Author: Carolyn Pennington

Healthcare Doesn’t Take a Holiday

From left, Georgia Priestley, Lauren Walker, Aga Korycki, Cathy Spisak, Renee White, and Ellen Benson. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health)

When the 26-year old man arrived at our emergency department he was suffering from an excruciating headache. A brain scan found the bad news, a lesion the size of a golf ball. It was causing serious damage and needed to be removed ASAP. But the next day was July 4th – a time for parades, picnics, and fireworks.

“We have limited staffing on the holiday but we all got together and said we’re going to do it, we’re going to get it done,” says Ellen Benson, OR nurse manager. “It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is. Health problems don’t take a holiday.”

The surgery was a complex, requiring special high-tech equipment and extra hands to support changing the position of the patient during the procedure. Along with the primary surgical team, the OR also had a back-up team ready in case another emergency procedure came in that day.

Brain scan showing golf ball size lesion.

The procedure lasted from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and went off without a hitch. The patient had a great outcome and is recovering well.

“We continue to demonstrate that the OR team can step up to the plate and deliver the  best care possible, no matter what time of day or night it is,” says Benson.

Along with Benson, the team included Agnieszka Korycki, ST; Cathy Spisak, RN; Marissa Knight, RN; Dale Keckley, PA-C; Marc Paradis, MD; Marek Pilecki, APRN; Misha Frenkle; and Ketan Bulsara, MD.

Staff who worked the day before the procedure also played a vital role. “They made sure we had everything that we needed so when we came in all we had to do was execute,” explains Benson. “Lauren Walker, Renee White and Georgia Priestly set us up for success.”


Shout It Out

From left, nurse Gina Barlow and infection prevention specialist Rachel Crosby discussing a patient on the 5th floor of University Tower. (Kristin Wallace/UConn Health)

Sometimes you just want to send a quick shout-out to a colleague who has done something nice or been especially helpful. That happened recently to Rachel Crosby, infection prevention specialist. A patient on the 5th floor was not following best practices when

Shout-Out mailboxes can be found in the patient elevator alcoves in the University and Connecticut Towers. (Kristin Wallace/UConn Health)

taking care of his catheter at home. His resistance was putting him at greater risk of infection. Rachel talked with his nurse, Gina Barlow, to see what she could do.

“Gina did a great job talking with him,” said Rachel.  “She was persistent in explaining what he needed to do and he finally agreed. I thought she deserved special recognition for most likely helping to prevent an infection.”

Rachel gave Gina a “Shout-Out” – by simply filling out a card and dropping it in the nearest “Staff Shout-Out” mailbox.

The Exemplary Practice/Clinical Excellence Shared Governance Committee came up with the idea which is working to improve engagement and workplace satisfaction.

“We know there are other awards, such as WOW and PAWS awards for when someone goes above and beyond, but the little things that we do for one another each day should also be recognized,” says Michelle DeLayo, Interim Director of Quality.  “For instance, coming up to a unit for a transferring patient (instead of waiting for that patient to come to you) because that unit is super busy, or just providing a shoulder for another who is having a tough day.”

The shout-outs are tallied every month and the person on each unit with the most shout-outs will receive a gift card presented at the monthly staff meeting. Shout-outs provided from another unit are worth double. The mailboxes are located on the interior walls of the patient elevator alcoves in the University and Connecticut Towers on all floors that have inpatient units. There are also mailboxes for the OB/Labor and Delivery, GI, OR/PACU, Cardio-pulmonary (2nd floor Connecticut Tower) and Radiology areas.

Speed Networking for Grad Students and Industry

Barry Schweitzer, Elm Street Ventures, meeting with grad student Menghan Du.

By Brittany Knight, graduate student at UConn Health

You’ve heard of speed dating? Well, how about speed networking? An inaugural event was held this spring at UConn Health’s academic rotunda with positive reviews. Graduate students and post-doctoral fellows met one-on-one with industry representatives who included start-up CEOs, venture capitalists, patent agents, technology transfer professionals, and scientists.

