themselves in their mental-health professionals.”

That’s a mouthful, but it’s important to understand the generational impact of Hallett’s work — not only helping people move through often-severe challenges and trauma toward a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life (which she accomplishes as a teacher, therapist, executive coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and more), but she’s helping to raise up the next wave of mental-health professionals to do the same, at a time when the needs are great.

“When we’re talking about mental health, it’s about connection, and there are different ways to make a connection. And having a role model who look like you and who understands you is really important.”

“I’m just ecstatic about our program,” she said of her role at Bay Path, where she started teaching in 2015. “When I came, we had maybe 50 students. Right now, in our program, we have 280-plus students. This summer, they did a 100-hour practicum with us before their 600-hour internship out in the community. We had 62 students in practicum this summer, which is a logistical challenge, but we’re really able to help shape them, educate them, and give tools and resources to the next generation.”

Kristina Hallett’s books

Kristina Hallett’s books have delved into topics ranging from relationships to banishing burnout.
Staff Photo

Meanwhile, Hallett’s bestselling books, Own Best Friend: Eight Steps to a Life of Purpose, Passion, and Ease and Be Awesome! Banish Burnout: Create Motivation from the Inside Out, inspire personal growth and empowerment, while a co-authored workbook titled Trauma Treatment Toolbox for Teens is a resource for young people facing trauma-related challenges, and her contribution as a co-author to Millennials’ Guide to Relationships: Happy and Healthy Relationships are Not a Myth! reflects her commitment to enhancing the lives of diverse populations.

As an executive coach, she helps participants find lasting change in the areas of burnout, stress, motivation, and self-confidence. And her podcast, “Be Awesome: Celebrating Mental Health and Wellness,” provides hope and guidance to listeners, fostering an environment where seeking help and prioritizing mental health is normalized.

As noted, it’s a lot to take in, but Hallett is energized by the opportunity to impact so many lives in so many different ways. The opportunity, in fact, to be a Healthcare Hero.

 

Connected to Kids

Hallett’s private practice offers individual and family treatment, with some intriguing specialty areas, including psychotherapy for medical and mental-health professionals, military personnel, and first responders; substance abuse; mood disorders; LGBTQ clients; trauma recovery; and treatment of complex trauma and dissociative disorders.

It’s a far cry from her earliest goal in life, which was to be a pediatrician.

At Wellesley College, where she was a biology major in a pre-med program, she took a psychology course “for fun” — and found the topic interesting, so she added a double major in psychology. “My professors were like, ‘oh, you should go into psychology.’ And I said, ‘no, no, no, I’m going to be a pediatrician … right?’”

During her senior year, as she took her medical college admissions tests, Hallett found herself in an interview, being asked, ‘why do you want to go to medical school?’ And something clicked.

“I had this experience where my mouth kept talking, but a part of my brain said, ‘yeah, why do you want to go to medical school?’”

Her answer was to enroll at UMass Amherst — in a graduate psychology program.

That’s not to say she wouldn’t work with children, adolescents, and families, though. At her earliest career stops, she had plenty of opportunities for that, from her stint as regional program supervisor for the Key Program in Springfield from 1991 to 1995 to her roles with Brightside Counseling Associates from 1996 to 1998 and Providence Behavioral Health Hospital from 1998 to 2003.

“I loved the idea of working with adolescents because, while I was young, still in my 20s, I felt like they’re ripe for change; you can be honest with them … it’s a very real interaction, while adults are just stuck in their ways,” she said, adding quickly, “I don’t think that way anymore.”

That’s because she’s had plenty of experience working with clients of all ages. In fact, her next stops — at Osborn Correctional Institution from 2003 to 2005 and River Valley Services from 2005 to 2015 — broadened her experience dramatically.

Kristina Hallett’s office

Kristina Hallett’s office in Suffield, Conn. is filled with photos, artwork, and mementos from her interactions with patients.
Staff Photo

“So the first half of my career was children and adolescents, but really centered on adolescents,” she said. “And it’s unusual for someone to be running an outpatient mental-health clinic and running inpatient children’s services, and then working in a prison.” At the time, she added, Osborn housed 2,000 male inmates and also arranged schedules for mental-health workers for some other local prisons.

Years later, while working at River Valley, Hallett had a yen to get into teaching, so she joined Bay Path as an adjunct professor in 2015, which quickly led to part-time work and then a full-time opportunity. It sure beat the commute from Suffield to Middletown, but there were other, more important reasons to make the jump.

“Bay Path had just started its clinical mental-health counseling program, and they were going to expand. And I thought, ‘yeah, I’m ready to do this full-time.’”

Her first title was coordinator of clinical training, which became director of clinical training. And this past spring, when the program director left, she took over that role.

“I’ve been responsible for bringing in a lot of faculty over the last few years, and this summer alone, I brought in four faculty who are former graduates of our program, all coming from different perspectives,” she told BusinessWest. “I like to bring back our graduates because they know the program, and we want to support them in their career. I’m trying to create a pathway for our students, post-graduation, to continue their own growth and learning.”

A couple years ago, Hallett’s department procured a behavioral-health workforce and education training grant through the Health Resources and Services Administration, to support and build up the young mental-health workforce, but also to better integrate these professionals into medical settings.

“So, you have a medical office with physicians, and then you have an embedded clinician,” she explained. “You come in for your annual physical, maybe you’ve been feeling a little down, and your physician says, ‘oh, you know what, I’ve got Stacy here who can maybe talk to you about that.’ And Stacy talks to you and sees if there are resources available to help you — therapy or whatever. So that’s a newer model that’s beginning to happen, which is great.

“It’s always about increasing access, because there’s a huge mental-health crisis, a huge need, a huge waiting list,” Hallett went on. “So anything to increase the workforce is great.”

In 2023, the third year of the four-year grant, Bay Path was able to fund 36 students to the tune of $10,000 each. “So 36 students are working full-time, many have families, and they’re still trying to get a master’s degree and go into the field. As you can imagine, it’s really hard to do all that and then work 600 hours as a clinician. So the $10,000 is phenomenal.”

She recently applied for another grant, with a bigger stipend, for students going through their internships and want to work in community-based clinics, either with services from the Department of Mental Health or a majority MassHealth clientele. “So the people who need the services are going to get good services,” she said, while, again, cultivating the next generation of professionals. “I am so excited about it.”

 

Heart of a Teacher

It was Hallett’s love for educating people, in fact, that led her to finding other ways to communicate.

“I love what I do one-to-one, and I love teaching. So what other ways do I have to make an impact with things that people really need to know?” she said. “The podcast and the books and the speaking are just ways to share messages and really say, ‘there are things that we can do to help ourselves, to feel a sense of agency, even when the world is sort of going crazy around us, and when there are really difficult challenges that we don’t necessarily have any control over.”

So much of her work, she said, has been with community-based organizations because she cares about access to mental health, especially for the underprivileged and underserviced. “I want to support and encourage an increase in a truly diverse workforce because that’s who we are. People need to see people like themselves. It’s not that they can never talk to people with differences; of course they can. But when we’re talking about mental health, it’s about connection, and there are different ways to make a connection. And having a role model who look like you and who understands you is really important.”

As for her decades of work with stress and trauma, in particular her work with clients from the military and first-responder communities, it started early on, working with adolescents in difficult situations.

“There are horrific things that humans do to each other that are certainly hard to live through,” she said. “They’re hard to hear about, and they’re hard to know. So I try to counteract that darkness with some kind of support. People who have gone through really horrible things deserve someone to stand in the witness of that.”

For a while, in the pre-COVID years, Hallett said, she was primarily working with medical and mental-health professionals in her practice. “These are small communities; it’s hard to find providers who work with providers. So that just sort of evolved. I had already started working with veterans and first responders, and then COVID hit, and that was a time when there was so much need.”

She no longer works with teens, and the goal for her adult clients is to get them back out living their lives and doing the work that’s meaningful to them. “But if something comes up at another point in time where something new has happened, you can come back. We create a relationship that allows you to come and go. I’m always working to create these longer-term relationships.”

And, not surprisingly, she has applied that passion to her other career at Bay Path, helping to create an advanced trauma certificate in her department.

“As practitioners in the field, we’re always asking, ‘what’s the latest? What’s backed by science? What do people need to know? What do we wish we knew when we were in school? And how do we continuously support the growth of the next generation?’” she said. “Because we need them.” n

Healthcare Heroes

Chief of Emergency Medicine, Mercy Medical Center

He Considers Listening His Strongest, Most Important Talent

Dr. Mark Kenton

 

As a general rule, physicians working in the emergency room don’t get to know their patients as well as those in primary care or other specialties, who see their patients regularly and over the course of years and, sometimes, decades.

But Dr. Mark Kenton makes it a point to get to know those who come to his ER, the one at Mercy Medical Center. Indeed, he said he always looks to make a connection by listening to each patient and learning about what they are interested in and passionate about.

In addition to making these connections, he tries to get involved and make a difference, in ways that go beyond providing medical care.

“Sometimes, the best medicine you give someone is not actually medication,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s just listening. Everyone has a story.”

He was listening as one patient, a veteran named Homer who was going into hospice care, expressed regrets about never making it to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. So Kenton researched the Honor Flights program and worked with the patient’s family to help make arrangements for him to visit the stirring memorial. Later, he received a letter from that family.

“They said he died two weeks before he was scheduled to go, but he died knowing that he was going, and it meant a lot to him,” Kenton recalled. “That stuck with me.”

He was also listening to another patient who was near the end of his battle with cancer and came to understand that the two shared a love of baseball and the Red Sox. Kenton arranged a phone call to the patient from former catcher Rich Gedman, whom Kenton had come to know well from his participation in Red Sox fantasy camps.

“Sometimes, the best medicine you give someone is not actually medication. It’s just listening. Everyone has a story.”

“He said, ‘I can’t believe Rich Gedman actually called me,’” Kenton recalled, adding that the conversation had a lasting impact.

This ability to listen, and act on what he hears, is one of many traits that has made Kenton a Healthcare Hero for 2023 in the Healthcare Administration category — annually one of the most competitive categories within the program.

He stood out amid a number of others nominated for the award for his ability to act upon what’s heard — in a variety of different settings — and generate needed dialogue, which has sometimes led to real change.

This includes the ER at Mercy, where he has worked with others to improve flow, shorten wait times, and reduce the number of patients who leave the ER without being seen, battles that have become even more difficult amid critical shortages of trained professionals, especially nurses.

One of Dr. Mark Kenton’s passions is baseball

One of Dr. Mark Kenton’s passions is baseball and Red Sox fantasy camps, something that has become a family affair, as in this scene at Jet Blue Park in Florida with his sons (from left) Mark, Davin, and Jacob.

But it also includes the national medical stage, as we’ll see. Indeed, a letter posted on Facebook from Kenton to the CEO of Mylan juxtaposed the CEO’s salary against the sky-high cost of EpiPens and thrust the debate about the rising cost of pharmaceuticals into the national spotlight.

In Massachusetts, Kenton played a strong role in the passage of a bill that would allow EpiPens to be purchased in the same manner as Narcan for municipalities, whereby the state would purchase them at something approaching cost.

Kenton has also advocated for increased protection from workplace violence in hospitals, testifying at the State House after a colleague at Harrington Hospital suffered a near-fatal stabbing. Those efforts have been less successful in generating change — a result he blames on the high cost of measures such as metal detectors — but he continues to push for legislation that might prevent such incidents.

For his ability to listen and effect change — in his ER and many other settings as well — Kenton is certainly worthy to be called a Healthcare Hero.

 

A Great Run

The art hanging on the walls of Kenton’s office certainly helps tell his story.

Most of the pictures are baseball-themed — he played in college, has attended the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown since 1981, and has more than 7,000 baseball autographs, by his estimate — including photos from the fantasy camps he’s attended, with his children prominent in many of them.

“I’ve been going for 13 years now, and it’s been a pretty amazing experience,” he said, noting that he’s been on the same field as many Red Sox legends. “Now, it’s more about going back and playing with friends than seeing the Red Sox — but they’ve become friends, too.”

But there’s also a framed photo of the cast members of The Office, a gift from his children. He is a huge fan of the show, and notes with a large dose of pride that he’s met several of the cast members and possesses a suit jacket that Steve Carell wore on the show.

While Kenton spends a good amount of time in this space, his true office, if you will, has always been the ER, and especially the one at Mercy. He arrived there in 2003 and became chief of Emergency Medicine in late 2019, three months before COVID hit and turned the healthcare system, and especially the ER, on its ear.

The trajectory for this career course was set over time, and Kenton believes his passion for helping others began when he watched medical dramas on television with his mother and became captivated with what he saw.

“My mother had cancer as a child; she spent a lot of time in hospitals and always had a fascination with healthcare,” he recalled. “She was always reading medical books, and we watched every show you can think of — Quincy; Trapper John, M.D.; St. Elsewhere; you name it.”

Because of his love for baseball, Kenton initially considered a career as an athletic trainer, since he could combine both his passions, baseball and healthcare, and he attended Springfield College with that goal in mind.

He quickly realized that the life of an athletic trainer did not have a lot of stability. And after working as an EMT, a rewarding but also harrowing experience — “I remember going to shootings and the shooter was still on the loose” — he decided the emergency room was where he wanted to spend his career. He earned his medical degree at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, with the goal of completing his residency in Baystate Medical Center’s ER, a path that became reality.

“I hand out my business card to patients, talk to them, and ask, ‘why are you here today?’ I do that as one more check to make we’re not missing something.”

As he talked about working in the ER, Kenton related what he told his students when he served as medical director of the Physician Assistant Program at Springfield College. “I would always say, ‘be a little scared every day when you walk in — never lose that. Have a little fear when you walk in, because you don’t know everything, nor should you know everything. You need to know what your resources are and how to utilize those resources. You also need to know that you’re going to be tested — every day.’”

 

Safe at Home

These days, most of Kenton’s work is administrative in nature — he does one clinical shift per week — and, summing it up, he said it’s about making this ER as safe, welcoming, efficient, and effective as he can.

It needs to be all of the above because the ER is the “front door to the hospital,” as he put it, and a safety net for many within the community.

“There are so many patients that don’t have primary-care doctors now or don’t have insurance,” he said. “The ER is what they turn to.”

As he works with his team to improve flow, reduce wait times, and improve the ‘leave without being seen’ numbers, Kenton relies on what might be the strongest of his many skills — listening. In fact, he’s in the waiting room every ‘admin’ day talking with not only patients, but their families as well.

“I hand out my business card to patients, talk to them, and ask, ‘why are you here today?’” he said. “I do that as one more check to make we’re not missing something. I tell them that we’re working hard to get people through the system, and we’ll work on getting you through as soon as we can. And then, I listen.”

This brings him back to his comments about how everyone has a story, and it’s important to know and understand that story.

Dr. Mark Kenton holds up a card with the name ‘Homer’ on it at the World War II memorial

Dr. Mark Kenton holds up a card with the name ‘Homer’ on it at the World War II memorial in Washington, fulfilling, in a way, a dying patient’s desire to visit the memorial.

“You can look at the medical problem, but if you look at them as just a patient, you kind of forget that behind that patient is a person who’s scared, a family that’s scared,” he said. “Some people have lived incredible lives and been very fortunate, and some people have not had very good luck, or they’ve made bad choices, or they haven’t had the opportunities that others have had.

“I’ve taken care of Tuskegee Airmen; I took care of a gentleman who told me he flew on the Enola Gay,” he went on, referencing the famed African-American fighter and bomber pilots who fought in World War II and the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. “You learn from those stories.”

While listening, learning, taking care of patients and their families, and improving efficiency in the ER, Kenton has also become an advocate for needed change in healthcare. His open letter to the CEO of Mylan on Facebook was spurred by incidents in his personal and professional life.

Indeed, while on vacation with his family, his son had an allergic reaction to peanuts. He soon learned that a prescription for two EpiPens, the best treatment for anaphylaxis, would cost $600. Fortunately, that prescription was transferred to a pharmacy that would accept his insurance, bringing the cost down to $15.

But he understood that such good fortune would elude others. While working a shift in Mercy’s ED a few months later, he saw two patients suffering from anaphylactic reactions and gave them both EpiPens, knowing they wouldn’t be able to fill the prescriptions going forward because they didn’t have insurance.

His frustration with this matter prompted his letter, which garnered press across the country and a live interview on Fox Business. More importantly, it generated real change, especially in the Bay State. Kenton testified before the state Senate on a bill introduced by former Sen. Eric Lesser to make EpiPens available for purchase by the state, just like Narcan.

 

Stepping Outside the Box

Two years after Kenton received that letter from the family of that veteran who died before he could get to the World War II memorial, his wife was running in a marathon in D.C., and he made the trip with her.

He wrote Homer’s name on a piece of paper, took pictures of it in various spots at the memorial, and sent them to his family.

“I said, ‘your dad finally made it,’” he told BusinessWest. “From what he told me during that relationship we established in a really short period of time, that brought closure to me, that he made it there.

“There are things you can do beyond providing medication to someone — sometimes you just have to step outside the box a little bit,” he went on, using a baseball term to get his point across.

This ability to forge those relationships, listen to each patient’s and each family’s story, and go well beyond simply providing medication helps explain why Kenton stands out — in his field, in his ER, and in his community. And why he is being recognized as a Healthcare Hero. n

Healthcare Heroes

Pediatric Emergency Nurse, Baystate Medical Center

Her Passion for Behavioral Health Has Enhanced Care Across an Entire ER

Ellen Ingraham-Shaw

 

Ellen Ingraham-Shaw just couldn’t get away from children — even when she thought she wanted to.

And thanks to her leadership and innovative thinking, a lot of kids are better for it today.

“I actually started my career as a kindergarten teacher,” she said, before jumping back in time a little to when her interest in working with children really began.

“Growing up, I was a horseback rider, and I got into teaching younger kids how to horseback ride; that’s how I started working with children and adolescents, including working summer camps when I was in college,” she recalled.

Then she studied early childhood education and psychology at Mount Holyoke College before spending the first five years of her career as a kindergarten teacher.

There, Ingraham-Shaw saw needs that can’t always be addressed in the classroom.

“I worked in Chicopee, and in my classroom, I had a lot of homeless students,” she said. “So I started getting really interested in the socioeconomic status of kids and all the barriers that can really get in the way of how kids learn.

“I was happy, but I didn’t see myself doing it forever,” she continued, “so I went back to school for a second bachelor’s in nursing at UMass Amherst. After that program, I started working at Baystate Medical Center on one of the adult floors. And I just thought I didn’t want to work with kids anymore after feeling kind of burnt out.”

“Especially during the pandemic, the behavioral-health population just kind exploded in our ER. And I just got really passionate about it.”

So when friends asked her whether she wanted to enter pediatrics, she said no — but that feeling eventually thawed, and she applied for a position in Baystate’s pediatric ER. And she fell in love with it, calling it a well-run unit that, she realized early on, had an openness to new ideas and a focus on behavioral health that she would eventually expand in a number of ways.

“Especially during the pandemic, the behavioral-health population just kind exploded in our ER. And I just got really passionate about it,” she said. “And I’m lucky that my managers and my educators on my unit really support us working toward the things we’re interested in. If you want to seek out opportunities to do your own education, they give you opportunity to research.”

Thus began a fruitful career in pediatric emergency care with a focus creating more education and resources around behavioral health.

“I’ve been able to do education on de-escalating patients, just helping with the safety of the staff and the patients. And I think our physical restraint numbers have decreased; we have seen a decrease in having to resort to a restrictive environment with the kids.”

Ingraham-Shaw also worked closely with Pediatric ER Manager Jenn Do Carmo on Narcan take-home kits for the Pediatric Emergency Department. They were talking one day about how Baystate’s adult ED provides take-home kits to their substance-misuse population, but the Pediatric ED had no such process. So they decided to change that. Ingraham-Shaw created an education flier for nurses and doctors, made sure the kits were stocked, and educated every nurse on how to educate patients and families in their use.