“I loved the energy and the curiosity of the students and post-docs I met.  They all seemed excited about their science, but wanted to learn more about the business of biotech,” said Barry Schweitzer Ph.D., partner at Elm Street Ventures and entrepreneur-in-residence at UConn. “Their number one question was ‘How do I get my first job at a biotech company?’ Unfortunately, there is no easy answer – it’s really hard to get that job. Nevertheless, my advice is to network, network, network. Most often, getting a position in industry (like in academia) comes about through personal connections and recommendations. It takes time to build that network, so start now.”

Marcia Fournier, CEO of Bioarray Genetics, meeting with students.

Marcia Fournier, Ph.D., CEO of Bioarray Genetics, said, “It was refreshing talking to UConn Health graduate students and to share my experiences with them.”​

One of the students that attended said, “It was really great to have several professionals together in one room just to talk to us. I really appreciated how friendly and open they all were, and they provided some great career advice.”

In a survey conducted among the student attendees after the event, 71 percent of the respondents found the event informative and 86 percent said they are likely to recommend it to others.

“These types of events are incredibly insightful and productive for students and the business community,” said Carrie White, senior investment associate at Connecticut Innovations. “As the innovation ecosystem continues to grow in Connecticut, we look forward to seeing more of these vibrant events at UConn and at other universities around the state.”

Coordinators Cory Brunson and Robert Pijewski

Biomedical scientists and biotechnology companies have been collaborating since 2003 through the Technology Incubator Program (TIP) at UConn. The program has sponsored 96 independent start-up biotechnology companies.

Robert Pijewski, president of the Graduate Student Organization, and Cory Brunson, Ph.D., president of the UConn Health and Jackson Laboratory Post-Doctoral Association, coordinated the inaugural speed networking event. Robert and Cory received encouragement and mentorship from Vaibhav Saini, Ph.D., who is the licensing director for Life Sciences, Office of the Vice President for Research.

UConn Health Receives Get With The Guidelines-Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award

Get With The Guidelines® Gold Plus Achievement Award for Stroke Center at UConn HealthUConn Health/John Dempsey Hospital has received the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With The Guidelines®-Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award. The award recognizes the hospital’s commitment to ensuring stroke patients receive the most appropriate treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines based on the latest scientific evidence.

UConn Health earned the award by meeting specific quality achievement measures for the diagnosis and treatment of stroke patients at a set level for a designated period. These measures include evaluation of the proper use of medications and other stroke treatments aligned with the most up-to-date, evidence-based guidelines with the goal of speeding recovery and reducing death and disability for stroke patients. Before discharge, patients should also receive education on managing their health, get a follow-up visit scheduled, as well as other care transition interventions.

“UConn Health is dedicated to improving the quality of care for our stroke patients by implementing the American Heart Association’s Get With The Guidelines-Stroke initiative,” said Dr. Sanjay Mittal, director of the stroke program. “The tools and resources provided help us track and measure our success in meeting evidenced-based clinical guidelines developed to improve patient outcomes.”

UConn Health additionally received the association’s Target: StrokeSM Honor Roll Elite award. To qualify for this recognition, hospitals must meet quality measures developed to reduce the time between the patient’s arrival at the hospital and treatment with the clot-buster tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, the only drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat ischemic stroke.

“We are pleased to recognize UConn Health for their commitment to stroke care,” said Eric E. Smith, M.D., national chairman of the Get With The Guidelines Steering Committee and an associate professor of neurology at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. “Research has shown that hospitals adhering to clinical measures through the Get With The Guidelines quality improvement initiative can often see fewer readmissions and lower mortality rates.”

According to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, stroke is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of adult disability in the United States. On average, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke every 40 seconds and nearly 795,000 people suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year.


Successful Spring Fundraising Events

This year’s 15th annual CT Breast Health Initiative’s Race in the Park was held May 12 in New Britain with over a thousand participants.  Team UConn Health Husky Heroes was ranked #4 – having raised $4196 by a record 47 team members and numerous generous donors.