“I did some education with our staff on how to identify patients that might be at higher risk,” she explained. “These are patients who come in with an overdose or, unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of adolescents these days with suicide attempts and self-harm; sometimes they could be opioid-related, sometimes not. But if someone has a past overdose attempt, they’re at a higher risk of potentially overdosing on opioids in the future.

Ellen Ingraham-Shaw

Ellen Ingraham-Shaw says pediatric emergency nurses bring not only care, but large doses of compassion and education to parents.

“So we’re making sure we have Narcan out in the community,” she added. “The nursing job is to help identify the patients that could be at risk, then working with the providers to make sure Narcan gets prescribed.”

Do Carmo, who nominated Ingraham-Shaw, said this program has the potential to save the lives of pediatric patients who overdose on opioids in the community. “Ellen is also going into the community and teaching local schools about the process of administering Narcan,” she wrote. “Ellen is a strong advocate for her patients and is a Healthcare Hero.”

 

Knowledge Is Power

As another example of thinking — and leading — outside the box, Do Carmo noted that Ingraham-Shaw noticed a gap in education on the care of LGBTQ and transgender patients, and took it upon herself to create educational materials and a PowerPoint presentation on how to care for and support these individuals.

“The entire Emergency Department now provides her representation on transgender education in nursing orientation,” Do Carmo wrote. “This presentation provides a clear understanding of a population in dire need of support and words and ways that help support the care of this population.”

Ingraham-Shaw told BusinessWest that she developed that education on LGBTQ and transgender health for a staff meeting, and the educators in the ED now utilize it as a required part of onboarding training for all emergency-medicine staff at Baystate, not just in the Pediatric ED. “So all of our staff has some level of training in how to be respectful and understanding of patients in our community.”

That aspect of education can be lacking in the training and college programs medical professionals experience entering their careers, she added. “So I think our people are definitely able to support those patients a lot better.”

Providing care that’s not sensitive to that population typically isn’t a problem of malice, but ignorance, she was quick to add. “It’s just people not knowing. And now my unit especially has at least a little baseline of how to be more respectful and understanding of patients.”

Of course, sensitivity to what patients are experiencing comes naturally in a pediatric ER, where the days can be challenging and the situations dire.

“I did some education with our staff on how to identify patients that might be at higher risk. These are patients who come in with an overdose or, unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of adolescents these days with suicide attempts and self-harm; sometimes they could be opioid-related, sometimes not.”

“One thing I do like about it is that every day is completely different. I think it’s gotten a little bit harder now that I just had my own baby; I’m still adjusting to that,” she said of the toughest cases. “But the majority of what we see is more urgent care, or things likely to be seen in a primary-care setting. Those usually have a happy ending — you help educate the family, you make sure the child is safe, is eating, drinking, breathing, and then they usually get discharged home.”

At the same time, “unfortunately, we do see some really devastating new cancer diagnoses, we see some car accidents, so it’s definitely emotional. I think my co-workers do a really good job of supporting each other through those difficult times. Healthcare can be sad, and I think it’s especially sad when you know something bad happens to a child. And we do a lot of compassion with the families as well; we take care of the whole family, not just the child.”

Again, she comes back to the education aspect of her work, even for things families don’t specifically bring in their kids for, like properly installing car seats.

“When we’re at the triage desk, we first bring the kid in, we make sure they’re safe, and then that’s another point where we can just educate them and do that community health and make sure everyone’s safe by teaching families simple things like car seats.”

Going beyond the basics is how Ingraham-Shaw has really made a difference, though, implementing new ideas in an organization she says is very interested in hearing them.

“My management team is just really open. We have a lot of freedom to do things,” she said, before giving another example in the behavioral-health realm.

“One of my co-workers and I, a few years ago, started a behavioral-health committee. We try to meet monthly, just to talk about what’s going on with the unit, trying to work on different projects,” she explained. “One thing we did was make an informational pamphlet for the families and the patients that come in for behavioral-health issues because the way we treat them is much different than other patients. And sometimes they’re there for a really long time. So we want to do what we can just to support the families a little bit more.”

Do Carmo praised Ingraham-Shaw for identifying barriers in communication and creating a tool that has improved communication between nurses and patients. “Ellen works very closely with the behavioral-health team to ensure the behavioral-health population receives the needed care plans and treatments.”

 

Long-time Passion

Ingraham-Shaw’s interest in mental health was clear when she first studied psychology in college, but at the time, she couldn’t have predicted how it would become an important aspect of her career.

“When I was looking for jobs, if I didn’t find a teaching job, I was looking for other psychology-related jobs,” she said, adding that she’s in graduate school now, working on her doctor of nursing practice degree (DNP) to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

“I always thought that was a possibility, but I didn’t think this was the route I’d take,” she said. “For nurse practitioners, at least, the education track is different. So you’re a nurse first, so you get that compassionate care and bedside manner down first. And then you start learning the more advanced things.”

Once she has her DNP, she said she’d like to stay in the pediatric arena, although she’s hoping to gain a wide range of experience through her clinical rotations.

“Baystate in general is very supportive of education,” she added, noting the system’s tuition-reimbursement and loan-forgiveness programs, in addition to its affiliation with UMass Medical School’s Springfield campus, which is where she’s taking her graduate track.

“One of the reasons why I chose that school is because they have a focus on diversity and behavioral health,” she noted. “So I’ve been working hard, but I have also been lucky to find myself in places, and around people, that are supportive and inspirational, and I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to focus on the things that I want to do.”

As part of her graduate education, Ingraham-Shaw is hoping to focus on opioid and overdose education in her scholarly project. “It’s something I’m passionate about, and I’ve done a lot of my own learning. So I’m hoping to do some more research and actually implement some projects with that.”

For her work creating and cultivating a handful of truly impactful projects at Baystate already, but especially for the promise of what she and her colleagues have yet to come up with, Ingraham-Shaw is certainly an emerging leader in her field, and a Healthcare Hero. n

Healthcare Heroes

Practice Manager of Thoracic Surgery, Nursing Director of the Lung Screening Program, Mercy Medical Center

She Has a Proven Ability to Take the Bull by the Horns

Ashley LeBlanc

 

It’s been seven years now, but Ashley LeBlanc clearly remembers the day Dr. Laki Rousou and Dr. Neal Chuang asked her to consider becoming the nurse navigator for their thoracic surgery practice at Mercy Medical Center.

She also clearly remembers her initial response to their invite: “absolutely not.”

She was working days in critical care at the hospital at the time, and liked both the work and the schedule: three days on, four days off, she told BusinessWest, adding that it takes a while for a new position like this to get approved and posted, for interviews to take place, and more — and the doctors used the following weeks to make additional entreaties, with reminders that she wouldn’t have to work any weekends or holidays.

But the answer was still ‘no’ until roughly six months after that initial invite, when she had one particularly challenging day on the floor with a very sick patient. Challenging enough that, when Rousou tried one more time that afternoon, ‘no’ became “I’ll update my résumé and hear you out.”

“He got me at a weak moment, and it was the best decision I ever made, because they have been amazing mentors, and they’ve opened my mind up to this whole other world,” she said, adding that her career underwent a profound and meaningful course change, one that led her to being named a Healthcare Hero for 2023 in the Emerging Leader category.

Indeed, during those seven years, LeBlanc has emerged as a true leader, both in that thoracic surgery practice, which she now manages, and in efforts to promote awareness and screening for lung cancer — one of the deadliest cancers, and one she can certainly relate to personally. Indeed, she has lost several family members to the disease, many of whom would have qualified for screening had it been available at the time of their diagnosis.

“He got me at a weak moment, and it was the best decision I ever made, because they have been amazing mentors, and they’ve opened my mind up to this whole other world.”

In many respects, and in many ways, she has become a fierce advocate for patients related to lung cancer screening, treatment, and research, and concentrates her efforts on ways to decrease the mortality rate of lung cancer and break down the stigma of that disease by educating the community, connecting them to resources, and, in many respects, guiding them on their journey as they fight lung cancer.

When the screening program was launched, those involved didn’t really know what to expect, LeBlanc said, adding that, in the beginning, maybe a handful of people were being screened each month. Now, that number exceeds 250 a month, and while only a small percentage of those who are screened have lung cancer, she said, each detected case is important because, while this cancer is deadly, early detection often leads to a better outcome.

This is turning out to be a big year for LeBlanc, at least when it comes to awards from BusinessWest. In the spring, she suitably impressed a panel of judges and became part of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2023. And in late October, she’ll accept the Healthcare Heroes award for Emerging Leader.

The plaques on her desk — or soon to be on it — speak to many qualities, but especially an ability to work with others to set, achieve, and, in many cases, exceed goals, not only with lung cancer screening, but other initiatives as well.

Dr. Laki Rousou never stopped trying to recruit Ashely LeBlanc

Dr. Laki Rousou never stopped trying to recruit Ashely LeBlanc to manage the thoracic-surgery practice at Mercy Medical Center, and he — and many others — are glad he didn’t.
Staff Photo

Rousou put LeBlanc’s many talents in their proper perspective.

“Before we even had the formal program, I would say something sort of off the cuff, like, ‘I wish we could do this’ … and the next week, I would have the answer, or it would be done,” he said. “Then it turned into ‘OK, let’s try and do this,’ and in the next week or two weeks, it would be done. And then it turned into a situation where she would have an idea and we would talk periodically, but she would take the bull by the horns and just do things that were best for thoracic surgery, but also the screening program.”

This ability to take the bull by the horns, and many other endearing and enduring qualities, explains why LeBlanc is a true Healthcare Hero.

 

The Big Screen

There’s a small whiteboard to the right of LeBlanc’s desk. Written at the top are the words ‘World Conquering Plans.’

This is an ambitious to-do list, or work-in-progress board, with lines referencing everything from a cancer screening program for firefighters to something called a Center for Healthy Lungs, which would be … well, just what it sounds like. “That’s a bit of a pipe dream,” she said. “We’re going to need our own building.”

While it might seem like a pipe dream, if it’s on LeBlanc’s list of things to get done … it will probably get done. That has been her MO since joining the thoracic surgery practice, and long before that, going back, for example, to the days when she worked the overnight shift as a unit extender at Mercy until 7, then drive to Springfield Technical Community College for nursing classes that began at 8.

“Sometimes, I would snooze in the car for 15 or 20 minutes,” she recalled, adding that she wasn’t getting much sleep at that time in her life. “You just do what you have to do to make it happen.”

Initially, she thought what she wanted to make happen was a career in law enforcement — her father was a police officer in Northampton — but her first stint as a unit extender at Mercy, while she was attending Holyoke Community College, convinced her she was more suited to healthcare.

But plans to enter that field were put on ice (sort of, and pun intended) when her fiancé, a Coast Guardsman, was stationed in Sitka, Alaska.

She spent three years there, taking in winters not as bad as most people would think, and summers not as warm as they are here, but still quite nice. And also working for the Department of Homeland Security as a federal security agent for National Transportation Safety Board at Sitka’s tiny airport.

“The evidence is staggering concerning the number of people who have a scan done, and they have an incidental finding, and there is no follow-up for that incidental finding.”

LeBlanc and her husband eventually returned to Western Mass. after a stint on the Cape, and she essentially picked up where she left off, working as a unit extender at Mercy.

“It was five years later, and it felt like I never left,” she said, adding that she soon enrolled in the Nursing program at STCC and, upon graduation, took a job on the Intermediate Care floor, which brings us back to the point where she kept saying ‘no’ and eventually said ‘yes’ to Rousou and Chuang (who is no longer with the practice).

Rousou told BusinessWest they recruited her heavily because they knew she would be perfect for the role they had carved out — and they were right.

Over the past seven years, LeBlanc has put a number of line items on the ‘World Conquering Plans’ list, and made most of them reality, especially a lung cancer screening program, which wasn’t even on her radar screen when she finally agreed to interview for the job.

Indeed, she was prepared to talk about patient education and how to improve it and make it more comprehensive when Rousou and Chuang changed things up and focused on a screening program.

 

Thinking Big

Once she got the job, she focused on both, with some dramatic and far-reaching results.

As for the screening program, she said such initiatives were new at the time because the Centers for Medicare Services had only recently approved insurance coverage for such screenings. At Mercy, with Rousou, Chuang, and, increasingly, LeBlanc charting a course, extensive research was undertaken with the goal of incorporating best practices from existing programs into Mercy’s initiative.

“We had no idea what our expectations should be or how it would be received in the community — it was a very new thing,” she recalled. “That first month in 2017, we did seven scans; then we did 29, and by the end of the year, it was over 50 scans a month. A year after we started, it was over 100.”

Now, that number is more than 250, she said, adding that such screenings are important because, while lung cancer is the deadliest of cancers, there are usually no visible signs of it — such as unexplained weight loss, coughing up blood, or pneumonia — until its later stages.

“When patients are diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, the treatment is, by and large, palliative, not curative,” she explained, “which makes it extra important to try to diagnose these people with lung cancer at an earlier stage.”

In addition to her work coordinating the screening program, LeBlanc also handles work implied by her initial title — nurse navigator.

This is work to help the patient understand and prepare for the procedure they are facing, such as removal of a portion of their lung, and answer any questions they may have.

“When the surgeon leaves the room … that’s when a patient will take that deep breath and say, ‘I have so many questions,’” she told BusinessWest. “It can be overwhelming, and this gives me an opportunity to answer those questions, which can involve anything from the seriousness of the procedure to where to park or what to bring to the hospital with them.”

Meanwhile, she has taken a lead role in efforts to build a strong culture within the thoracic surgery and cancer screening programs, where 14 people now work, and make it an enjoyable workplace, where birthdays and National Popcorn Day are celebrated, and teamwork is fostered.

“I think it’s important to enjoy where you work, and when we’re happy, I think that carries over to patients, and they feel that,” she said. “At Easter, we have an Easter egg hunt, with grown, professional adults running around the office looking for Easter eggs. It seems silly, but it’s wonderful at the same time.”

Then, there’s that ‘World Conquering Plans’ board next to her desk. LeBlanc said she and the team at the practice have made considerable progress with many of the items on that list, including plans to expand the office into vacated space next door with an interventional pulmonary department and an ‘incidental nodule’ program.

The interventional pulmonary program is a relatively new specialty that focuses on diagnosis of lung disease, she said, adding that an interventional pulmonologist has been hired, facilities have been created, and patients have been scheduled starting early this month.

Progress is also being made on the incidental nodule program, which, as that name implies, is a safety-net initiative focused on following up on the small, incidental nodules on the lungs that show up on scans other than lung cancer screenings and are often overlooked.

“The evidence is staggering concerning the number of people who have a scan done, and they have an incidental finding, and there is no follow-up for that incidental finding,” she explained, adding that such findings often get buried or lost in reports. “When patients come to Dr. Rousou, they’ll often say, ‘I’ve had a scan every year for the last so many years; how come no one saw this until now?’”

 

Breathing Easier

As for the Center for Healthy Lungs … that is a very ambitious plan, she said, one that exists mainly in dreams right now.

But, as noted earlier, LeBlanc has become proficient in making dreams reality and in drawing lines through items on her whiteboard.

That’s what Rousou and Chuang saw when they recruited LeBlanc — and kept on recruiting her after she kept saying ‘no.’

They could see that she was an emerging leader — and a Healthcare Hero. n

Healthcare Heroes

Personal Trainer and Owner, Movement for All

She Inspires Others to Improve Their Mobility — and Quality of Life

Cindy Senk

One of Cindy Senk’s first experiences with yoga wasn’t a positive one.

Her back was very painful on the right side. “The yoga teacher came up in my face and said, ‘you can do better, you can do better’” — but not in an encouraging way, she recalled.

“It was almost hostile — this in-my-face attitude,” she went on. “I was really taken aback by that. I felt like, you don’t know me; you don’t know my health history; you don’t know what I’m feeling. I wanted to say, ‘get out of my face,’ but I didn’t — I just stepped back, and I never went back to that yoga studio.”

The experience drove her when she launched her own fitness and training practice, Movement for All, 20 years ago.

“I decided I would never be that teacher. I would never put someone in that particular place,” Senk told BusinessWest. “My philosophy as a teacher is to educate and empower my students, my clients, to make the choices that feel right because they feel it in their body. They know how they feel.”

That philosophy has led her not only to success with Movement for All, but 40 years of successes with specific populations, like people with arthritis, older individuals, and clients with cognitive challenges — because she understands that everyone, no matter their challenges, can thrive when they’re not treated in a cookie-cutter way.

Kelly Gilmore understands this. One of three clients who nominated Senk as a Healthcare Hero, Gilmore, a department chair at West Springfield High School, was hospitalized with a condition that diminished her mobility, stamina, and overall physical and mental state so severely that she couldn’t return to her teaching position.

“None of the numerous medical specialists that I continued to see regularly could offer a path toward improvement, beyond pain relief,” she wrote. “I set out to find a healthcare/fitness professional that was committed to helping me restore my health, strength, and mobility. Cindy offered exactly that. She met me where I was and created a personalized plan to move me to where I needed to be. She empowered me to take charge of my healing, unlocking the power inside of me, one step at a time.”

Starting a yoga regimen sitting in a chair, rather than on a mat on the floor, Gilmore began, within the next few months, to move freely, climb stairs, and go on walks. “Most importantly, I was in charge of my classroom again, offering my students the energy and vitality they deserve from their teacher.”

That’s real impact on clients with real problems. Multiplied over four decades, it’s a collective impact on the community, especially populations not always served well, and it certainly makes Senk deserving of being called a Healthcare Hero.

 

Brotherly Inspiration

Senk traces her passion for helping people to her childhood — in particular, her experiences with her younger brother, Bobby, who was born with cerebral palsy in 1955, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act codified many accessibility measures.

But Bobby had his family.

“My mother was a real advocate for him,” Senk recalled. “And we grew up in this environment in Forest Park where Bobby was one of the gang. We would accommodate him if he had trouble keeping up because of his crutches; we would just get him in a wagon and drag him around the neighborhood. He was always just part of the group. There was no, ‘well, Bobby can’t do that, so we can’t do it.’ It was never like that. It was always, ‘how can we creatively include him?’ And I think that’s really where this passion of mine comes from.”

Senk has had her own share of physical challenges as well; she was diagnosed with spinal issues at age 18 — issues that led to a lifetime of arthritis and have given her unique insight into people with similar problems, and led her into decades of advocacy in the broader arthritis community.

She’s never been free from arthritis; in fact, the day she spoke with BusinessWest at her home, Senk said she woke up with a lot of pain.

“My philosophy as a teacher is to educate and empower my students, my clients, to make the choices that feel right because they feel it in their body. They know how they feel.”

“It was just one of those days, you know?” she said. “So I started my gentle yoga I do every morning, I got in the shower, I was moving around my house, I had a class online that I teach, and then I had a client. And now I feel 1,000% better from when I woke up at 5:30 because I’ve been moving for six hours.

“It comes down to wanting to help people be functional, be fit, and have tools they can use to help themselves with whatever challenges they’re facing. And I think my passion for that came from a young age. Everything kind of flowed from all that: discovering how movement helps me and sharing that with others. Because I know how much movement helps me.”

Senk started her career with group exercise like step aerobics and regular low-impact aerobics, and later started practicing yoga to help her back — her main arthritic trouble spot. That was 35 years ago, and yoga has been an important part of her practice ever since.

the heart of my in-person classes on Tuesday nights

Cindy Senk calls these women “the heart of my in-person classes on Tuesday nights.”

“I have my basic certification, but then I have specialties in yoga for arthritis, accessible yoga, subtle yoga, and I use all of those to put together whatever program I need for this particular client in this particular class. I feel lucky to have a lot of tools in my toolbox.”

It’s been gratifying, she said, to help clients discover those tools, especially those who didn’t think they could achieve pain relief and mobility.