There was also a large turnout from the Husky Heroes team at Relay For Life Farmington Valley this past weekend. The team raised $3,965 and Dr. Upendre Hegde, our chief medical oncologist, spoke about the importance of prevention and detection during opening ceremonies.

Both events were sponsored by our Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center and a big thank you to all of those who donated and volunteered their time to make them a great success. View the photo gallery.

Biomedical Graduate Student Participates in Discovery Education Program

Students brainstorm to design and construct a heart valve facsimile. (Photo by Ellen Ravens-Seger

By Brittany Knight, Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Sciences

The Connecticut Area Health Education Center (CT AHEC) Biomedical Education Discovery Saturday Program at UConn Health teaches middle- and high-school students about the use of biomedical engineering (BME) in health care.

Through the use of problem solving, team development, and hands-on application, students and coaches use recycled materials to design and build biomedical prototypes such as hydraulic arms, heart valves, and prosthetic legs, all the while considering the possibility of careers in health and BME.

Urban Service Track/AHEC scholars (a select group of students enrolled in UConn Schools of  Dental Medicine, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Social Work, and Quinnipiac University’s Physician Assistant Program) serve as BME activity coaches.

On a recent weekend, the BME activity was heart valve engineering. After teaching 24 learners about heart valves and blood pressure, the UST/AHEC scholars guided them to design and construct a heart valve facsimile.

Ph.D. student and “shark investor” Rajamani Selvam looks on as a team of BME Saturday Program learners pitch their innovative heart valve design. (Photo by Ellen Ravens-Seger)

During the competition portion of the activity, Rajamani Selvam, fourth-year Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. student, served as a “shark”- just like on the show Shark Tank where inventors pitch their ideas to potential investors. Rajamani used her critical thinking skills to assess the quality of projects. She asked the teams questions about their heart valve: What materials did they use to make the valves? How long will a surgeon require to implant the valve? How durable is the valve? Can the valve withstand any strenuous activity? Learners often replied with a combination of factual and intentionally comical responses, considering their heart valves were constructed from recycled materials.

Rajamani said, “Some students get very creative in their pitch. For instance, one group proposed that they are a foundation of people working to address heart problems and this valve is affordable for all sectors of people, saying: ‘We are motivated to form this foundation to help other people who suffer from this ailment.’ I saw valves made of balloons, cardboard and clear tape.”

At the end of the competition the teams are scored based on the design of their valve as well as the effectiveness of their valve.

The final BME activity for the academic year—on the topic of prosthetic legs—will be held on June 2.

Blankets for Cancer Patients

The UConn Cares alumni group assemble no-sew blankets with inspirational cards tucked inside for UConn Health cancer patients on April 28, 2018. (Wanita Thorpe/UConn Health photo)The UConn Cares alumni group assemble no-sew blankets with inspirational cards tucked inside for UConn Health cancer patients on April 28, 2018. (Wanita Thorpe/UConn Health photo)The UConn Cares alumni group assemble no-sew blankets with inspirational cards tucked inside for UConn Health cancer patients on April 28, 2018. (Wanita Thorpe/UConn Health photo)The UConn Cares alumni group assemble no-sew blankets with inspirational cards tucked inside for UConn Health cancer patients on April 28, 2018. (Wanita Thorpe/UConn Health photo)The UConn Cares alumni group assemble no-sew blankets with inspirational cards tucked inside for UConn Health cancer patients on April 28, 2018. (Wanita Thorpe/UConn Health photo)The UConn Cares alumni group assemble no-sew blankets with inspirational cards tucked inside for UConn Health cancer patients on April 28, 2018. (Wanita Thorpe/UConn Health photo)The UConn Cares alumni group assemble no-sew blankets with inspirational cards tucked inside for UConn Health cancer patients on April 28, 2018. (Wanita Thorpe/UConn Health photo)The UConn Cares alumni group assemble no-sew blankets with inspirational cards tucked inside for UConn Health cancer patients on April 28, 2018. (Wanita Thorpe/UConn Health photo)

In observance of National Volunteer Day and UConn Cares, UConn alumni gathered at the food court last Saturday to assemble blankets for patients at the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center. They assembled 40 cozy fleece, no-sew blankets. It was organized by Josh Proulx from the alumni group and Liz Krueger from the UConn Foundation. Around 50 alumni volunteers and their families put together the blankets with short inspirational message cards tucked inside. Patient navigator Amber Tillinghast will distribute the blankets to patients, specifically breast cancer patients getting the Dignicap  scalp-cooling treatment to reduce hair loss during chemotherapy.