“A lot of times, in the beginning, people that are in chronic pain are very tentative about movement because they think they’re going to hurt worse,” she said, adding that she draws on her experience as a volunteer and teacher trainer with the Arthritis Foundation — and her own experience with arthritis, of course — to help them understand the potential of yoga and other forms of exercise.

“It’s the idea of the pain cycle, where we think, ‘oh I can’t; it hurts,’ so we move less, and then we hurt more,” she explained. “The idea of movement breaks that pain cycle. You’re giving the power to the client through movement. It’s a journey that I’m on with them.”

It’s a good idea, Senk said, for people in pain to first see their primary-care doctor or a specialist to find out exactly what’s wrong and what their options are, whether that’s yoga, an aquatic program, a walking program, or another activity that can keep them mobile.

“She met me where I was and created a personalized plan to move me to where I needed to be. She empowered me to take charge of my healing, unlocking the power inside of me, one step at a time.”

“There are more than 60 million of us in this country who have arthritis — and that’s doctor-diagnosed, so a lot of people probably have arthritis and are not doctor-diagnosed. And it’s not just older people; it’s kids as well. It’s very pervasive, unfortunately. So you need to get the knowledge first, and then, if you want to move and exercise or whatever it may be, you need to find a professional who knows what they’re doing.”

 

Living Her Passion

Senk’s four-decade career as a fitness professional has brought her to commercial fitness settings, hospitals, senior-living communities, corporate environments, and the studio she runs out of her own home. She has also taught as an adjunct professor at Holyoke Community College, Springfield College, and Manchester Community College, in addition to 25 years of volunteerism with the Arthritis Foundation and her role chairing of the Western Massachusetts Walk to Cure Arthritis for the past three years.

That’s a lot of passion poured into what essentially boils down to helping people enjoy life again.

“The bottom line for me is to just encourage people to find things that are helping them stay functional, whether it’s a gym they love to go to or a more private type of setting like I offer here,” she said, noting that her home studio also includes outdoor activities and virtual classes.

“I think it’s important for people to find where they fit, where they’re comfortable. And if they go to a gym or they go to a yoga studio and it’s not their fit, just keep looking. Find your people. Find the people that really speak to you and that will support you and not judge you and not put you down because maybe you can’t bend as much.”

She said she loves hearing clients say they were able to take a vacation and hike without falling down, ride a paddleboard, even reach up into the cabinets at their cabin.

Cindy Senk

Cindy Senk demonstrates some of the simple tools of her trade.

“I live for stuff like that. As somebody who has arthritis and chronic pain, I know it can be very easy to get in the bubble of your own head and say, ‘I can’t move today … right?’ But when I’m having my class here and I’m focusing on them, that takes a whole other attitude. It takes me out of my own pain space, if you will, and helping other people uplifts me. It just brings me joy and helps me feel better. It really does.”

It certainly has helped Lisa Borlen, a teacher at Valley View School in North Brookfield, one of Senk’s nominators, who shared how working with her has given both her and her mother a new outlook on life. Looking back to her recovery from surgery in 2021, she emphasized how Senk makes everyone feel welcome.

“I was still in a sling when I returned to yoga, and Cindy offered suggestions for poses from seated in a chair to standing against a wall,” she recalled. “My safety was her utmost concern. As I grew stronger, she made adjustments to the practice. I could continue to practice yoga with my class and I always felt supported. My physical therapist and surgeon were pleased with my progress and thought that the yoga classes were instrumental in my recovery.”

Susan Restivo, a retired Springfield teacher who also nominated Senk, joined Gilmore and Borlen in stressing that Senk is not only a teacher, but a lifelong learner, and that informs her work in the community.

“She is doing what she wants — what she started doing as a big sister, never knowing that helping her brother would be the start of her journey of serving others,” Restivo wrote. “Way back then, there was no equipment or an understanding of services for those that needed a Cindy Senk.”

That equipment and understanding are available now, though. So is Senk, and a lot of people are living more active, more pain-free, and happier lives because of the way she lives her passion.

“People say, ‘oh, you’re 70, you should retire, you should slow down,’” she said. “But I still feel like I have things to offer. I really do. I feel like I have people to help, ways to be of service, and I still have a lot of energy to do it. So that’s what I do.”

Healthcare Heroes

Nurse, Urology Group of Western New England

During Her Long Career, She Has Made a World of Difference

Jody O’Brien

Now 87, almost 88, Joanne (Jody) O’Brien is two decades and change past what the Social Security Administration considers ‘full retirement age.’

But she is still working — two days a week as a triage nurse for the Urology Group of Western New England (UGWNE), in its Northampton office. She’s doing plenty of other things to keep busy, which we’ll get to, but for now, let’s focus on her day job — and the fact that she still has one.

When asked why, her face curves into a huge smile — it seems to be almost permanently like that — and she offers a simple and direct explanation.

“I love nursing,” she told BusinessWest with a voice that would imply this would be obvious if she’s been doing it for more than 67 years. But she wanted to elaborate, and did.

“I lucked out picking nursing as a profession coming out of high school because it’s just been the most rewarding career I could possibly imagine,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed it so much that I don’t want it to end. As long as someone keeps me employed, I’ll keep coming to work.

“I absolutely love what I do — I can’t say enough about how great nursing has been for me,” she went on. “It’s a wonderful career to have. I’ve tried so many different aspects of it, and I’ve loved them all. So I figured there’s no sense packing it in if you love what you’re doing.”

Her career has placed her in many settings — from a hospital ship that was part of Project Hope in the early ’60s to Western New England College, where she was director of Health Services; from an eye-surgery office in Hawaii to the Hampden County Jail and House of Correction, where she was a per-diem nurse and, later, director of nurses, with many other stops as well.

“I lucked out picking nursing as a profession coming out of high school because it’s just been the most rewarding career I could possibly imagine. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I don’t want it to end. As long as someone keeps me employed, I’ll keep coming to work.”

But longevity and this variety of professional settings only begins to explain why O’Brien has been chosen as a Healthcare Hero for 2023 in the Lifetime Achievement category. Beyond her various day (and night) jobs, she has undertaken a number of service and volunteer assignments — from reading at Valley Eye Radio to taking care of orphans in Romania; from teaching English to nursing students in China to tagging sharks in Belize; from restoring and protecting turtle habitats in Costa Rica to working at Whispering Horse Therapeutic Riding, supporting riders with disabilities.

All this suggests she could easily have been nominated in several, if not all, the categories of Healthcare Heroes. Because of the length, variety, and broad impact of her work, she is being honored in the Lifetime Achievement category, one that has traditionally been dominated by administrators. In this case, though, it is going to a provider. A provider of care. A provider of hope. A provider of inspiration.

Jody O’Brien with staff members

Jody O’Brien with staff members at the Urology Group of Western New England’s Springfield office.
Staff Photo

Through her 87 years, 67 of them as a nurse, she has seen just about everything, including a global pandemic. Summing it all up, she said her passion for helping others hasn’t dimmed — and has probably only grown stronger — nearly 70 years after she entered nursing school.

This enthusiasm and energy was conveyed by Dr. Donald Sonn, a physician with UGWNE, who was among those who hired her 18 years ago.

“When we first interviewed her, we were struck by how positive and effervescent she was, and how energetic she was,” he recalled. “I’m constantly amazed by her energy and her positive attitude.”

Calling her an “ombudsman” for the practice’s patients, Sonn said O’Brien consistently draws praise for her calm, steady hand (and voice on the phone) and her desire to assist others.

All of this — and much more — explains why she is a true Healthcare Hero.

 

Riding the Wave

‘Cuba si, Yanquis no.’ That translates to ‘Cuba yes, Yankees no,’ and it’s a phrase, and a song, that O’Brien heard repeatedly as she served aboard the USS Hope, the former Navy hospital ship that was chartered to the People to People Health Foundation in 1960, when it was docked in Trujillo, Peru two years later.

“The people who met us at the dock were Communists, and they did not want us there,” she recalled, adding that the exploits of the USS Hope in Peru later became the subject of the book Yanqui Come Back!

O’Brien spent a year on the Hope, earning a $25 monthly stipend. But as those credit card commercials used to say, it was a learning experience that was priceless.

She worked beside a constantly changing team of doctors that performed surgery on the ship and in hospitals on the mainland, with procedures ranging from plastic surgery for burns to work to address cleft palate and hairlip, to removal of tumors, some of which had grown to enormous sizes because the patients hadn’t seen a healthcare provider in years, if not decades.

Urologist Dr. Donald Sonn

Urologist Dr. Donald Sonn calls Healthcare Hero Jody O’Brien an “ombudsman” for the practice’s patients.
Staff Photo

“People would walk for miles to get to the ship to be treated, and we treated everyone who needed it,” she recalled. “It was such a learning experience for me working with all these doctors.
“I was still young and adventurous,” she went on as she talked about how she paused her career, sort of, to serve on the ship, adding that she has remained young at heart and has always, in her recollection, been adventurous.

Indeed, the book on her life and career has many intriguing chapters, some of which are still being written. In literary circles, they would call this a ‘page turner.’

Our story starts in Iowa, where O’Brien was born and raised, and where she decided she wanted to be a nurse. She attended nursing school in Davenport — a three-year diploma program that cost $500.

Upon graduation, she took a job in Davenport, but soon thereafter, she went to Hawaii to stay with a friend who had recently had a baby and wanted her company while her husband was deployed.

It was in Hawaii that O’Brien became acquainted with Project Hope. She visited the ship when it was docked and became intrigued with its mission. After returning to Iowa, she filled out an application to serve in Project Hope as an operating room nurse, and in 1962, she was approved for service.

During her year on the USS Hope, she met a volunteer named Ed O’Brien, from Holyoke. Upon returning to Iowa, she would drive to the Paper City to renew acquaintances. They would marry in 1963 and eventually settle in East Longmeadow.

Thus would commence a series of assignments in the 413, but also well beyond it.

 

Care Package

These included a lengthy stint at what was then Wesson Women’s Hospital, working in labor and delivery, and another as a nurse practitioner in an ob/gyn office.

From 1983 to 1988, she served as director of Health Services at Western New England College, handling the needs of 6,000 students, and also as a per diem nurse at the Hampden County Jail and House of Correction.

She then accepted a travel nurse assignment at Castle Hospital in Kailua, Hawaii. She stayed in Hawaii for a dozen years, also serving as nurse manager of an eye-surgery center and as branch director of Nursefinders of Hawaii. And while in the Aloha State, she earned a master’s degree from Central Michigan University.

“She would go on a trip every three or four months, and it was always something really fascinating — volunteering in some third-world country or teaching children or reading to the blind. She has a tremendous record of service.”

She returned to Western Mass. in 2000 and took a job as area director of Nursefinders of Eastern Massachusetts, and soon thereafter became a flex team manager at Baystate Medical Center, managing 60 RNs, 25 technical assistants, 45 constant companions, and the ‘lift team.’

At the Urology Group of New England, which she joined 18 years ago, she works two days a week — Monday and Wednesday. The former is generally the busiest and perhaps the most difficult of the days of the week, but that’s when the group needs the help, so that’s when she works.

O’Brien’s whole career has been like that, in many respects — showing up when and where the help is most needed.

That’s true professionally, but also in her work as a volunteer, with work that is wide-ranging, to say the least.

Indeed, during the three days she’s not working at the Urology Group — and all through her life, for that matter — she has found no shortage of ways to give back and be there, for both people and animals.

Among them is her work with Valley Eye Radio, where she reads the local newspaper for the benefit of those who can’t read it themselves.

“It makes you feel good to know that, for people who cannot read or have difficulty reading, we can share what’s going on today in Springfield or the United States or the world,” she said. “We can share that information with them.”

Meanwhile, she also volunteers with Greater Springfield Senior Services, helping individuals who can no longer handle their own finances with bill paying and other responsibilities, and with Whispering Horse Therapeutic Riding, a nonprofit that, among other things, brings horses to nursing homes, where residents can feed and pet the animals.

“The way they light up when they see these horses … it’s so gratifying,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she and a colleague will visit facilities regularly — sometimes weekly, other times monthly.

Animals have always been a big part of her life — and her strong track record of giving back. In addition to tagging sharks and restoring turtle habitats, she has also volunteered at animal sanctuaries in Australia to care for koalas, often taking her grandchildren with her on such service trips, introducing them to the many rewards that come with such work.

“At this age, you know you don’t have many more days to fill, so you fill each one of them,” she said, but concedes that she’s always wanted to stay busy.

“She’s done so much in her life … I’ve always looked forward to listening to her talk about trips, her escapades,” said Sonn, choosing that word carefully. “She would go on a trip every three or four months, and it was always something really fascinating — volunteering in some third-world country or teaching children or reading to the blind. She has a tremendous record of service.”

In both aspects of her life — as a nurse and as a volunteer — the common thread has been a desire to help those in need, and this explains why she has been chosen as a Healthcare Hero for 2023.

“I loved working at Western New England; the college kids were a joy to work with,” she said, adding that each stop in her career has been different — and enjoyable. “There’s something about taking care of people and helping them deal with mental and physical problems and seeing what you can do to help them in their lives.”

 

Still Making a Difference

There are many people who have worked well into their 80s in healthcare. And there are many people who have put dozens of lines on a résumé detailing a lengthy list of career stops.

But there are few who have the passion, dedication, and resolve to use their talents and their love for helping others to make a world of difference, in every aspect of that phrase.

Jody O’Brien is such an individual. That commitment has helped her stand out in this field for seven decades. It makes her a Healthcare Hero. n

Opinion

They Help Define ‘Hero’

 

In 2015, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, established a new recognition program called Healthcare Heroes. It was created to bring much-needed recognition to individuals, groups, and organizations working within the large and vitally important healthcare sector in our region.

There was much discussion then, and it continues today, about just what makes one a ‘hero.’ Clearly, there is not one overriding definition of that word. If we had to try, we would say a hero is someone who inspires us with their actions and their words, compels others to excel, and makes a real difference in the lives of others.

And this year’s class of honorees certainly lives up that definition, as the stories that begin on Page H6 clearly show. Individually and collectively, they stand out for the way that they have dedicated their careers and their lives to helping others and setting an example that others should follow.

Let’s start with Jody O’Brien, a nurse with the Urology Group of Western New England. She’s 87 and still working two days a week and volunteering the other three. But her desire to work well past full retirement age only begins to explain why she is the hero in the Lifetime Achievement category. Through nearly 70 years in nursing, she has been a provider of care, hope, and especially inspiration.

Dr. Mark Kenton, chief of Emergency Medicine at Mercy Medical Center, has been making a difference on many levels — in his ER, on the national stage by bringing to light the staggering cost of EpiPens and the need to do something about it, and, perhaps most importantly, in the lives of individual patients, by utilizing perhaps his best talent: listening.

Cindy Senk, personal trainer and owner of Movement for All, enables individuals to discover the many benefits of yoga. But more importantly, she inspires them to improve their mobility — and their quality of life while doing so. Her philosophy is to not only educate her clients, but empower them.

Gabriel Mokwuah and Joel Brito are patient safety associates (PSAs) at Holyoke Medical Center, and each one has been credited with saving a life in recent months through their quick actions. And while doing so, these heroes have turned a spotlight on the PSA position at HMC, one that takes the traditional ‘sitter’ or ‘patient observer’ position to new dimensions.

Ashley LeBlanc, practice manager of Thoracic Surgery and nursing director of the Lung Screening Program at Mercy Medical Center, is a nurse and administrator with a strong track record for getting things done, especially a program that now screens 250 people for lung cancer each month, and then setting more ambitious goals.

Ellen Ingraham-Shaw, pediatric emergency nurse at Baystate Medical Center, has brought her passions for behavioral healthcare and compassion for children and their families to her work in a busy ER, enhancing care delivery and inspiring others to look at problems as opportunities, not roadblocks.

Julie Lefer Quick, nurse manager of the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System, was looking for a career change and found one at the VA, where she devotes herself to the needs of veterans and finding new and innovative ways to care for them.

Finally, Kristina Hallett, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of Graduate Psychology at Bay Path University, has not only helped myriad clients overcome trauma, anxiety, and countless other challenges, but she’s inspiring and helping to cultivate the next generation of behavioral-health professionals.

They’re heroes, every one. We hope you enjoy their stories.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In the spring of 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes.

It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.

But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2023 are due Saturday, July 29, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these seven categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;
• Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration;
• Emerging Leader;
• Community Health;
• Innovation in Health/Wellness;
• Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and
• Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted at businesswest.com/healthcare-heroes/nominations.

For more information, call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In the spring of 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes.

It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.

But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2023 are due Saturday, July 29, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these seven categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;
• Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration;
• Emerging Leader;
• Community Health;
• Innovation in Health/Wellness;
• Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and
• Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted at businesswest.com/healthcare-heroes/nominations.

For more information, call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In the spring of 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes.

It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.

But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2023 are due Saturday, July 29, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these seven categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;
• Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration;
• Emerging Leader;
• Community Health;
• Innovation in Health/Wellness;
• Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and
• Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted at businesswest.com/healthcare-heroes/nominations.

For more information, call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In the spring of 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes.

It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.

But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2023 are due Saturday, July 29, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these seven categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;
• Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration;
• Emerging Leader;
• Community Health;
• Innovation in Health/Wellness;
• Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and
• Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted at businesswest.com/healthcare-heroes/nominations.

For more information, call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In the spring of 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes.

It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.

But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2023 are due Saturday, July 29, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these seven categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;
• Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration;
• Emerging Leader;
• Community Health;
• Innovation in Health/Wellness;
• Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and
• Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted at businesswest.com/healthcare-heroes/nominations.

For more information, call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In the spring of 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes.

It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.

But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2023 are due Saturday, July 29, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these seven categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;
• Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration;
• Emerging Leader;
• Community Health;
• Innovation in Health/Wellness;
• Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and
• Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted at businesswest.com/healthcare-heroes/nominations.

For more information, call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email [email protected].

Event Galleries Healthcare Heroes Special Coverage

View the Gallery from the Oct. 27 Event

Watch the Oct. 27 Event Here

Show starts at 1:1:38

Healthcare Heroes Class of 2022

Overall, everyone who was nominated this year is a hero, but in the minds of our judges — the editors and management at BusinessWest — eight of these stories stood out among the others. The Healthcare Heroes for 2022 are (click on the names to read their stories):

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — More than 250 attendees gathered at the Log Cabin in Holyoke Thursday night as BusinessWest and the Healthcare News honored their sixth annual Healthcare Heroes. If you missed out on the festivities — or just want to experience the class of 2022’s inspiring stories again — a livestream of the event is available at businesswest.com/healthcareheroes.

Honorees were also profiled in the Sept. 19 issue of BusinessWest and the September/October issue of the Healthcare News, and the stories are also available at www.businesswest.com and www.healthcarenews.com.

This year’s honorees and the categories they represent are: Helen Caulton-Harris, director of Health and Human Services, city of Springfield (Lifetime Achievement); Mark Paglia, chief operating officer, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center (Administrator); Dr. Philip Glynn, director of Medical Oncology, Mercy Medical Center (Provider); Dr. Paul Pirraglia, division chief, General Medicine and Community Health, Baystate Health (Collaboration); ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center & Strive Clinic and its partners at Springfield College and UMass Amherst (Collaboration); the Addiction Consult Service at Holyoke Medical Center (Community Health); Dr. Sundeep Shukla, chief, Department of Emergency Medicine, Baystate Noble Hospital (Emerging Leader); and the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation (Innovation).

This year’s Healthcare Heroes program and event were presented by Baystate Health/Health New England and Elms College, and sponsored by American International College, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, and Trinity Health Of New England/Mercy Medical Center.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDBusinessWest and the Healthcare News, the business and healthcare journals covering Western Mass., will honor their sixth annual Healthcare Heroes tonight, Oct. 27 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.

The Healthcare Heroes program was created to shed a bright light on the outstanding work being done across the broad spectrum of health and wellness services and the institutions and individuals providing that care locally.