Are You a SmartShopper?

The state recently sent a brochure to your home touting a new feature available through the State of Connecticut health plan. The SmartShopper program helps you shop for cost-effective health care services while earning cash rewards. The Pulse wanted to learn more so we asked Human Resources Jessica VanAlstyne, director of employee benefits, and Christine Masotti, AVP  of payer negotiations and network development, to answer a few questions about the program. 

How does the program work?
This is a voluntary program that allows members (employees, retirees, and their enrolled dependents) to “shop” and earn cash rewards for utilizing low-cost providers for certain procedures.

Can all employees participate?
This program is available to all members enrolled in the State of Connecticut Employee Health Plan.

What is the benefit of being a member? 
When you or your eligible dependents use this website or call center to shop for care in Connecticut for certain procedures included in the SmartShopper program, you can actually earn cash rewards as high as $500.

Why is the state offering this program? 
This program was negotiated as part of the 2017 SEBAC Agreement in an effort to save money and improve health.

May I continue to use UConn Health for services/procedures?
Yes. Depending on the service, you and your dependents may not qualify for incentives by using UConn Health for certain procedures, however, it’s important to remember that it will not cost you or your dependents any more than it currently does to use our services.

What procedures are eligible for the rewards?

Back Surgery – Laminectomy $250 – $500
Bariatric Surgery – Laparoscopic Gastric Bypass $500 – $500
Hip Replacement $250 – $500
Hysterectomy $500 – $500
Knee Replacement $250 – $500
Spinal Fusion (Posterior) $500 – $500

Knee Arthroscopy with Cartilage Repair $75 – $250
Shoulder Arthroscopy $75 – $250
Shoulder Arthroscopy with Rotator Cuff Repair $75 – $250

Outpatient Diagnostic
Colonoscopy with Biopsy $75 – $250
Colonoscopy with Removal of Lesion(s) or polyp(s) $75 – $250
Screening Colonoscopy $75 – $250
Upper GI Endoscopy $75 – $250
Upper GI Endoscopy with Biopsy $75 – $250

How can I learn more?
Members can call a SmartShopper customer service expert at 1-800-824-9127 or e-mail at Please include your name, phone number and a brief description of your question and you will be contacted as soon as possible.

A representative from Vitals SmartShopper will also be in attendance at the UConn Health Open Enrollment Fair on May 16 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the rear cafeteria.



MD/PhD Students Participate in National Physician-Scientists Meeting

UConn MD/PhD students recently attended a national meeting for physician-scientists in Chicago. (Photo courtesy Feria Ladha)

By Feria Ladha and Maria Xu, UConn MD/PhD students and APSA Institutional Representatives

Sponsored by the Office of Physician-Scientist Career Development, seven UConn MD/PhD students recently attended the national meeting for physician-scientists, which was held in Chicago. This annual joint meeting brings together some of the nation’s most illustrious physician-scientists from the Association of American Physicians (AAP) and American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), as well as early-career trainees from the American Physician-Scientists Association (APSA), to celebrate advances in science and medicine.

It was an incredible opportunity for the students to present their research, hear talks from leaders in their field, network, and attend mentoring events. Anthony Pettinato, a third-year MD/PhD student, said, “I had a great time presenting and getting feedback regarding my work, connecting with others in the medical field, and gained invaluable insight into the research being conducted throughout the country by fellow students.”

This year, the meeting focused on aging, human genetics, and health longevity, with researchers and clinical investigators providing insights into their basic and clinical research. Students had the opportunity to listen to talks ranging from neurodegeneration to aging in the clinic. Michael Chung, a fourth-year MD/PhD student, said, “These talks really helped put my research, which involves neurology and human genetics, into a translational and clinical perspective. It’s great to see how innovative investigators can bring basic science research to the forefront of clinical care.”