The stories behind this year’s eight heroes reveal large quantities of energy, imagination, innovation, compassion, entrepreneurship, forward thinking, and dedication to the community. Honorees were profiled in the Sept. 19 issue of BusinessWest and the September/October issue of the Healthcare News, and the stories are also available at www.businesswest.com and www.healthcarenews.com.

This year’s honorees and the categories they represent are: Helen Caulton-Harris, director of Health and Human Services, city of Springfield (Lifetime Achievement); Mark Paglia, chief operating officer, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center (Administrator); Dr. Philip Glynn, director of Medical Oncology, Mercy Medical Center (Provider); Dr. Paul Pirraglia, division chief, General Medicine and Community Health, Baystate Health (Collaboration); ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center & Strive Clinic and its partners at Springfield College and UMass Amherst (Collaboration); the Addiction Consult Service at Holyoke Medical Center (Community Health); Dr. Sundeep Shukla, chief, Department of Emergency Medicine, Baystate Noble Hospital (Emerging Leader); and the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation (Innovation).

The Healthcare Heroes Gala will begin with a VIP reception at 5:30 p.m. with networking and opportunities to meet this year’s honorees. The evening will include live entertainment, butlered hors d’oeuvres, a lavish plated dinner, remarks from the honorees, and more networking opportunities. For those who cannot join us in person, we welcome you to watch the event via livestream at businesswest.com/healthcareheroes.

Healthcare Heroes is presented by Baystate Health/Health New England and Elms College, and sponsored by American International College, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, and Trinity Health Of New England/Mercy Medical Center.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — BusinessWest and the Healthcare News, the business and healthcare journals covering Western Mass., will honor their sixth annual Healthcare Heroes on Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.

The Healthcare Heroes program was created to shed a bright light on the outstanding work being done across the broad spectrum of health and wellness services and the institutions and individuals providing that care locally.

The stories behind this year’s eight heroes reveal large quantities of energy, imagination, innovation, compassion, entrepreneurship, forward thinking, and dedication to the community. Honorees were profiled in the Sept. 19 issue of BusinessWest and the September/October issue of the Healthcare News, and the stories are also available at www.businesswest.com and www.healthcarenews.com.

This year’s honorees and the categories they represent are: Helen Caulton-Harris, director of Health and Human Services, city of Springfield (Lifetime Achievement); Mark Paglia, chief operating officer, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center (Administrator); Dr. Philip Glynn, director of Medical Oncology, Mercy Medical Center (Provider); Dr. Paul Pirraglia, division chief, General Medicine and Community Health, Baystate Health (Collaboration); ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center & Strive Clinic and its partners at Springfield College and UMass Amherst (Collaboration); the Addiction Consult Service at Holyoke Medical Center (Community Health); Dr. Sundeep Shukla, chief, Department of Emergency Medicine, Baystate Noble Hospital (Emerging Leader); and the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation (Innovation).

The Healthcare Heroes Gala will begin with a VIP reception at 5:30 p.m. with networking and opportunities to meet this year’s honorees. The evening will include live entertainment, butlered hors d’oeuvres, a lavish plated dinner, remarks from the honorees, and more networking opportunities.

A limited number of tickets are available by calling (413) 781-8600 or emailing [email protected]. For those who cannot join us in person, we welcome you to watch the event via livestream at businesswest.com/healthcareheroes.

Healthcare Heroes is presented by Baystate Health/Health New England and Elms College, and sponsored by American International College, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, and Trinity Health Of New England/Mercy Medical Center.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDBusinessWest and the Healthcare News magazines, the business and healthcare journals covering Western Mass., will honor their sixth annual Healthcare Heroes on Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.

The Healthcare Heroes program was created to shed a bright light on the outstanding work being done across the broad spectrum of health and wellness services, and the institutions and individuals providing that care. More than 80 nominations were submitted for the class of 2022, and candidates were scored by an in-house panel of judges. The stories behind the eight heroes reveal large quantities of energy, imagination, innovation, compassion, entrepreneurship, forward thinking, and dedication to the community. Honorees are profiled in the Sept. 19 issue of BusinessWest and the September/October issue of the Healthcare News, and are also available on www.businesswest.com and www.healthcarenews.com.

This year’s honorees and the categories they represent are: Helen Caulton-Harris, director of Health and Human Services, city of Springfield (Lifetime Achievement); Mark Paglia, chief operating officer, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center (Administrator); Dr. Philip Glynn, director of Medical Oncology, Mercy Medical Center (Provider); Dr. Paul Pirraglia, division chief, General Medicine and Community Health, Baystate Health (Collaboration); ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center & Strive Clinic and its partners at Springfield College and UMass Amherst (Collaboration); the Addiction Consult Service at Holyoke Medical Center (Community Health); Dr. Sundeep Shukla, chief, Department of Emergency Medicine, Baystate Noble Hospital (Emerging Leader); and the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation (Innovation).

The Healthcare Heroes Gala will begin with a VIP reception at 5:30 p.m. with networking and opportunities to meet this year’s honorees. The evening will include live entertainment, butlered hors d’oeuvres, a lavish plated dinner, remarks from the honorees, and more networking opportunities.

Tickets cost $85 per person and can be purchased at businesswest.com/healthcare-heroes/healthcare-heroes-tickets. Healthcare Heroes is presented by Baystate Health/Health New England and Elms College, and sponsored by American International College, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, and Trinity Health Of New England/Mercy Medical Center.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDBusinessWest and the Healthcare News magazines, the business and healthcare journals covering Western Mass., will honor their sixth annual Healthcare Heroes on Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.

The Healthcare Heroes program was created to shed a bright light on the outstanding work being done across the broad spectrum of health and wellness services, and the institutions and individuals providing that care. More than 80 nominations were submitted for the class of 2022, and candidates were scored by an in-house panel of judges. The stories behind the eight heroes reveal large quantities of energy, imagination, innovation, compassion, entrepreneurship, forward thinking, and dedication to the community. Honorees are profiled in the Sept. 19 issue of BusinesssWest and the September/October issue of the Healthcare News, and are also available on www.businesswest.com and www.healthcarenews.com.

This year’s honorees and the categoriesd they represent are: Helen Caulton-Harris, director of Health and Human Services, city of Springfield (Lifetime Achievement); Mark Paglia, chief operating officer, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center (Administrator); Dr. Philip Glynn, director of Medical Oncology, Mercy Medical Center (Provider); Dr. Paul Pirraglia, division chief, General Medicine and Community Health, Baystate Health (Collaboration); ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center & Strive Clinic and its partners at Springfield College and UMass Amherst (Collaboration); the Addiction Consult Service at Holyoke Medical Center (Community Health); Dr. Sundeep Shukla, chief, Department of Emergency Medicine, Baystate Noble Hospital (Emerging Leader); and the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation (Innovation).

The Healthcare Heroes Gala will begin with a VIP reception at 5:30 p.m. with networking and opportunities to meet this year’s honorees. The evening will include live entertainment, butlered hors d’oeuvres, a lavish plated dinner, remarks from the honorees, and more networking opportunities.

Tickets cost $85 per person and can be purchased at businesswest.com/healthcare-heroes/healthcare-heroes-tickets. Healthcare Heroes is presented by Baystate Health/Health New England and Elms College, and sponsored by American International College, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, and Trinity Health Of New England/Mercy Medical Center.

Cover Story Healthcare Heroes

Since BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, launched the recognition program known as Healthcare Heroes in 2017, the initiative has more than succeeded in its quest to identify true leaders — not to mention inspiring stories — within this region’s large and very important healthcare sector.
The award was created to recognize those whose contributions to the health and well-being of this region, while known to some, needed to become known to all. And that is certainly true this year.
They are leaders. In some cases innovators or collaborators. In all cases, inspirations — people and organizations that have devoted their lives to improving the quality of individual lives and the health of entire communities. We find these stories to be compelling and inspirational, and we’re sure you will as well.

Overall, everyone who was nominated this year is a hero, but in the minds of our judges — the editors and management at BusinessWest — eight of these stories stood out among the others. The Healthcare Heroes for 2022 are (click on the names to read their stories):

See the BusinessWest 2022 Healthcare Heroes Special Section HERE.

We’re excited to celebrate our Healthcare Heroes on Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. Tickets cost $85 each, and tables of 10 or 12 are available.

The Healthcare Heroes program is being sponsored by presenting sponsors Elms College and Baystate Health/Health New England, and partner sponsors Trinity Health Of New England/Mercy Medical Center, American International College, and MiraVista Behavioral Health Center.

Healthcare Heroes

Here, Shared Research by Nurses and Engineers Will Benefit Patients Everywhere

Co-directors Frank Sup and Karen Giuliano

Co-directors Frank Sup and Karen Giuliano. Leah Martin Photography

Intravenous (IV) infusion pump systems are among the most recognized technologies in healthcare, used by about 90% of hospital patients.

They’re also hopelessly out of date, Karen Giuliano said.

“The design has been around a long time, and hospitals don’t buy one; they buy an entire fleet. They have to invest in training, service contracts, and IT infrastructure. To install a platform is a huge investment and effort.”

And that has led to stagnation, she added. “Over 80% of pumps are really old platforms and don’t do the job they need to do. They’re not developed for today’s standards.”

Enter the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation at UMass Amherst, which has made improving the safety and usability of IV smart pumps one of its first major projects. The team has been exploring flow-rate accuracy in a variety of settings and use cases, with the goal of developing pumps that eliminate inaccuracy, inconvenience, and resulting medical errors through new technology and simplified design.

The work is gaining widespread attention, as Giuliano, co-director of the center and associate professor of Nursing, and postdoctoral research fellow Jeannine Blake were recently recognized by the Assoc. for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) for the Best Research Paper in 2021.

Their paper, “Nurse and Pharmacist Knowledge of Intravenous Smart Pump System Setup Requirements,” explored knowledge of intravenous smart-pump system setup requirements among nurses and pharmacists. The results were published in Biomedical Instrumentation & Technology, AAMI’s peer-reviewed journal.

“There’s already a critical nursing shortage, fatigue, and burnout. How can robotics be used to maybe alleviate some of those problems? We can use robotics as an extension of the nurse.”

“We don’t want to build a new pump; we want to build a set of requirements for manufacturers that have been sitting idle for too long without being forced to innovate for the safety of patients and the workflow of the nurses,” Giuliano told BusinessWest.

The effort demonstrates the types of innovation she and Frank Sup, associate professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and the other co-director of the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation, intended when they launched the center in early 2021. It also reflects the cross-educational opportunities for people like Blake, the first nursing doctoral student to enter an engineering postdoctoral fellowship at UMass.

“Students have come out of here with a siloed education, nurses and engineers. There’s not a natural inkling to work together; they might not even know the importance of collaborating in that way,” Giuliano said. “What we want is to have students graduate that already have that in common, to reach across the aisle. The healthcare environment should not be a silo.”

Under Sup’s leadership, the center has also begun research on the use of robotics in healthcare. It teams doctoral students from both engineering and nursing, as well as an undergraduate nursing honors student, to identify challenges and develop robotic solutions to improve healthcare delivery for patients and providers.

The incorporation of robotic technology into the healthcare system is ongoing and already includes innovations like fully autonomous disinfecting systems and invasive surgical devices, and Sup feels it’s essential that these new technologies are integrated into the field of nursing at multiple levels, including hospital administration, the clinical workplace, and university education. And students need to interact with robots to better understand and utilize this technology in a controlled setting before patient care is involved.

“What are robotics, what can they do, what are they good for, and how can we start to train nurses and engineers in robotics? What day-to-day situations might nurses face in the hospital, clinic, and home, and what might be the best use cases for these robotics systems?” he asked. “That’s where this program started. Nurses are not typically trained in robotics, so we actually start to expose them to these things.”

That may seem like a scary thought to some, or imply that robots could replace nurses, but that’s far from the case, Sup added.

“There’s already a critical nursing shortage, fatigue, and burnout. How can robotics be used to maybe alleviate some of those problems? We can use robotics as an extension of the nurse, potentially doing things when they’re not there, like monitoring and lower levels of service.”

By bringing nurses and engineers together at the earliest stages of product innovation, the Elaine Marieb Center promises a raft of such breakthroughs that will result in better technology and, more important, better patient care.

 

Come Together

This is how Giuliano and Sup described the center’s mission at its opening last year:

“Today, healthcare technologies are too often made without the insights and understanding that clinicians bring to the table. Nurses are end users, facing healthcare challenges on the frontlines of patient care. Engineers have the expertise and skills to envision and create medical devices and can work with nurses who bring the real-world healthcare experience needed to design the best possible products and solutions.

“This transformation depends heavily on collaborative research and development work among nursing, engineering, and other disciplines,” they went on. “The ability to quickly and effectively develop and test innovations requires both nursing and engineering skillsets. The power of the nurse-engineer approach is derived from the mutual collaboration between the two, where the nurse identifies the problem, and the engineer facilitates potential solutions.”

One problem in the past, both of them explained to BusinessWest, was that products too often wound up in the hands of nurses too far along in the design and development process to change very much.

“I realized how important it was to have a front-end-user perspective built into the products rather than trying to back-engineer it when it’s 90% done.”

Giuliano, with more than 25 years of experience in critical-care nursing, medical product development and innovation, and patient-centered clinical outcomes research, should know. Prior to joining UMass Amherst, she spent many years working on medical product development from an industry perspective, including 12 years with Philips Healthcare.

Early in her career, she said, “I realized how important it was to have a front-end-user perspective built into the products rather than trying to back-engineer it when it’s 90% done.”

Now, at the center, “we have the ability to prototype things and test them in nursing simulation labs and test them in actual hospitals,” she added, the latter through a collaboration with Baystate Health.

Meanwhile, Sup was also a natural choice to co-direct the new center. As director of UMass Amherst’s Mechatronics and Robotics Research Lab, his research has long focused on developing human-centered mechatronic technologies for augmenting human performance and exploring how to enable robots to fluently interact physically with humans. To that end, he brought teams of nursing and engineering students together to work on senior capstone design projects.

The model was formalized as the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation with the help of two major gifts: $1 million in seed funding from alumni Michael and Theresa Hluchyj, longtime supporters of both the College of Engineering and the College of Nursing; and $21.5 million from the Elaine Nicpon Marieb Charitable Foundation to the College of Nursing, with a significant portion designated to support the new center.

“Innovation is often accelerated at the intersection of different academic disciplines,” Michael Hluchyj said when announcing the first gift. “The worldwide health crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic make clear the critical need for innovative solutions in clinical settings where both nursing and engineering play vital roles.”

And nurses need to have a seat at the innovation table early, Giuliano said.

“Nurses use more products and are part of more services than any other healthcare provicer,” she told BusinessWest. “If they’re not at the table, you’re not going to have the right products. They’re not going to be usable, and if they’re not usable, then they don’t do the job. And from an economic standpoint, they don’t generate the revenue that the company wants. So it’s a lose-lose, which we can turn into a win-win.

“We want to be a usability testing center,” she went on. “So if a company has a product at a certain point in development, has an idea what’s supposed to do and how it’s supposed to work and what its value is, we literally bring it into a sim lab.”

The usability test involves two people, a nurse and a volunteer patient, and both evaluate it, as test administrators watch how it’s used. “If the same mistake is made over and over, it’s a design flaw; it’s not a user error,” Giuliano explained. Then all those results and perceptions go back to manufacturer, who has the opportunity to make improvements early in the process.

To that end, the emerging product prototyping laboratory on the Amherst campus will enable students to design and prototype new products, while a proposed usability laboratory on the Mount Ida campus will allow for product and service testing by frontline clinical end users.

“Having a better understanding of frontline clinician knowledge is a fundamental part of our overall program of research on improving the safety and usability of IV smart pumps,” Blake said when she and Giuliano received the AAMI’s award for their research earlier this year. “We are very excited to receive this award, which supports our continued efforts in this important area of research.”

 

Promising Outcomes

Better research resulting in better patient care is the goal, whether it’s IV pumps, robotics at the hospital bedside, or any number of other ongoing projects at the center, from cloud-based home-healthcare monitoring to wearable sensors that record body movement to assess chronic pain.

Part of the center’s raison d’être is that nurses and engineers are both trained problem solvers who rely on innovation to find solutions, but their paths rarely cross, and the timeframes required for them to find solutions are dramatically different.

Giuliano got her PhD while at Phillips Healthcare because “I really wanted to be a better researcher so I could test products in a meaningful way.” Later, she added, “I realized I liked academia — I was a better student as a 40-year-old than as a 20-year-old — and I knew I wanted to go into academia and try to recreate the nurse-engineer pairing in the academic environment.”

By teaming up with Sup, who was already pursuing those connections, and with the help of some generous gifts from supporters who saw potential in this model, a center was created that is not only generating some impressive outcomes, but is paving a new way for diverse minds to collaborate and improve the patient experience across the globe.

“The whole idea of this center is for academic clinicians, students, nurses, and doctors to bring in industry partners,” Sup said. “It’s going to be innovative, and it’s going to make a difference.”

And it clearly lives up to the title of Healthcare Hero in the category of Innovation.

“This work that’s being done will make its way to safety standards everywhere,” Giuliano said. “Nobody else is doing that. It’s huge.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

This Critical Team Provides Hope — and a Roadmap to Recovery

Team members of the Addiction Consult Service

Team members of the Addiction Consult Service at Holyoke Medical Center, from left: Eddie Rodriguez, John Martinez, Lauren Carpenter, Maria Quinn, Kelly Jean Deming, Em Moulton, and Jose Ramos.

 

Patrick Hamel remained calm and collected as he chronicled his quarter-century-long battle against addiction.

In telling that story, he recalled more relapses than he could count; how he lost jobs, alienated family and friends, and had run-ins with the law (including some B&Es to support his drug and alcohol use); getting thrown out of the house by his wife on a few occasions; the awkwardness of having his daughter visit him in a halfway house; and even that night a little more than two years ago when he decided that enough was enough and tried to end his life.

He didn’t become emotional — though he did have to stop and collect himself a few times — until he started talking about the Addiction Consult Service (ACS), or the Recovery Support Team, as members call it, at Holyoke Medical Center’s Comprehensive Care Center (CCC) and, especially, Maria Quinn, the charismatic psychiatric mental-health nurse practitioner and leader of that unit.

That’s because Quinn, those who work with her, and those to whom she has referred Hamel have enabled him to move beyond all that has happened to him and now lead a much better life.

“She just listened, and we came up with a plan. She got me hooked up with an amazing therapist. We saw each other every week — she was there for me; she was my support.”

“She is so amazing; she’s like my knight in shining armor,” said Hamel, who would then concisely and effectively sum up what Quinn and other members of this team do. “She just listened, and we came up with a plan. She got me hooked up with an amazing therapist. We saw each other every week — she was there for me; she was my support.

“Mind you, I’ve been in other types of medical treatment facilities and other programs,” he went on. “And I always felt like I was a number, or I was there to meet a quota; it was just a job. You can see with Maria that it’s not just a job; it’s something she’s passionate about.”

Patrick Hamel

Patrick Hamel says those at the Addiction Consult Service listened and helped him come up with a game plan for recovery.

Hamel didn’t nominate the ACS for the Healthcare Heroes award, but his words, and the emotion attached to them, help explain why this special unit is being honored this year in the Community Health category.

In short, there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of people, who would say the same things if they were asked — about not just what the ACS does, but how it goes about its difficult and critically important work.

“We’re essentially ever-present — we like to make jokes that we stalk our patients while they’re here, even if we’re not fully involved,” she explained, adding that this is her way of saying that Recovery Support Team members make sure that those patients with addiction issues, either from the Emergency Department or inpatient units at the hospital — many of whom don’t have anyone to visit them while they are in the hospital, for many of the reasons Hamel listed above — have someone to talk to. And, far more importantly, someone to listen, someone who can help them determine what comes next for them, whatever that might be, including ongoing support at the CCC.

“That connection needs to happen so that people can stay and continue to get the treatment that they need,” said Quinn, adding that one of the goals of the program is to build trust among those touched by the ACS, because such trust has often been missing, and it is a key ingredient in their success.