There were also numerous mentoring sessions, where students had the opportunity to receive beneficial career advice directly from residency directors and established investigators. Jennifer Chung, a third-year MD/PhD student, said, “The mentoring events were extremely helpful, as they provided firsthand information from residency directors that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to hear elsewhere.” These sessions were multidisciplinary, enabling students to gather information regarding different specialties via the unique perspectives provided by physician-scientists of varying career backgrounds. Timofey Karginov, a first-year MD/PhD student, said, “Meeting residency directors and professors at other institutions allowed me to get a better idea of the steps I could be taking early on in my time as an MD/PhD in order to support my interests and my career goals.”

In addition to APSA-sponsored events, all seven UConn MD/PhD students attended the annual ASCI dinner and new member induction ceremony with Andrew Arnold, MD, an ASCI/AAP member and director of the UConn Office of Physician-Scientist Career Development. This prestigious dinner recognized the novel scientific contributions of new ASCI inductees, and attendees heard powerful career advice and perspective from George Q. Daley, MD, PhD, dean of Harvard Medical School and a renowned stem cell and cancer biology expert.  Dr. Arnold noted that “exposing our aspiring physician-scientists to the Joint Meeting’s diverse array of role models and exciting clinically-relevant science has long been a major priority for our office and the UConn School of Medicine, and the continuous enthusiasm and participation from our students makes it all worthwhile.”

This year’s meeting was also notable as being the final one for Alexander Adami as a student, as he is nearing the end of his eighth and final year in the UConn MD/PhD program, after which he will begin an internal medicine residency at the University of Washington. Alex served as the national APSA President and played a crucial role in organizing these meetings. He has been an incredible liaison for UConn students to APSA and he will be greatly missed.

Whatever the stage of training, MD/PhD students all derived inspiration and excitement from their interactions at the Joint Meeting and look forward to returning.

Raymond Neag

Carole and Ray NeagIt is with the deepest sadness that we share news of the passing of Dr. Raymond Neag at the age of 86 on April 19.

Dr. Neag, simply known to us as Ray, was a great man and a wonderful human being in every sense. Ray was an entrepreneur, industrialist, philanthropist and one of UConn Health’s most ardent and loyal supporters.  Ray was a proud founder of Arrow International, well known for its triple lumen catheter benefiting patients in need of multiple intravenous therapies.

Ray inspired us with his humanity, which drove all his generous gift decisions. He gave so much of himself and his wealth to humanitarian causes for the betterment of society. His mother-in-law once told me that he is not the wealthiest person but he gave much more of what he had back to society.

Ray was the ultimate genuine true gentleman and the nicest person you will ever meet. He lived modestly and was like your friendly, next door neighbor. He was always positive even under the most difficult challenges. Despite great odds, he survived cancer and later faced cardiac and pulmonary diseases with the same courage, grace and positive attitude.

His big-hearted philanthropy to UConn Health supported the Carole and Ray Neag Cancer Center, Calhoun Cardiology Center, Orthopedics, Department of Radiology and Diagnostic Imaging, Radiation Oncology, Ophthalmology, Dermatology and many other causes.

UConn Health has lost a great friend in Ray, but will always remember and celebrate his successes and all the wonderful things he has done. We will always be reminded and inspired by his humanism, selflessness, dedication to helping others including those who are less fortunate, and his unfailing positive views on life, friendship, and family.

We send our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to Carole Neag, their children Elizabeth Lamoin and David Hogan, and the entire Neag family. He has left an indelible mark on UConn Health and his legacy will live on in the many centers, departments, programs and initiatives he has made possible.

Andrew Agwunobi, M.D., M.B.A.
Chief Executive Officer, UConn Health Executive Vice President for Health Affairs

Bruce T. Liang, M.D., F.A.C.C.
Dean, UConn School of Medicine
Director, Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center
Ray Neag Distinguished Professor of Cardiovascular Biology and Medicine