“Historically, people with addiction haven’t been treated well in the healthcare system, so there’s a lot of mistrust, and we see that,” she noted. “We talk about it often and sense that the wall may be coming down and people are starting to bloom because we see our patients become a little more trusting.”

“One thing I’ve learned in this process is that everyone’s recovery is different. You have to listen to the patient to understand what they’re looking for in their recovery. By listening to them, I’ll know what kind of direction I can give them.”

Lauren Carpenter, a certified addictions nurse, agreed. When asked how she got into this specific line of work and what she likes about her work with this constituency, she said simply, “being able to help and care for people who aren’t used to being helped and cared for — building that connection and that rapport and making sure they know there is someone there who cares.”

The ACS is comprised of a nurse practitioner, a certified addictions nurse, a recovery-support coordinator, and recovery coaches. And, as noted, it is a collaborative effort, involving partners such as Tapestry Health, the Gándara Center (which employs the recovery coaches), River Valley Counseling Center, Hope for Holyoke, and the Holyoke Health Center. Together, these agencies are working to reduce opioid overdoses and help people like Hamel find a path to a better life.

The positive results of their efforts can be seen — and heard — with people like Patrick Hamel and countless others like him.

 

The Power of Hope

John Martinez’s battle against addiction was and is very similar to Hamel’s.

He described several stints of incarceration, homelessness, and, by his count, four suicide attempts.

He’s been sober now for 13 years and has spent the last several as a certified recovery coach, helping others find the strength and conviction to change their lives, as well as needed referrals and direction. The process starts simply with providing hope that life can get better, he said, adding that this isn’t all that coaches provide, but it may well be the most important thing.

“I remember being hopeless — I know what that’s like,” he recalled. “One thing I’ve learned in this process is that everyone’s recovery is different. You have to listen to the patient to understand what they’re looking for in their recovery. By listening to them, I’ll know what kind of direction I can give them.”

Recovery coach John Martinez

Recovery coach John Martinez says that, among other things, he provides those he counsels with the hope that life can get better.

As noted, recovery coaches are part of the team at the Comprehensive Care Center, and part of a broad, collaborative effort that has come together at a critical time for the Greater Holyoke area.

Indeed, while much of the focus the past few years has been on the pandemic, and understandably so, addiction has only become a bigger, more dangerous, and more deadly problem for the region.

The number of opioid-related overdose deaths increased 9% in Massachusetts in 2021 over 2020. Meanwhile, there are significant disparities in overdose rates, particularly among Black and Latino individuals in Massachusetts; from 2019 to 2020, there was a 70% increase in overdose deaths among Black/non-Hispanic individuals and a 10% increase in Hispanic/Latinx individuals. From 2020 to 2021, there was a 6% decrease in Black/non-Hispanic deaths and an increase of more than 7% for Hispanic/Latinx individuals, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Steadily rising numbers over the past several years prompted the HEALing Communities Study, whereby scientists from the nation’s leading health agencies and four major academic institutions are partnering with communities in four states, including Massachusetts, to test a set of interventions designed to reduce overdose deaths by 40% over three years in participating communities.

Through a grant awarded to Boston Medical Center, a collaborative was created involving several agencies in Greater Holyoke, with Quinn taking the lead as the appointed addiction expert for the Holyoke community. The goal is to address opioid use, with a specific focus on overdoses, she said, adding that the linchpin of the initiative was creation of the ACS and the CCC.

“Prior to that, it was just me trying to do it all — start people on medication, get referrals out, try to make appointments, trying to get people to stay here [the hospital] — and it was challenging.”

“Our goal is not to cure them; our goal is to treat them with dignity and respect, and that includes treating their withdrawal. It includes giving education and resources. Some people decide that they no longer want to use and want to work toward abstaining and not using, and some don’t.”

With the grant funds, Quinn was able to hire Carpenter as well as a recovery-support coordinator and other team members.

Together, they have put together a system to “find patients,” said Quinn, noting that, before creation of the ACS, many would essentially fall through the cracks.

“Lauren became really good at figuring out which patients we should look at, and we started finding our patients and going to them, often intervening even before a consult was sent,” she told BusinessWest. “And that’s important because people would be leaving the hospital; if you were using opioids or were addicted to opioids, in particular, and didn’t get that, you would feel really, really sick, and if your withdrawal wasn’t being treated, you would probably be leaving.

“So we’d introduce ourselves and let people know why were there,” she went on, adding that, by and large, patients were not used to such a “proactive and impactive” approach to their care, and would have questions about what they could do for them.

What they can do is listen and begin a discussion about what happens next, said Carpenter, who walked through what might be a typical case.

“Someone will come into the ED, and I’ll get notified that this person is there and that they are in withdrawal,” she explained. “At that point, I will meet with the person, gather a history, assess their withdrawal, and then I’ll get Maria involved. I’ll talk with the ED provider, Maria, the addiction consult … Maria will meet with the patient, give recommendations, and order appropriate medications to treat their withdrawal. And when someone is actually on the med floor, we’d start the discussion of ‘what do you want to do from here?’”

As Quinn noted, the course varies with the patient. Often, those at the ACS will connect them to opioid-treatment programs, including two in Holyoke, if they are not already in a program, or connect them with a recovery coach while they are in the hospital.

“Not everyone’s goal is abstinence,” she said. “Our goal is not to cure them; our goal is to treat them with dignity and respect, and that includes treating their withdrawal. It includes giving education and resources. Some people decide that they no longer want to use and want to work toward abstaining and not using, and some don’t.”

When asked how those at the ACS measure success, Quinn said it depends on what how the patient would define that term.

“For some people, having air in their lungs is successful,” she told BusinessWest. “Anyone who leaves here feeling that they’ve been treated well … that’s a big success for me.”

 

Impact Statement

As he talked about Quinn and those she works beside at the CCC, Hamel stressed the present tense.

He is still working with these individuals at the CCC, and they are still making a huge impact on his recovery. He’s not sure they, and especially Quinn, understand just how much of an impact. So, he made it clear.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without them,” he said, adding that these individuals are more than healthcare providers, but are, in many respects, friends and even family.

“They want to make a difference — it’s not just about an f-ing paycheck,” he said in conclusion. “That’s where I get a little passionate and emotional; two years ago, I wanted to kill myself, and now…”

He didn’t finish the sentence, but didn’t really have to. The pause explained not only the journey from where he was to where he is now, but why the Addiction Consult Service is truly a Healthcare Hero.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Chief and Physician, Baystate Noble Hospital Emergency Department

He Has Devoted His Career to Improving the Community’s ‘Safety Net’ Net’

Leah Martin Photography

Dr. Sundeep Shukla, or ‘Sunny,’ as most everyone calls him, has always felt at home in the emergency room, and he has never really wanted to work anywhere else.

There is a fast pace and decidedly unpredictable nature to the work, he told BusinessWest, noting that each day, and each hour, are different from the one before and the one after. But there are many more reasons why he has chosen to spend his career in this setting, the most important being the ER’s important role, both to the hospital in question and to the community it serves.

“The emergency room is the safety net for all patients,” Shukla explained. “Many patients do not have access to healthcare; we feel that the ER can provide care to anyone who walks through the door, regardless of whether you have insurance, regardless of your background; we’ll see anyone who walks through our doors, and I’m proud to say that.”

But Shukla has done more than work in the ER. Indeed, throughout his career he has devoted time and energy to bringing new efficiencies, better ways of serving patients, and, yes, better ways of doing business to the ER, especially in his current role as chief of the Emergency Department at Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield.

And he brings what would be considered a somewhat unique background to this assignment. In addition to his undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri and his medical degree from Manpial University in Karnatka, India, Shukla also earned an MBA, with an emphasis in medical management, from UMass Amherst in 2017.

He has used all these degrees, as well as his hands-on experience in the ER, to help improve service, efficiency, and quality, and reduce wait times and what are known as ‘walkouts’ — people who come to the ER but leave before being seen, for whatever reason.

“Having earned that MBA, I was able to reconfigure how I look at things in my brain. Before, it was all medicine-related, but by doing the MBA, I was able to focus on flow and how we could improve certain processes to make an impact on the total visit.”

“Having earned that MBA, I was able to reconfigure how I look at things in my brain,” he told BusnessWest. “Before, it was all medicine-related, but by doing the MBA, I was able to focus on flow and how we could improve certain processes to make an impact on the total visit.

“At Baystate Noble, we do small thinks like put a greeter in the waiting room so when patients come in there’s someone they can talk to, someone they ask questions to; they round, they give patients blankets or small things just to make them feel appreciated,” he went on. “We also strive to push our nurses and docs to really bring patients in when they come into the ER; they don’t sit very long in the waiting room.”

As a result of such initiatives, Noble’s ER has made great strides during Shukla’s tenure. The unit has dramatically increased patient-satisfaction scores, for example, while also gaining certification as a geriatric ED, well-suited to serve the needs of older patients in the community.

The sum of these efforts has earned Shukla the Healthcare Heroes award in the highly competitive category known as Emerging Leader. And he is worthy of that designation, not only for his work in the ER, but also at Baystate Health (he is on the system’s board of directors), in the community (he sits on the nonprofit People’s Institute and also coaches youth soccer and baseball), and even on the ice.

Indeed, Shukla is one of the team physicians for the Springfield Thunderbirds, and was with the team through its exciting run to the Calder Cup finals last season.

He described that work as fun and rewarding — adjectives he would apply to every aspect of his work in medicine and administration.

 

Degrees of Improvement

Shukla was born in England and came to this country with his family in 1980. Early on, he said, his father, a professor of Pharmacology at the University of Missouri, and mother, a school teacher, impressed upon him the importance of not only education, but service to the community.

He achieved both while serving as a volunteer at the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics while in junior high school, work he described as a learning experience on many levels.

“During the summer, I went there every Tuesday and Wednesday and spent eight hours each day volunteering in different parts of the hospital,” he recalled. “It was then that I realized that this was my true calling because I really wanted to help people and really wanted to make a difference.”

After graduating from medical school, he became a resident at Baystate Medical Center with a focus initially on general surgery. But at the advice of some friends who implored him to consider emergency medicine because he seemed a natural for that kind of work, his career outlook began to shift.

Dr. Sundeep Shukla, seen here with his son, Deven

Dr. Sundeep Shukla, seen here with his son, Deven, is one of the team physicians for the Springfield Thunderbirds, one of the many ways he is involved in the community.

“I did some shadowing, I did some shifts in the ER, and eventually I went through the process of applying to be an ER resident,” he said, adding that he quickly fell in love with that setting — again, not just because of the fast pace and each-day-is-different aspect of the work.

“Not everyone has access to healthcare, and I’m a big proponent of health equity because I feel everyone should have the same access to healthcare as your next-door neighbor,” said Shukla, who, before coming to Noble, served as associate medical director in the Emergency Department at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. “When patients some come to my ER, I treat them with respect, I treat them exactly how I’d want to treat my family members, and I try to everything I can to make sure their health is better when they leave the ER.”

Elaborating, he said many people are coming to the ER on the worst day of their life, whether they’re having a stroke, a heart attack, or other medical problem, and it is the job of the ER doctor to “step up and help those patients.”

“It’s our goal to help lift them up and help them feel better,” he went on. “And in terms of mindset, you have to be able to function on the go and multi-task many different things, because there so many problems that are detail-oriented: the lab or CT scan, whether you have to stitch someone up, give different medications … there are all these processes you have to follow, and with every visit, there’s quality involved, and you have to meet certain metrics.”

Despite the fast pace and the constant flow of new patients, Shukla said he makes it a priority to truly connect with his patients.

“I always try to make a connection with my patients because, if I’m able to make that connection, whether it’s with a sports team that they like or a restaurant that they enjoy or some type of hobby they like, I feel like we can relate much better, and they can trust me. They just met me just a few minutes ago, so it’s really important that I build a trust and a relationship with them so that when I give them advice or we have what’s called ‘shared decision making,’ we can come with a good plan together. That’s why I’ll always spend the extra minute just to know them a little better.”

“They just met me just a few minutes ago, so it’s really important that I build a trust and a relationship with them so that when I give them advice or we have what’s called ‘shared decision making,’ we can come with a good plan together. That’s why I’ll always spend the extra minute just to know them a little better.”

Shukla currently works at all the hospitals in the Baystate system — Baystate Medical Center, Baystate Wing, and Baystate Noble — and became chief of the ER at Noble in March 2020, just as the pandemic was reaching Western Mass.

In each setting, and especially at Noble, he has been consumed with not only treating patients and making those important connections, but improving the overall experience.

“We try to look at the entire process — from when a patient walks into the waiting room all the way to when they go home,” he explained, adding that little things, such as having a greeter in the ER and having nurses, doctors, and other care providers working collaboratively so that patients don’t have to repeat their history and answer the same questions over and over again, often add up to big improvements in service, patient-satisfaction ratings, and statistics such as those concerning walkouts.

“The most dreaded word that most people see in emergency medicine is walkouts, which is basically a person who registered but wasn’t actually seen,” Shukla said. “That’s a problem throughout the United States, so we work really hard in the Baystate Health system to bring those numbers down. Even one patient walking out troubles us.”

Meanwhile, throughout his career, and even more so during COVID, he has put considerable emphasis on outreach and educating the community, with the goal of helping people make better, smarter choices about their health and well-being.

Indeed, he’s a frequent guest on area radio stations and has penned articles for several media outlets, all with the goal of creating a better-informed community.

“If people are educated, they can take care if their health better,” he said, adding that such efforts took on greater importance during the height of the pandemic, when the public had more questions — and needed more answers — and trust was a huge factor.

“We had a lot of COVID issues to contend with, but we also had to build up trust in the community,” he said, “because a lot of people were concerned about the ways people were contracting COVID, how they would protect themselves, the vaccines … there were many thongs we had to educate people on, and we did a lot of outreach for that.”

 

ERing on the Side of Caution

Overall, Shukla, as chief of the ER, assumes a role that blends medicine with administration, and, with his background and MBA training, he can bring a unique perspective to the table.

“Not many physicians go back and get a degree like an MBA; most of us go to school for a very long time as physicians, so not a lot of us go back,” he explained, adding that he enjoys both sides of the equation — business and especially medicine.

“It’s important for me to be well-rounded and understand how things are run,” he said, adding that he took a marketing class in 10th grade and since then has always been fascinated by business and management. “I really enjoy business, and so there’s the budget/financial aspect that I really like in administration, because I feel I can look at spreadsheets and Excel sheets in a different way than I did a few years ago before I earned my MBA.

“I understand the budget and the finances a lot more than I used to,” he went on, “and also how I can cut costs and improve efficiency in the ER, whether it’s flow in the ER or how I can reduce the cost of staffing or increase staffing to help show a return on investment.”

Going all the way back to when he was volunteering at the University of Missouri Hospital as a junior-high student, Sunny Shulka has known that he was destined to be in a profession — and a place — where he could help people.

That profession turned out to be healthcare, and the place is the ER, or the safety net, as he called it, which is now more his home.

For his efforts to continually improve that safety net, make it stronger, more welcoming, more comfortable, and better able to serve all those who come through its doors, Shukla is certainly an emerging leader, and truly a Healthcare Hero.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Chief Operating Officer, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center

This COO Empowers Team Members and Leads by Example

Leah Martin Photography

 

Mark Paglia was a wrestler at Cathedral High School and later at American International College.

He said the great thing about wrestling is there is “no one-size-fits-all method that leads to success.” But there are several qualities, traits, and habits that wrestlers possess. “They trust themselves and count on their teams to train together to get better. They aren’t afraid to try new things. They are disciplined, grateful, focused, detailed-oriented, and able to adjust.”

These are qualities, Paglia told BusinessWest, that positioned him well for his current role as chief operating officer at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, and the myriad challenges that have come with that assignment.

While working for Mercy Medical Center and its parent company, Trinity Health Of New England, Paglia served in several different roles, including executive director of Behavioral Health. He would sum up his tenure this way:

“I became the ‘project guy,’ the ‘turn-around guy,’ where I would be asked to go into departments or services that were really struggling both from a regulatory side or the financial side and turn them around,’” he said.

He was given a number of difficult assignments in that vein, such as leading efforts which led to the successful redesign of the methadone maintenance treatment program, resulting in two-year licensure with the Department of Public Health; leading efforts to open the new Clinical Stabilization Services unit; stabilizing redesign throughput for behavioral-health patients in Mercy’s emergency room; and leading the Outpatient department from a state of uncertainty to being fully licensed and financially viable. Ultimately, he was charged with winding down behavioral-health services at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital when Trinity Health Of New England made the difficult decision to close them in 2020.

As noted, these experiences, including his wrestling prowess, helped steel him for what has been his most stern career challenge, but also the most rewarding one: opening a new behavioral-health hospital, MiraVista, at the Providence Hospital site in April 2021 — in very little time, in the middle of a pandemic, in the midst of a nationwide nursing shortage and general workforce crisis, and at a time when the need for behavioral-health services was soaring due to COVID and the many ways it impacted people of all ages.

“I really find myself leading from behind, where I screen, recruit, and hire exceptional people, identify what the goals of the organization are, invite the individuals to participate, and identify what their passions are — what they believe in — and then empower them to go.”

But his efforts to open MiraVista’s doors under such difficult circumstances and then put it on a path to accreditation and expansion of both inpatient and outpatient services only partly explains why Paglia has been chosen as a Healthcare Hero for 2022 in the Health/Wellness Administrator category.

Another key consideration is the manner in which he manages — and has managed throughout his career.

He calls it ‘invitational leadership,’ which, as that name suggests, aims to ‘invite’ employees and all other stakeholders to succeed. It involves sending positive messages to people, making them feel valued, able, responsible, and worthwhile.

“I identify goals for the organization and goals for the various departments, and then invite the individuals responsible for that work to participate and own the work,” he said while explaining what this practice means to him. “Through that, I really find myself leading from behind, where I screen, recruit, and hire exceptional people, identify what the goals of the organization are, invite the individuals to participate, and identify what their passions are — what they believe in — and then empower them to go.”

Summarizing thoughts expressed by team members at MiraVista, Erin Daley, chief Nursing officer and herself a Healthcare Hero in the Emerging Leader category in 2017, wrote in her nomination of Paglia:

“His impact is garnered through his compassionate and inclusive leadership of clinical and operations teams; we find Mark, more often than not, behind the scenes working with the team and individual staff members to make them as effective and productive as they can be. Universally, team members remarked that Mark inspires them to do their best work for patients and for each other because he makes them feel their contribution is valued and an essential part of the process. Simply put, he listens. He engages people and integrates ideas, and this is what distinguishes him as a hero; his impact has longevity and grows exponentially through others.”

Such sentiments explain why Paglia will be taking the stage at the Log Cabin on Oct. 27 to be recognized as a Healthcare Hero. More importantly, they explain why he has emerged as a true leader within this region’s healthcare sector.

 

Taking the Lead

Paglia took what would be considered a non-traditional path to his current post with MiraVista.

Indeed, after earning a degree in business management at AIC, he went to work for a flat-glass manufacturing company. Along the way, he was asked to coach wrestling at Minnechaug High School, a role that made him realize how much he liked working with young people and helping them develop.

Mark Paglia, seen here with several team members at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, practices what is known as the ‘invitational’ style of management.

Mark Paglia, seen here with several team members at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, practices what is known as the ‘invitational’ style of management.

That experience inspired him to go back to school to earn a teaching degree. He would eventually land a job in Connecticut working in a day-treatment program for youth with behavioral-health issues.

“I was really drawn to the kids, but I felt like I didn’t have enough time with them in the school setting,” he told BusinessWest, adding that these sentiments led to another rather sharp turn on the career path, this one taking him to a job as director of the Adolescent and Family Services Department at the Gándara Center’s main office in Springfield.

“I think that’s where I found my passion for caring for those who are in need,” he explained. “And that’s where I started to understand business management and performance management, and that’s where I learned the invitational model of empowering people; that was the foundation for my career.”

Fast-forwarding somewhat, Paglia said he spent nine years at Gándara before becoming program director for the Brightside Treatment Center, part of the Sisters of Providence Health System, in 2009, and later became director of Outpatient Services – Behavioral Health at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, and then executive director of Behavioral Health for Mercy Medical Center and its affiliates, including Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, Brightside, and behavioral-health services on the Mercy campus.

“I’m blessed to work with some of the most passionate, committed, extraordinary leaders … it’s a joy to come to work every day.”

While he was in that role, Trinity Health Of New England made the difficult decision to close Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in early 2021, leaving a huge void in services available to the public.

Seeking to fill that void, Health Partners of New England acquired the property with GFI Partners with the intention of bringing back inpatient psychiatric services and a compliment of substance-use programming. And it turned to Paglia to get that difficult job done.

Recalling those days and, ultimately, the reopening of that facility, Paglia said the sum of his previous experiences certainly helped him overcome a number of hurdles, adding that he was essentially starting up a new business, starting with the hiring of staff.

The first priority was the methadone clinic, which served 600 patients and needed to remain open, and did, with the transition from Trinity Health Of New England to MiraVista, sister facility to TaraVista Behavioral Health Center in Devens, taking place at midnight on April 20. What followed was a ramping up to open an adult inpatient psychiatric unit, he went on, adding that this was achieved 10 days after the acquisition, with a second unit added in June, followed by a detox unit and then an adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit, a clinical stabilization service unit, and other substance-use addiction services.

From left, Mark Paglia with Erin Daley, chief Nursing officer; Erica Trudell, director of Nursing for Inpatient Behavioral Health Services & Education; and Alicia Morel, Talent Acquisition specialist.

Overall, MiraVista has expanded inpatient bed capacity from 36 at opening to 101 today. This includes 50 acute-care psychiatric beds in separate units for adults and adolescents, 30 detoxification beds in its acute-treatment unit for substance-use disorders, and 21 beds in post-detoxification for individuals transitioning to outpatient care. And it is staffing up for the opening of another unit, a substance-use program. Meanwhile, planning and preparation continue for the opening of what Paglia called the most challenging unit — a child psychiatric facility — with an anticipated opening date of February 2023.

Overall, MiraVista has gone from one employee, Paglia, to roughly 350 team members in just over 16 months — again, in the middle of a pandemic and a workforce crisis. In a word, he described this as an “extraordinary” accomplishment, adding that “we are midway through our journey to hire the very best staff to reach an expected 650 employees.”

Equally impressive, he said, is the number of visits from the Joint Commission on Healthcare Accreditation that the facility and its team have endured on its way to accreditation.

“Typically, an organization has one visit every three years for their accreditation,” he explained. “Because we had different lines in different units open at different times, we had four surprise Joint Commission visits where they did a complete audit and survey, and I’m incredibly proud that we passed all four with deeemed status, which gives us the opportunity to qualify for our CMS-contracted services with Medicare and Medicaid, which is a difficult achievement. To do all that in one year is pretty extraordinary.”

“I picked up quickly a long time ago that when someone is passionate about what they’re doing, they have their own internal motivation to be successful.”

He credits all that MiraVista has achieved to date to the team of leaders he has assembled.

“I attribute a lot of it to the leaders that we were able to bring in to create the foundation for this organization,” he told BusinessWest. “I’m blessed to work with some of the most passionate, committed, extraordinary leaders … it’s a joy to come to work every day.”

 

Shared Mindset

One of the goals of invitational management is to make all members of a team feel the same way, Paglia explained, adding that he strives to accomplish such sentiment through active listening, getting employees involved, inspiring them to assume a sense of ownership in the operation, and making sure those in every position know they have an active role in the success of the company.

MiraVista Behavioral Health Center

MiraVista Behavioral Health Center is appropriately lit up for September, which is Recovery Month.

“I picked up quickly a long time ago that when someone is passionate about what they’re doing, they have their own internal motivation to be successful,” he said, adding that one of the goals for him and other leaders is to match this passion with career opportunities that will enable those individuals — and the company — to grow.

While doing all that, he also likes to bring fun into the equation. In fact, it’s a big part of the success formula.

“We plan for fun,” he said, adding that an ‘engagement committee’ he established has launched several initiatives that team members can take part in together, from a Halloween party to a recent barbecue and cornhole tournament; from an ice-cream social to fitness challenges.

The cornhole event and ‘mismatch day,’ where employees wear outfits that do not match, don’t explain why Paglia is an effective leader — or a Healthcare Hero for 2022 in the Administrator category.

But they are part of the explanation.

There are, in fact, many parts to this equation, but the result is an engaging administrator who has taken the lead at MiraVista — in every sense of that phrase.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Director of Medical Oncology, Sister Mary Caritas Cancer Center, Mercy Medical Center

This Physician Provides a Needed Blend of Science and Humanity

Leah Martin Photography

 

On one wall of Dr. Philip Glynn’s office at the Sister Mary Caritas Cancer Center, sharing space with some diplomas and a few other photographs, is a framed, signed picture of Glynn standing beside Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

Glynn was instrumental in bringing Mukherjee to Springfield several years ago for a talk at CityStage, and prevailed upon the author, and fellow oncologist, for a photo that would become a treasured keepsake.

As he talked with BusinessWest about his career and being chosen as the Healthcare Hero for 2022 in the Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider category, Glynn gestured toward the photo — but really Mukherjee and his widely acclaimed book — on several occasions.

He did so to indicate everything from his great fondness for the book and general agreement its author on the progress made to date to the promise of great advancements in the future, to the fact that cancer, treating patients diagnosed with it, and providing them and their families with an all-important support system has in many ways defined his life and career.

Indeed, for more than 35 years now, Glynn has been at the forefront of cancer treatment in this region, touching the lives of several generations of area residents, and in many different ways — but mostly by providing quality of life, however it is to be defined by each patient, a subject we’ll return to later.

“It’s such a challenging balance — the human side and the science side. We are all disciplined to make sure that we stay abreast of the science side — that’s our fundamental responsibility, and it all starts with knowledge; there’s no substitute for that. How you integrate that into what patients need on a daily basis … that’s the art of it.”

While he is being honored as a Healthcare Hero in the Provider category, Glynn could be a recipient in almost every one of the others, with the notable exception of Emerging Leader, which would have been an apt description a few decades ago.

He has been an effective administrator and leader, having been instrumental in creating a comprehensive oncology program at Mercy that rivals anything that can be found in much larger cities such as Boston and New York.

Meanwhile, he has been innovative on many fronts, from the telehealth program he piloted in 2017 that allows Mercy cancer patients to get a second opinion on treatment from physicians at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, to his leadership role in creation of a new palliative-care unit that at Mercy that take the name of one of Glynn’s patients, the late restaurateur and serial entrepreneur Andy Yee.

He would certainly draw consideration in the Community Health and Collaboration categories for his work in this region to not only treat cancer but work in concert with others to diagnose and prevent it. And the sum of his many accomplishments would make him worthy of the Lifetime Achievement honor.

Dr. Philip Glynn, seen here with Oncology Nurse Manager Cynthia Leonard

Dr. Philip Glynn, seen here with Oncology Nurse Manager Cynthia Leonard (left) and Stephanie Palange, RN, has spent his career guiding patients and their families through their cancer ‘journeys.’

But he is being honored in the Provider category because this is what Glynn, who is certified in medical oncology, palliative care and hospice, and internal medicine is perhaps most noted for — being a provider, of not only direct care, but also information, guidance, and, on many occasions, inspiration to fight the most difficult fight of one’s life.

He is described as a fierce advocate for his patients and a great listener who enables patients and their family members to be heard. Glynn said that what begins when individuals hear that they have cancer is a journey, one that often tests them in ways they could not have foreseen or imagined, and he is there with them for every step of that journey.

Overall, he described oncology as an intricate, all-important blend of science and humanity.

“It’s such a challenging balance — the human side and the science side,” he said. “We are all disciplined to make sure that we stay abreast of the science side — that’s our fundamental responsibility, and it all starts with knowledge; there’s no substitute for that. How you integrate that into what patients need on a daily basis … that’s the art of it.

“The other thing that’s really important is that you don’t give treatment for hope. You give treatment to help people live longer and better.”

“And that’s where the greatest satisfaction comes in,” he continued. “When you sit down with someone and say, ‘here’s what we’ve got, here’s the science that will take care of this disease, here’s the limits of the science for this disease’ — that communication with the patient, with the family, brings you to the point where they’re comfortable with the plan of action.”

Making patients and families comfortable, in every sense of that term, is why Glynn is certainly worthy to be called a Healthcare Hero.

 

A Compelling Story

As he offered BusinessWest a tour of the Caritas Center, Glynn talked with recognizable pride in his voice about what has been accomplished at that facility.

Formerly a provider of radiation treatment, it is now a true cancer center, he said, noting that it now includes a large treatment space with more than 30 infusion bays, an oncology pharmacy, laboratory space, and other facilities. Overall, the center provides care that may include cancer surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and clinical trials that provide patients with access to new treatments.

In many respects, the expansion and evolution of the cancer center is the culmination of a career spent in oncology, one that was inspired by many factors and several role models.

Early on, however, Glynn wasn’t sure if he was a good enough student or if he would work hard enough to pursue a career a health career.

Two summers working as an orderly at an Appalachian hospital in West Virginia while he was attending Boston College eventually convinced him that he did.

“The second summer I was there, I was hooked. I said, ‘this is what I want to do,’” he recalled. “It was a great experience; it all become something that I wanted to be part of.”

Glynn earned a degree in psychology at BC, attended Columbia University for pre-med, and earned his medical degree in Italy after failing to gain admission to schools in this country (and learning Italian). After residency at St. Raphael Hospital in New Haven, he completed a medical oncology fellowship at Baystate Medical Center.

Initially, he had visions of becoming a primary-care physician in a rural setting, but during residency, several role models in oncology steered him toward that specialty. He went into private practice, first in Agawam and then Springfield, while also serving as director of Medical Oncology at Noble Hospital and the Noble VNA and Hospice Service.

In 2012, he joined Mercy Medical Center and the Sister Caritas Cancer Center as director of Medical Oncology. In that role, he wears many hats and is responsible for all aspects of the program, including cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, state-of-the-art treatment and services, counseling, and rehabilitation. He also assists with the implementation of new initiatives, such as cancer survivorship, navigation, community outreach, and clinical research and clinical-trial participation.

He is also a provider, seeing 20 patients a day on average and guiding them through their own individual journey that generally begins with three basic questions regarding their cancer: ‘what is it?’ ‘how much is there?’ and ‘what are you going to do about it?’”

Obviously, the answer to that last question has changed most profoundly over the course of his career.

“I couldn’t have imagined it when I started; it’s changed that much,” Glynn said, gesturing toward the picture on the wall and how Mukherjee had carefully and effectively chronicled the advancements. “Seventy years ago, we did gruesome surgery, and then we had gruesome surgery with radiation, and then you added in chemotherapy. But now we’ve learned about cell biology and what drives cancer cells, so we look at genes, potential immunotherapy, a host of options; it’s absolutely exceptional.”

His ultimate goal is to bring to each patient an improved quality of life, which, as noted, varies with each case.

“If you come in, an oncologist sits down, describes to you what you have, and says, ‘this is not a curable disease; this is lung cancer that has spread to the bone,’ or ‘this is colorectal cancer that has gone to multiple different organs; you do not have a curable disease. Then, what becomes critically important is to give a treatment that is going to ideally shrink the tumor and help someone live longer and better,” he explained. “You need to avoid treatments that are going to make the treatment worse than the disease. Someone may come in with bad disease, but they’re not terribly symptomatic with it … you don’t want to give them a treatment that’s going to be terribly debilitating if you can’t give them some kind of promise that they’re going to live longer from it.

“On the other hand, if you take the other end of the spectrum, the 22-year-old kid with an advanced testicular cancer … that kind can be cured,” he went on. “You have the conversation with him and say, ‘look, the next several months are going to be hell, but you’re going to get through it, and you’re walking away. That quality of life is a quality of life you’re giving a promise to — ‘you’re going to be OK,’ as opposed to the quality of life of ‘this isn’t curable, but we’re going to make sure you’re as comfortable as you possibly can be.

“The other thing that’s really important is that you don’t give treatment for hope,” Glynn continued. “You give treatment to help people live longer and better.” All this brings him back to that integration of humanity and science that he spoke of earlier, a balance, he said, which is at the very heart of effective oncology care.

There are many aspects to this equation, he added, with one of the most important, and sometimes the challenging, being communication and providing information.

“And there are times when it gets really hard,” he explained. “We live in a world that’s packed with information. Some of it’s good, and some of it’s not so good. Patients come in with very unrealistic expectations, and that becomes a very challenging conversation.”

For that reason, he brings patients to his office, positions them in front of his computer, and directs them to websites he considers reliable, with much of the rest he described as ‘storytelling.’

He said patients — and, often, family members — want and need to know about everything from prognosis to the toxicity of treatments; from their therapeutic options to recovery time and what recovery will be like.

“But it’s also important to let them know that we’re going to have a support system there for them,” he explained. “There is going to be a doctor available 24/7.”

Throughout his career, Glynn has been that doctor, there for early-morning and late-night phone calls to make sure patients are heard, and staying with them often well beyond the end of treatment, regardless of outcome.

 

The Plot Thickens

Returning once again to the photo on wall, Glynn said he believes the best message of that book is the promise of the future.

“He [Mukherjee] says that we probably won’t cure cancer, and I find that sensible,” Glynn noted. “After all, we don’t cure diabetes, we don’t cure heart disease, and we won’t cure cancer.”

But there will be new advancements, new and better ways of screening, preventing, and treating the emperor of all maladies, he said, adding that, while his career is winding toward its conclusion, the oncologists who follow him will have new, previously unimagined tools with which to carry on the fight.

And they can certainly draw inspiration from him.

Glynn may not have written the definitive biography of cancer, but he has authored a remarkable career, one marked by treating patients with respect and dignity, handling the heavy burden of their care with grace and humility, and providing that critical blend of science and humanity.

And that makes him more of than worthy of the title Healthcare Hero.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic and Its Partners at Springfield College and UMass Amherst

Helping People with Brain Injuries Maintain Function Is a Unique
Group Effort

Leah Martin Photography

Ellen Werner has been helping people with acquired brain injuries for decades.

But since she arrived at ServiceNet a decade ago, she’s learned how powerful collaboration can be in serving this population that often falls through the cracks in today’s healthcare system.

Werner’s work with ABI patients began in Pennsylvania, at one of the first dedicated brain-injury rehabilitation programs in the country, Bryn Mawr Rehab. After moving to Massachusetts, she did homeless outreach through the Statewide Head Injury Program that was created in 1985. “I was trying to find people in shelters that had brain injuries and needed proper medical care and housing.”

When she was approached by the then-vice president of ServiceNet to help launch its Enrichment Center in 2013, she was intrigued; the center helps people with brain injuries to become more functional and engaged with others and their community.

“I had some kind of an understanding of what I wanted to do for these people and what kind of opportunities I wanted to be able to provide them,” said Werner. “But I just didn’t know how we were going to afford therapies. The agency had already put in a lot of money just opening the program, so that’s when I started sending out messages. Springfield College was the first to respond to them.”

Today, the Enrichment Center and ServiceNet’s Strive Clinic in West Springfield — day programs for adults with brain injury caused by trauma or medical conditions — actively collaborate with two area academic institutions to provide outstanding rehabilitative care, while helping train the healthcare professionals of tomorrow.

“I had some kind of an understanding of what I wanted to do for these people and what kind of opportunities I wanted to be able to provide them.”

This work began in 2014 when Werner, director of Operations at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic, met with leaders of the Physical Therapy program at Springfield College to develop an innovative model of community-based care that would bring in graduate students, under the direction of their instructors and on-site clinical staff, to work with clients on a variety of PT modalities. The model proved so successful that this partnership expanded in 2017 to involve the Communications Disorders program at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health & Health Sciences in developing and providing speech-language pathology services at the Enrichment Center.

Since she facilitated those partnerships with Springfield College and UMass Amherst to better serve people with ABIs, the program has grown from a small group of students and instructors to a full-fledged clinical team.

Lisa Sommers, clinical director and clinical associate professor in Communication Disorders at UMass Amherst, said the partnership with the Enrichment Center is a natural offshoot of the clinical training program first-year graduate students have to complete.

Kathy Pappas

Kathy Pappas says the program wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for Ellen Werner.

Kathleen Pappas, associate professor of Physical Therapy at Springfield College, agreed. “It really aligns with the mission of Springfield College to educate our students to become leaders in service.”

 

Specialized Care

The Enrichment Center is an adult day-care center that offers physical, occupational, and speech and language therapies as needed, but clients also have the ability to choose from an array of activities to help promote cognitive growth and social interaction, such as support groups, music and dance sessions, arts and crafts, and trips to museums, bowling alleys, and movie theaters.

The Strive Clinic uses the Enrichment Center’s well-equipped gym, providing a safe space for limited-contact services by appointment only, which allows for more individual work for a client.

Clients at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic are typically adults with ABIs, many of whom suffered them years ago. Brain injuries can be inflicted by traumatic, external forces, such as car accidents, assaults, and other forms of violence, or from medical issues, such as strokes, aneurisms, and brain tumors. An ABI can cause changes in identity, mental health, relationships, family structure, the ability to work, and economic status.

Years past the big event that altered their life, people with ABIs sometimes fall off the radar in the healthcare system, but ServiceNet and its partners want to change that. Clients are able to go through the Acquired Brain Injury/Moving Forward Plan (ABI/MFP) waiver program.

“There’s some kind of a beautiful milieu … that is developed between them.”

“With the waiver, there’s really no end to the amount of therapy that we could provide people,” Werner said. “Our clients have really benefited from it; it’s just wonderful. We’ve had people that have been in wheelchairs for years, and now Kathy is getting them up, standing and walking. And we have clients that didn’t have communication devices that really benefit from them and the sessions provided now. There are all sorts of things that we’re able to do that we wouldn’t be able to do if we had just traditional insurance.”

Maintaining the client’s level, or hopefully going beyond it, requires constant, consistent therapy, she noted, so the waiver program allows the center and clinic to be more flexible in accepting and keeping clients. At the same time, the State Licensing Board of Massachusetts requires the facilities to follow all the same regulations any other clinic would follow.

The main focus for both facilities is to help people who are living with a brain injury to become more functional and engaged with others. And because every brain injury is different, students get a more varied education than they might elsewhere.

“By having us, the instructors, available on site, providing the supervision, we know exactly where they are in the curriculum,” Pappas said. “We hold them accountable to applying the knowledge they’ve learned in the classroom and measuring that as they prepare to become entry-level clinicians.”

Because there isn’t any prior conditioning, students are able to adapt to the center and provide the care clients need, she noted. In short, they come in with a learner attitude, so they’re more receptive to the clients and their habits.

Many people have a narrow idea of what therapy is and what it should look like, but the programs provided by the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic “really explode that,” said Michael Starr, clinical instructor and supervisor in Communication Disorders at UMass Amherst. He went on to explain the relationships this intense care creates in the center.

Lisa Sommers says the Strive Center teaches students how to provide continuous services for a person who is living with an ABI.

Lisa Sommers says the Strive Center teaches students how to provide continuous services for a person who is living with an ABI.

“At the end of a recent spring semester, the student clinician got a beautiful thank-you note written by this client who has a really hard time expressing herself through writing. They had been working on it all semester. So she was able to do that and send it to the clinician, which was amazing and left everyone in tears.”

Sommers said the client and student spend the semester teaching and connecting with one another, and that connection leaves a lasting impact on both of them.

“There’s some kind of a beautiful milieu, like Michael said, that is developed between them,” she added. “I think it teaches them how to provide services across the continuum of a person’s life who is living with a brain injury.”

But while students and faculty are impacted, Starr added, the program can be life-changing for the clients at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic.

“The clients really love it so much. Certain clients will park themselves outside of our offices and wait and sometimes demand a session,” he noted. “Or I’ll go to get someone and say, ‘hey, do you have 30 minutes for a session?’ and they really want it, but they say, “I have to go to PT first,” and they’re on their way to PT because they’re not going to miss their appointment for love or money. They’ll come back and see me after. They just really love our services.”

He went on to tell BusinessWest that, because of their injury and especially when living in small group homes, clients can be marginalized or cut off from what’s happening in the world around them. Sommers agreed.

“When people encounter the medical system, there is so much that is determined for the patient, particularly when the patient can’t communicate or has cognitive impairments,” she said. “They don’t get to participate in person-centered care, which we know has the best outcomes, but is not really the model used in our healthcare system. And there are so many barriers for people — just think of all the cognitive challenges that are in our healthcare system. I can’t even navigate my own health insurance half the time and struggle if something isn’t covered or denied.”

Historically, the healthcare system has been “a top-down, patriarchal model,” Sommers added, putting clients in a vulnerable position emotionally, financially, medically, and more. Through the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic, that model is upended, allowing clients “to have agency, to have a voice, to be able to say what they want and be able to say.”

 

Striving for Tomorrow

In supporting the program’s Healthcare Heroes nomination, Amy Timmins, vice president of Community Relations at ServiceNet, noted that “the partnership between ServiceNet, Springfield College, and the University of Massachusetts exemplifies the vision and innovation so central to the Pioneer Valley — where academic and healthcare programs are each strengthened by the other, for the benefit of those they serve. In working together, they have created an environment where new goals and possibilities are free to take hold every day.”

That they have, which is why Sommers sees potential for other collaborations; in fact, the clinical educators she’s worked with have also articulated as much because of the opportunities collaboration brings to the community.

Their next goal: “world domination,” Werner said with a laugh. Actually, she wants to continue to create more opportunities for people living with ABIs.

“In healthcare, it’s all about collaborating with other professionals, and Ellen has brought that to the top and forefront of what’s best for these clients,” Pappas said. “Without her vision and enthusiasm and ability to really work within and out of the system to make things happen, none of us would be here. So I am eternally grateful to her for what she’s given our students as opportunities and what she’s given to the clients on a daily basis.”

For finding and fostering the connections that not only help people with acquired brain injury, but cultivating the next generation of therapists, ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic, and its academic partners, are certainly worthy of being called Healthcare Heroes.

 

Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Division Chief, General Medicine and Community Health, Baystate Health

He Convened a Broad, Effective, Street-level Response to a Pandemic

Leah Martin Photography

 

From his years working at a VA hospital in Rhode Island to his more recent community-health role overseeing Baystate Health’s medical practices in Springfield, Dr. Paul Pirraglia has always seen himself as a problem solver.

“It’s gratifying to take care of a patient and get a problem solved, or at least controlled for them — when you can address a concern that is having an impact, not just around a health issue, but in a broader sort of way,” he said. “Take a patient who has diabetes. You can get their diabetes under control, but because food is such a huge part of diabetes, if you can actually get them access to good, nutritious foods, then it’s not just about the diabetes; it’s a life changer in a way.

“As medical professionals, we really want to make a difference in people’s lives,” he went on. “So it’s gratifying to be able to serve when there’s a substantive need.”

COVID-19 would certainly qualify.

Which is why Dr. Andrew Artenstein, Baystate’s chief physician executive, who spearheaded pandemic response throughout the system when COVID arrived early in 2020, asked Pirraglia and Dr. Jackie Spain, co-chief medical officer of Baystate’s BeHealthy ACO, to convene a workgroup to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on the most vulnerable patients in the community, particularly those with significant social needs.

“It was clear that traditionally underserved populations were going to get hit especially hard by this pandemic.”

The workgroup included representatives from Baystate Health and its four community health centers, Caring Health Center, the BeHealthy Partnership (a Medicaid accountable-care organization, or ACO, that includes Health New England as the insurer and Baystate Health and Caring Health Center as care sites), the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, and University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School – Baystate.

The group looked at factors that could contribute to risk, such as low-income housing, where COVID cases were occurring, where ACO members lived, medical conditions were associated with worse COVID outcomes, as well as solutions such as access to pharmacies that home-deliver, food delivery, and transportation.

“On a personal level, I’m drawn to research: here’s a vexing problem; how do we solve it?” Pirraglia said, which is one reason this strategy resonated with him. “When Dr. Artenstein said we needed to do something, it was very, very early on, but it was clear that traditionally underserved populations were going to get hit especially hard by this pandemic. He said, ‘do what you need to do; I’ve got your back.’ So what Jackie and I did was convene a group which was not limited to just Baystate; we got all the leaders we needed.”

That included professionals from a wide range of offices at Baystate and beyond, from infection control to diagnostics and laboratory; from diversity, equity, and inclusion to community relations.

“We were able to pull together a multi-disciplinary group of folks who saw the importance of convening and doing this work,” Pirraglia said. “Despite the jobs they had and their schedules, we met on a weekly basis for many, many months in a row; attendance was phenomenal. That’s because people saw the need to do this.”

This Springfield Housing Authority testing event

This Springfield Housing Authority testing event was organized by the COVID mitigation team.

The goal was to figure out the needs of the Springfield population and communicate with them in a way that was meaningful, and the work progressed rapidly.

Initially, the workgroup explored ways to protect people who were at risk, trying to catch people who had not been infected and keep them from getting infected, while identifying who was infected and making sure those around them had protection. To aid in this effort, a grant from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts enabled community health workers (CHWs) to supply materials such as facemasks, portable pulse oximeters to measure blood-oxygen levels, and room dividers and air mattresses so families could quarantine within their own living spaces.

“We really broke into two groups, one group more patient-facing and another group more community-facing, and then continued to meet and engage and make sure there was good crosstalk back and forth between us,” Pirraglia told BusinessWest, while stressing the importance of communication early on.

“The communication was with the community and within all the different groups that were participating in this workgroup. But we were also communicating with our community health workers, the on-the-ground folks, the ones gathering the patient needs and delivering on those needs. And the communication, I have to say, was pretty robust, in large part because people were committed to making this happen.”

The group performed geographic analysis to determine where to focus its efforts, gathering information about patient conditions in various areas so they could inform the CHWs on the ground about which areas were riskiest and who needed help, he explained.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important our community health workers were in this work. We were the coaches, but they were the players; they were the ones on the field making this happen.”

“We had to prioritize what we were doing, so communication was paramount. At our Tuesday meetings every week, we’d say, ‘this is what the maps are showing, this is what we now about pharmacy deliveries, this is what we know about food deliveries, this is what we know about the ability to reach out to people.’ We needed to make sure all the different arms knew what the others were doing so we were able to work in concert.”

 

Mission Accepted

In nominating him for the Healthcare Heroes award in the Collaboration category, Michael Knapik, Baystate’s vice president of Government and Community Relations, noted that Pirraglia — an attending physician who sees some of the city’s most vulnerable patients at Baystate Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center and also a professor of Medicine at UMass Chan Medical School – Baystate who teaches residents at Baystate High Street Health Center and Baystate Brightwood Health Center — has always been mission-driven.

“This became especially important as the COVID pandemic snapped into sharp focus the inequities that have been occurring in healthcare,” Knapik said. “People who were already suffering due to inequities related to their vulnerabilities — socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and identification factors as well as medical comorbidity all contributing — were now at highest risk from COVID-19 in terms of cases, hospitalizations, and death.”

But Pirraglia himself stressed multiple times during his interview with BusinessWest that he’s not the Healthcare Hero here, not really.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important our community health workers were in this work,” he said. “We were the coaches, but they were the players; they were the ones on the field making this happen. Based on priority lists that we made for them, they were able to reach out to patients and find out what their needs were. We created a needs assessment, and then the CHWs were the ones who came up with a contact-free delivery system. COVID mitigation isn’t their primary work, but they jumped in with both feet: ‘what do you need us to do?’ If you ask me, they’re the heroes.”

As the initial surge eased and vaccines became available early in 2021, the workgroup pivoted to that effort, as vaccination delivery to traditionally underserved groups has been a challenge in a state where early allocations from the federal government were deemed insufficient to supply both mass-vaccination sites and smaller providers, Knapik noted. The rollout through a state registration site put those without access to the internet, as well as transportation to such sites, at a disadvantage.

To address this, Baystate started to vaccinate patients age 75 and older from its community health centers in lockstep with the state’s phased rollout, with staff calling patients and inviting them to get vaccinated. In all, they were able to vaccinate 650 people over the course of six weeks, many of them individuals who would have had difficulty getting to any of the state sites. Meanwhile, the workgroup used a series of webinars and other outreach programs to communicate the importance and safety of vaccines.

Pirraglia and his team prepared a lengthy article for the International Journal for Equity in Health last year called “COVID-19 Mitigation for High-risk Populations in Springfield,” detailing the workgroup’s efforts. It concluded, “our highly intentional and methodical approach to patient and community outreach with a strong geographic component has led to fruitful efforts in COVID-19 mitigation. Our patient-level outreach engages our health centers’ clinical teams, particularly community health workers, and is providing the direct benefit of material and service resources for our at-risk patients and their families. Our community efforts leveraged existing relationships and created new partnerships that continue to inform us — healthcare entities, healthcare employees, and clinical teams — so that we can grow and learn in order to authentically build trust and engagement.”

That’s not to say the group couldn’t have done some things differently, Pirraglia said. “It’s difficult because we’re not in a setting where these entities would necessarily be meeting and collaborating. So there was probably more we could have done that was broader and more in concert.

“But I feel confident that, if another crisis came, we could convene another group, or at least use the methodology we used,” he continued. “Certainly, the community outreach and patient-oriented piece of it worked really well, and we’d probably carry that forward if we had another crisis. It really was, in my mind, highly effective.”

 

Mission Accomplished

As noted earlier, Pirraglia has always taken a mission-based approach to care.

“What I mean by that is we take care of a traditionally underserved population with a lot of social challenges in their life,” he told BusinessWest. “These are patients who have difficulty with travel, with food, with shelter, with a lot of other issues in their lives. So just being able to deliver care is more challenging because the patients oftentimes have these other contexts to deal with. Our work has been to try to deliver the best care we can to our patients despite some of the challenges they face.”

Throw in a pandemic, and … well, you can see why we consider the effort heroic, even though Pirraglia doesn’t consider himself a hero.

“It was a really gratifying experience to have people totally on point, using their expertise in trying to figure out this really scary problem,” he said. “We learned that you can be nimble, you can be collaborative, you can tackle a really complex problem. And when you’re working on a group like this and the communication is good, the sense of mission is good, and there’s clarity about where we’re going with it, great things can happen.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Health and Human Services Commissioner, City of Springfield

Public Health Has Become Her Life’s Work

Leah Martin Photography

When then-Mayor Michael Albano invited her to take on the considerable challenge of directing Springfield’s Health Department and Human Services Department as one entity and oversee that consolidation effort, Helen Caulton-Harris was caught somewhat off guard.

She didn’t know Albano, was not active in his campaign for the corner office, and was not expecting any invitations to join his administration.

So when the request came, she had to think about it for a while, but eventually said ‘yes.’ But certainly not with the expectation that 26 years and two mayors (including the current office holder, Domenic Sarno, who has had the job for 14 years) later, she would still have that title on her business card.

“I certainly didn’t see this as something that I would be doing two and half decades later,” she said, adding that she has stayed in this post for several reasons, but especially because she loves not only the work, but also her ability to make a real difference in the community, and also because there is still considerable work to do.

And there are always new and different challenges to meet, not the least of which is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has tested Caulton-Harris and her department in every way imaginable. It has also been a learning experience on many different levels, as we’ll see, and one that has provided some valuable lessons on how things can be done better and more efficiently.

“The way in which our public-health community has shifted because of the pandemic is that we’ve learned to work together,” she told BusinessWest. “We understood that we had to collaborate and coordinate, and that we must share information. We’re no longer working exclusively in silos; we are working across the public-health venue.

“The way in which our public-health community has shifted because of the pandemic is that we’ve learned to work together.”

“Every two weeks, we have a session with all of our partners to talk about our outreach, lessons learned, and best practices,” she went on. “So those things are part of what has happened as far as COVID-19 is concerned — our communication strategies have become more concrete.”

Caulton-Harris is the 2022 Healthcare Hero in the prestigious Lifetime Achievement category, and she has truly accomplished quite a bit in her career, especially this current chapter.

Overall, she has been an advocate, a true believer in the power of information — she preaches education — and a leader who has taken problems head on and achieved notable progress in areas ranging from teen pregnancy to infant mortality; from care for the homeless population to policies limiting smoking in public places; from substance-use disorders to violence prevention.

There are always new challenges, she said, adding that, today, there are many that she and her department are addressing as the landscape continues to change and evolve.

“Today, we’re dealing with the legalization of marijuana; cannabis is legal, but we still need to educate people about it,” she noted. “Also, gaming and problem gambling. We also have an opioid crisis, which is different than other substance-abuse matters because of fentanyl and the cheap way in which individuals are getting their products and how it escalates and has such an impact on our young people and our communities as well.”

Helen Caulton-Harris has tackled many different public-health issues

Helen Caulton-Harris has tackled many different public-health issues over the years, from teen pregnancy and infant mortality to violence, drugs, and HIV/AIDS. Leah Martin Photography

While there have been many accomplishments during her lengthy career, she considers the biggest to be the merger of the Health and Human Services departments into one entity.

“They should not be seen as separate — they flow together,” she said with clear conviction in her voice. “I describe public health as a social-justice movement rooted in science. And Human Services really is about social justice.”

For all that she has accomplished during her life and career, and for the manner in which she has worked to improve the health and well-being of all those living, working, and doing business in the City of Homes, Caulton-Harris is a true Healthcare Hero.

 

A Life’s Work

When asked if she misses the regular weekly press briefings that came to symbolize the early months of the pandemic, Caulton-Harris flashed a wide smile and said simply, “not really.”

Those briefings, which also featured Sarno; Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health; and Dr. Robert Roose, chief administrative officer at Mercy Medical Center, were conducted to keep city residents informed about was happening and what to possibly expect next, and provide up-to-date statistics concerning cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and more.

She doesn’t miss them because they came to symbolize the very worst days of the pandemic in a city that was hit very hard by COVID. But also because, while Caulton-Harris, as noted, preaches the importance of information and education and still makes regular appearances on TV, she prefers not to be in front of the camera. Instead, she would rather be working behind the scenes, advocating of behalf of area residents and providing a voice for those who struggle to make to make their voice heard.

It has been that way since her early days in the broad realm of healthcare, working with women on the issue of reproductive health, a subject which has, to a large degree, come full circle with the recent Supreme Court vote to overturn Roe v. Wade (more on that later).

“I would talk to them about the choices as far as pregnancy, whether that was to continue the pregnancy, terminate, or adopt,” she said. “So very early on in my career, I became an advocate.”

Later, while working at what is now the Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center, she was influenced by several role models, especially African-American nurses, who showed her that there were career paths for young people like her.

“I got an opportunity to see what the possibilities were for my own career,” she said. “There were individuals from my community who were making a difference in the lives of others.”

“I did not believe it was going to go on for two and half years — we’re still dealing with the pandemic today. Early on, we thought it might be a month or two, but it continues to be a pervasive virus that we’re dealing with.”

In 1994, Caulton-Harris would become executive director of the Area Health Education Center at Springfield Technical Community College, one of six such facilities in the Commonwealth, a role that enabled her to work with young people who were interested in careers in healthcare.

“I got to mentor and nurture them in a way that was very special to me,” she said, adding that, while she was in that post, she was approached by Albano about being the first commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Recalling that conversation she had with the mayor about this opportunity that doubled as a stern challenge, she said it focused on why the departments should be merged and how that should be undertaken, but also how such a merger could help address the emerging health issues of that day.

And there were many of them, she recalled, citing a sky-high teen-pregnancy rate, an equally alarming infant-mortality rate, HIV/AIDS, violence, and drugs, among others.

And it was that conversation that prompted her to leave what was a good position and step into one that would be challenging on many levels but also one that would enable her to impact lives and make a difference in the community.

“I was not quite clear on the politics of the position,” she admitted. “For me, I filtered it with the fact that I really can make a difference in the city by putting policies in place that would stay as a foundation moving forward.”

And that is exactly what she has done.

 

Learning Experiences

While tackling the many challenges that impact health, Caulton-Harris and other city leaders were confronted by the pandemic, which in some ways defines her career, but also sums up her straight-on approach to issues affecting the public.

“The pandemic was something that I was not prepared for and could not have foreseen as something that I would have to deal with,” she told BusinessWest. “I don’t think anyone thought we’d be dealing with a pandemic like we did in 1918, but here we are, 100 years later, dealing with a global pandemic that was devastating the world.

“Very early on, it was clear that this was devastating — our hospitals were overrun with COVID patients; our community was devastated. The Black and Brown communities in the city of Springfield probably got hit the hardest in terms of livelihood and being able to work, so we knew that staying home from some jobs simply wasn’t an option for some people. So it was all-consuming; I lived COVID-19 education every day, and I continue to do that.”

The seriousness of the virus was one issue, Caulton-Harris went on, adding that the degree of difficulty in coping with the situation was compounded by information from state and federal agencies that was often lacking, inconsistent, and at times quite confusing.

“In the early part of the pandemic, we were told that masks were not necessary, and then we were told we needed to mask up,” she recalled. “We did not have vaccines, so education and working with the public became critical. It was my lived public-health experience that enabled me to take on the pandemic. I did not believe it was going to go on for two and half years — we’re still dealing with the pandemic today. Early on, we thought it might be a month or two, but it continues to be a pervasive virus that we’re dealing with.”

As she noted, the COVID experience, if you will, has generated improvement in how those involved in matters of public health communicate, collaborate, and work together to serve the community.

As an example, she cited the work of a collective that came to be known as the ‘VAX FORCE.’

“This was a combination of physicians, community members, researchers … there were 15 individuals who were appointed by Mayor Sarno to be part of this VAX FORCE,” she recalled. “We met to put strategies in place to be able to work with the public, and that manifested itself in vaccination clinics that we had in the North End, the South End, Mason Square, Indian Orchard, and other neighborhoods. We were very intentional about the fact that we had to meet people where they were, and we used all of the expertise of the individuals on the VAX FORCE to come up with a strategy to market and make sure we were hitting all the various communities that we needed to hit.

“That, to me, was a very important strategy, and one that we put together in a way that was different than what we would have done had we not experienced the pandemic,” she went on, adding that this will be the blueprint for how to do things moving forward.

 

The Next Chapter

When asked what might come next for her as she nears retirement age, Caulton-Harris opted to borrow some words used recently by tennis star Serena Williams, who eschewed the term ‘retirement,’ and instead said that she will be ‘transitioning,’ or ‘evolving.’

Caulton-Harris said she will likely be doing some of the same, noting she is working on a book, a personal history of sorts, that she started maybe a decade ago.

“It’s going to be about the journey that I’ve had, from the public-health perspective, but also the personal side,” she said. “I think it’s important to be able to talk about the experiences and let people know the human side of who we are.”

Some would say she’s already written the book, the one about how to be a true leader in public health and make a difference in the community. The one about how to be a Healthcare Hero.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

 

In 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, launched a new recognition program called Healthcare Heroes. In the early going, there were some questions among those seeking to nominate people and organizations about just how that word ‘hero’ was defined.

We told people then, and we tell them now, that ‘hero’ can be defined many different ways, but within the broad spectrum of healthcare, it traditionally denotes someone, some group, or some organization that is changing lives — and in a very positive way.

And, working with this basic definition, we have celebrated dozens of heroes over the past five years, with each story being different and each one touching on the many different ways those in healthcare touch our lives, bring passion, as in passion, to their work, and, yes, change lives.

And the class of 2022 is no exception, as the stories make clear. This class is defined by special people, always working in cooperation and collaboration with others, to improve quality of life for people in this region. It includes:

• Helen Caulton-Harris, the hero in the Lifetime Achievement category, who is being recognized for her life’s work, especially as commissioner of Health and Human Services for the city of Springfield, to educate people, advocate on their behalf, and create policy that will change and improve the general wellness of the community;

• Mark Paglia, COO of MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, the hero in the Administration category, who not only opened that facility in the middle of a pandemic and amid a host of other challenges, but has established himself as a strong leader who empowers his team members and gives them the tools they need to succeed;

• Dr. Phillip Glynn, director of Medical Oncology at Mercy Medical Center, who could be the honoree in many categories, but is the 2022 hero in the Provider category for his work to balance science and humanity, guide his patients through a difficult journey, and make sure their voices are heard;

• Dr. Sundeep Shukla, chief of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Baystate Noble Hospital, who is being honored as the 2022 Emerging Leader hero for his tireless work to not only care for patients, but make the ER an effective safety net and efficient asset — for the hospital and the community;

• The Addiction Consult Service at Holyoke Medical Center, the hero in the Community Health category, which was created as a means to help stem the rising tide of opioid overdoses in the region and offer help and hope to those it touches, especially hope that they can bring change to their lives;

• The Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation, a program at UMass Amherst being honored in (of course) the Innovation category, for bringing together two distinct disciplines in a way that makes perfect sense, and already finding success researching ways to improve patient care through better technology;

• Dr. Paul Pirraglia, division chief of General Medicine and Community Health at Baystate Health, who convened a broad, multi-organization response to the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020 that delivered critical protection, communication, and resources to an often-underserved population, earning one of two awards this year in the Collaboration category; and

• ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic and its partners at Springfield College and UMass Amherst, this year’s other Collaboration heroes, for fostering connections that not only serve people with acquired brain injury, but, through hands-on education, are actively developing the next generation of therapists.

It’s an impressive class, all more than worthy of being called Healthcare Heroes.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In the spring of 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes.

It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.

But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell, especially in these times, when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many types of heroes to the forefront. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2022 are due July 30, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these seven categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;
• Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration;
• Emerging Leader;
• Community Health;
• Innovation in Health/Wellness;
• Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and
• Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted by clicking here. For more information, call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In the spring of 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes.

It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.

But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell, especially in these times, when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many types of heroes to the forefront. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2022 are due July 30, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these seven categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;
• Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration;
• Emerging Leader;
• Community Health;
• Innovation in Health/Wellness;
• Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and
• Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted by clicking here. For more information, call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In the spring of 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes.

It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.

But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell, especially in these times, when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many types of heroes to the forefront. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2022 are due July 30, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these seven categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;
• Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration;
• Emerging Leader;
• Community Health;
• Innovation in Health/Wellness;
• Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and
• Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted by clicking here. For more information, call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD In the spring of 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes.


It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.


But
there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell, especially in these times, when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many types of heroes to the forefront. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2022 are due July 30, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these seven categories:

Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;

Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration;

Emerging Leader;

Community Health;

Innovation in Health/Wellness;

Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and

Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted by clicking here. For more information, call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In the spring of 2017, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes.

It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.

But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell, especially in these times, when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many types of heroes to the forefront. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2022 are due July 30, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these seven categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;
• Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration;
• Emerging Leader;
• Community Health;
• Innovation in Health/Wellness;
• Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and
• Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted by clicking here. For more information, call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDBusinessWest magazine and the Healthcare News will honor eight individuals and groups as Healthcare Heroes for 2021 at a celebration dinner tonight, Oct. 21, at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House in Holyoke.

The award was created in 2017 to recognize those whose contributions to the health and well-being of this region, while known to some, needed to become known to all. Over the past five years, the initiative has more than succeeded in its quest to identify true leaders — not to mention inspiring stories — within this region’s large and very important healthcare sector.

The Healthcare Heroes for 2021, and the categories they represent, include:

• James Goodwin, president and CEO of the Center for Human Development (Lifetime Achievement);

• Dr. Sarah Haessler, hospital epidemiologist at Baystate Medical Center and vice chair for Clinical Affairs in the Department of Medicine at Baystate Health (Emerging Leader);

• Beth Cardillo, executive director of Armbrook Village (Community Health);

• Richard Johnson, Counseling and Testing Prevention and Education Program director at New North Citizens Council Inc. (Community Health);

• Dr. Louis J. DeCaro, podiatrist and owner of DeCaro Total Foot Care Center (Provider);

• Dr. Alicia Ross, medical director of Holyoke VNA Hospice Life Care (Administrator);

• J. Aleah Nesteby, former director of LGBTQ Services at Cooley Dickinson Hospital (Innovation); and

• Doorway to an Accessible, Safe and Healthy Home (Collaboration).

The Healthcare Heroes program is being sponsored by presenting sponsors Elms College and Baystate Health/Health New England, and partner sponsor Trinity Health Of New England/Mercy Medical Center.

Cover Story Event Galleries Healthcare Heroes Special Coverage

Healthcare Heroes Class of 2021

They are leaders. In some cases innovators or collaborators. In all cases, inspirations — people and organizations that have devoted their lives to improving the quality of individual lives and the health of entire communities. We find these stories to be compelling and inspirational, and we’re sure you will as well.

Overall, everyone who was nominated this year is a hero, but in the minds of our judges — the writers and editors at BusinessWest — eight of these stories stood out among the others. The Healthcare Heroes for 2021 are:

Emerging Leader:

Dr. Sarah Haessler, Hospital Epidemiologist, Baystate Medical Center Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs, Department of Medicine, Baystate Health

Health / Wellness Administrator:

Dr. Alicia Ross, Medical Director,
Holyoke VNA Hospice Life Care 

Innovation in Health / Wellness:

J. Aleah Nesteby, Director of LGBTQ Services, Cooley Dickinson Hospital

Watch the Thursday, Oct. 21 Healthcare Heroes Event HERE!

Presenting Sponsors

Partner Sponsors

Healthcare Heroes

Collaboration In Health/Wellness

Collaborators in DASHH include Revitalize CDC, Baystate Health, Health New England, the BeHealthy Partnership, Holyoke Medical Center, the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, the Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition, and the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative.

This Coalition Keeps People Healthy in Ways Its Partners Couldn’t Achieve Alone

If there’s anyone who understands the impact of asthma in Greater Springfield, it’s Sarita Hudson.

Specifically, as director of programs and development for the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts and manager of the Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition, she understands the connections between one’s physical environment and health — and the factors that have consistently placed Springfield high on lists of riskiest places to live with asthma. But even the Asthma Coalition has its limits.

“We had been doing asthma interventions, working with community health workers, working with clients, doing education, helping them identify triggers,” she said. “But it’s not enough if we can’t actually fix anything in the home.”

Meanwhile, as vice president of Public Health for Baystate Health, Frank Robinson understands the many ways the system’s community health programs and providers promote preventive health and wellness.

“We had been doing asthma interventions, working with community health workers, working with clients, doing education, helping them identify triggers. But it’s not enough if we can’t actually fix anything in the home.”

Still, “Baystate would never be going out and creating healthy homes by doing environmental changes and mitigations,” he explained. “That is not the work of the healthcare system. To be aligned with someone who does that work and gets the health implications and health impacts is perfect, though — it makes a perfect marriage.”

That organization would be Revitalize Community Development Corp. (CDC), which does have a long history of making critical repairs, modifications, and rehabilitation on the homes of low-income families with children, military veterans, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

When these three organizations started talking — about asthma and other issues — they were intrigued by what they might accomplish by working together, said Revitalize CDC President and CEO Colleen Loveless.

“We’d been doing some of this work — mold remediation, pest control — but hadn’t formalized the process in collaboration with insurance companies and the healthcare system,” she told BusinessWest.

Now, thanks to a collaboration called Doorway to an Accessible, Safe and Healthy Home (DASHH), these three organizations are not only identifying families in need of intervention for environmental health issues, and not just educating them on lifestyle changes, but actually making the necessary physical changes to their homes.

“We started talking, and we applied for a technical-assistance grant from the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative in Baltimore. They’ve been doing this work for decades,” Loveless explained. “We were one of five sites awarded that technical-assistance grant.”

Baystate followed with a capacity-building grant, other state grants followed, and DASHH was in business. Since its beginning in 2015, the program has served 130 households with asthma remediation and education, as well as 101 households for age-in-place modifications. Last year, it launched a COVID-19 response project (more on that later), impacting more than 1,550 households and approximately 6,881 individuals.

“It’s a business model that shows that, by intervening and creating healthy homes through environmental remediation, removing asthma triggers, and improving the physical environment, we could reduce asthma incidence in high-risk populations,” Robinson said.

Families referred by Baystate for environmental interventions receive three to five visits to conduct testing, at the start and end of the process, and provide education on how to keep the home clean and safe. If needed, Revitalize CDC brings in services ranging from air-duct cleaning to mold remediation; from pest control to floor covering and replacement, and also provides air purifiers, HEPA vacuums, and cleaning supplies.

By partnering with health-centric organizations, Colleen Loveless (center) and Revitalize CDC was able to infuse its home-rehab efforts with a focus on wellness.

By partnering with health-centric organizations, Colleen Loveless (center) and Revitalize CDC were able to infuse home-rehab efforts with a focus on wellness.

“The goal is to keep people from having to access primary care or the emergency room, and not miss school or work,” Loveless said. “Asthma has such a ripple effect.”

 

Better Together

The initial goal of DASHH was to help older people by improving their housing conditions related to asthma and falls, most notably by providing home assessments and home repairs to help them stay healthy and age in place. Breaking down this enterprise that has earned the title of Healthcare Hero for 2021 in the Collaboration category, the individual honorees are:

• Revitalize CDC; which performs assessments and interventions for adults and children with asthma and COPD and makes safety modifications and aging-in-place improvements so seniors may safely remain in their home;

• The Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, which provides support on asthma issues; measurement evaluation; support and coordination for referrals, education, and outreach; coordination and support for asthma home-visiting services; and technical assistance and support, as well as providing materials and services in Spanish;

• Baystate Health and the BeHealthy Partnership (a MassHealth accountable-care partnership plan option made up of the Baystate Health Care Alliance and Health New England), which provide referrals to DASHH through five health centers: Baystate General Pediatrics at High Street, Brightwood Health Center, Caring Health Center, High Street Health Center Adult Medicine, and Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center; and

• The Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, a national network that provides technical assistance on planning, database services, and access to best-practice strategies. The organization worked with the other partners on feasibility studies to come up with ways to fund interventions in the home and determine how those efforts might impact healthcare costs and decrease healthcare utilizations regionally.

After its initial success with Baystate, Revitalize CDC expanded its service area in 2019 to begin collaborating with Holyoke Medical Center and its team of community health workers and navigators. To boost such efforts, the city of Holyoke recently awarded Revitalize CDC’s Healthy Homes Program $100,000 from American Rescue Plan Act funds.

DASHH serves low-income families in Hampden County, which ranks last among the Commonwealth’s 14 counties for health outcomes and health factors for racial/ethnic groups. Springfield had been the asthma capital of the U.S., according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, until 2019, and now ranks 12th — still not the most desirable ranking, but an improvement, to be sure.

“You talk to the families, and you see that this is the kind of impact that changes their health,” Hudson said of DASHH’s efforts. “It means they can breathe easier and get the supplies they need.”

For instance, in some cases, “the ventilation ducts have never been cleaned, and every time the heat comes on, they have an asthma attack. Now they’re clean, and it doesn’t happen,” she went on. “Some of these are small, simple repairs.”

This issue has been important to Hudson for a long time, through the Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition, which was formed 15 years ago to address childhood asthma by improving medical and self-management of the condition, as well as by reducing environmental triggers.

The coalition focuses on outdoor air pollution and indoor air quality and has successfully advocated for new policies, including statewide regulations to prohibit tobacco sales to those under 21; green cleaning policies and procedures adopted by Holyoke Public Schools; an ordinance against burning construction and demolition debris; and asthma protocols and an idle-free vehicle policy adopted by Springfield Public Schools, among many other successes.

It’s work — not just the physical interventions, but education of homeowners, landlords, and primary-care physicians — that should be happening on a wider scale, Hudson said, not just in homes, but in schools and other older buildings where people gather.

“We really see a lot of our housing stock as old, with deferred maintenance, including so much of our rental housing. That’s why we are pleased to see more funding around whole-house renovations.”

 

Quick Pivot

Last year, the DASHH coalition began supporting patients at risk of contracting COVID-19 by providing them with essential supplies and access to nutritious food at home. It made contactless deliveries that also included COVID-prevention supplies, including disinfectants, microfiber cleaning cloths, cleaning gloves, dish detergent, food-storage containers, hand soap, disinfectant wipes, paper towels, and food from local pantries.

“These are people who were quarantining, and we were providing them with cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and facemasks — and we found many were food-insecure, so they were provided food from local food pantries,” Loveless said. “The whole DASHH program just expanded from asthma to COVID, and we’re still seeing it now.”

Meanwhile, she’s excited about seeing the coalition continue its broader work — and those regional asthma statistics improve further.

“It’s been a really, really great partnership. It’s a win-win situation — the healthcare system saves money, we’re serving more low-income families in need, and patients are healthier. So it’s really a win-win-win.”

Robinson agrees. “I think the role of Revitalize and other housing providers that understand these issues have made a difference — and make healthcare providers’ jobs much easier,” he said. “They have been instrumental partners in creating safe and healthy houses for older adults as well as creating healthy homes for folks with respiratory diseases, asthma in particular.”

The work is both deeply collaborative and, dare we say, heroic.

“I’m so appreciative,” Loveless said. “Together, we’re able to serve more people in need.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Innovation In Health/Wellness

Director of LGBTQ Services, Cooley Dickinson Hospital

J. Aleah Nesteby

J. Aleah Nesteby

She Pioneered Appropriate Care for a Population That Sometimes Lacks It

By Mark Morris

Healthcare was Aleah Nesteby’s second career goal.

“My first career goal was to be a standup comic, but I eventually realized I didn’t have the stomach for all the rejection that involved,” she said.

As it turned out, comedy’s loss was healthcare’s gain. For the past several years, she has been a family nurse practitioner and director of LGBTQ Health Services at Cooley Dickinson Health Care — and is now beginning a new career at Transhealth Northampton.

In doing so, she will continue her pioneering work providing culturally sensitive healthcare for often-marginalized populations — work that many health organizations have since adopted, long after Nesteby became an early pioneer in this region — and a true Healthcare Hero.

“I thought, if my friends can’t access good care in San Francisco, is there anywhere they can? I also thought, well, I could do that.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, members of the LGBTQ community face an increased risk of health threats due to discrimination and stigma. In her role with Cooley Dickinson, Nesteby has worked to bring more equity and compassion to healthcare for the LGBTQ community. As a practitioner, she has maintained a patient panel of about 500 people, many of whom are transgender.

It’s a passion that predates her medical career, to be sure. Since college, Nesteby has had an interest in healthcare among marginalized populations, but at the time, care focused specifically on LGBTQ people didn’t exist. In the early 2000s, while in San Francisco, she learned that some of her LGBTQ friends were not able to access healthcare.

“I thought, if my friends can’t access good care in San Francisco, is there anywhere they can?” she said. “I also thought, well, I could do that.”

So she did. And for her years of cutting-edge advocacy for this broad and sometimes misunderstood population, Nesteby certainly merits recognition in the category of Innovation in Healthcare.

 

Training Ground

In addition to treating patients, Nesteby’s responsibilities include training providers and staff on how to make medical facilities more welcoming and inclusive.

Much of the training I would call LGBTQ 101,” she said. “It’s a discussion on how to treat people respectfully and how to engage them in language they would like you to use.”

After years of pioneering work at Cooley Dickinson, Aleah Nesteby is taking her passion and talents to Transhealth Northampton.

After years of pioneering work at Cooley Dickinson, Aleah Nesteby is taking her passion and talents to Transhealth Northampton.

One common question — she’s heard it countless times — challenges why LGBTQ patients should be treated differently than anyone else. She explains that everyone has unconscious biases that play into their decisions about treatment for people.

“I try to help providers understand that, even though they think they are treating everyone the same, some of what they are saying isn’t being received by the patient in the way it might have been intended.”

For instance, microaggressions are a common issue — those backhanded compliments and minor comments that might not be insults, per se, but add up in a negative way to the person who hears them. A gay or lesbian person might be told, “I couldn’t tell whether you were gay or straight,” and a transgender person might be asked what their old name was.

“It’s these low-level, unpleasant interactions that many medical folks aren’t even aware they are doing,” Nesteby said, emphasizing that training should include all employees in the medical setting, not just direct care providers. For example, a visitor to the doctor’s office typically first speaks with someone on the front desk, then a medical assistant or nurse, and, finally, with the physician or nurse practitioner.

“Even when all the providers are trained and great to be around, if the staff aren’t trained, it can still be a negative experience for some,” she explained.

Nesteby also helps providers with more detailed training that addresses health issues specific to the LGBTQ community, such as hormone therapy for transgender adults and working with transgender children.

“I’ve also trained doctors on PrEP, a pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV,” she said. “It’s a medication people can take before being exposed to HIV to help prevent transmission.”

In some ways, Nesteby has always been an LGBTQ trainer. She was studying to be a nurse practitioner back when the transgender health movement — commonly called trans health — was just beginning. Because it wasn’t included in the curriculum, she invited a lecturer to speak to her class about trans health.

“In the beginning, there were lots of things to learn and new ground to break,” she recalled.

Nesteby is now in demand as a speaker at conferences around the country, though her appearances during the pandemic have been virtual. She also participates in TransLine, an internet-based consultation service. “People can e-mail their questions about trans health to volunteers like me, and we answer them as they come in.”

As she became established and word got out that her practice included trans health, patients would travel from hundreds of miles away just to be seen by Nesteby. However, “as trans health has become a more accessible field and more providers have become comfortable with it, there’s less need for people to travel long distances.”

 

Continuing the Conversation

Reflecting on her work with Cooley Dickinson gives Nesteby a great deal of satisfaction. From training medical staff to policies to make the hospital more inclusive, she appreciates all the progress that’s been made so far.

“While there is still work to be done, there has been a cultural shift in Massachusetts on how we view our LGBTQ patients,” she noted.

Jeff Harness, director of Community Health and Government Relations for Cooley Dickinson, called Nesteby’s work critically important to the LGBTQ community.

“It is rare to find a primary-care provider who understands the unique health and social needs of LGBTQ patients,” Harness said. “It’s exceedingly rare to fine one who is so skilled, passionate, and caring.”

This month, Nesteby is leaving Cooley Dickinson to join Transhealth Northampton, a clinic that provides primary care for children and adults. Her role will be similar to her current one in providing primary care and hormone management for her patients. In her new position, she will continue to educate clinicians and will also focus on educating the general public about working with the LGBTQ community.

“I’m an advocate of asking people how they want to be addressed and what pronouns they use,” she said. adding that people often get nervous they might offend if they ask, but the conversation has to start somewhere. “If you are respectful and polite, people will usually respond in kind. They only get upset when someone is rude or asking for information that is gratuitous or not needed.”

In general, Nesteby would like to see a more welcoming and affirming atmosphere in medicine.

“Ideally, I’d like all providers to have some degree of knowledge about how to work with LGBTQ patients because within that there is more opportunity for people to specialize in that care.”

Harness credited Nesteby with making positive changes in the system while always providing excellent care to the person in front of her. “Aleah has improved her patients’ sense of well-being by showing them their medical provider cares about, understands, and welcomes them,” he said.

In her eyes, though, showing compassion is similar some ways to the old adage about a rising tide lifting all boats.

“If we are more open and understanding to folks in one group,” she said, “we tend to be more open and understanding to everyone — and that helps all of us.”