‘Changing the Way People and Patients Eat, One Plate at a Time,’ a perspective from UConn Health dietitian Linda York
You have seen them around – perhaps in the NICU, on the medical floors, in the cafeteria, at medical meetings, education seminars, in the outpatient cancer center or diabetes nutrition clinic. Who are they? They are the registered dietitians of UConn Health, employed by Sodexo. (Sodexo is a worldwide food service company for hospitals, companies and other venues and has been at UConn Health for several years.)
March is National Nutrition Month so our Sodexo registered dietitians will be in the cafeteria featuring a weekly theme and a delicious recipe from Sodexo. Chef Roland will prepare a sample of the recipe for you to taste.
Here is a summary of the weekly themes presented for National Nutrition Month.
Week 1: Kerry Coughlin, MSRD, kicks it off with “Smart Tips to Build a Healthy Salad.”
Week 2: Hannah Anctil, R.D., presents “Eating on the Run in 2021.”
Week 3: Erin McDonald, R.D., offers “Power Up Breakfast.”
Week 4: William Kelsey, R.D., features a cultural food theme.
The other Sodexo registered dietitians at UConn Health who are working behind the scenes for National Nutrition month are Erica Burdon, MSRD, Chris Carnright, MSRD and myself.
And who keeps us all organized? That would be Melissa Kelly, MSRD, Sodexo hospital clinical manager, who not only manages the R.D. staff, she also offers her clinical expertise and guidance in all areas of clinical nutrition.
Be sure to check Lifeline for posts featuring the weekly recipe/handout done by our Sodexo registered dietitians.
And next time you see one of us, please say hello. We are here for you!
Chief Administrative Officer Janel Simpson joins UConn Health with a combination of private- and public-sector experience. For the last six years she’s been at the Department of Social Services, a $7.6 billion state agency, most recently in the role of deputy commissioner. She spent the majority of her career before that in the insurance industry, including HSB, the Hartford, and the Phoenix. Janel holds an MBA in finance and strategic initiative from Columbia University, and a BA in mathematics from Clark University. She arrived to UConn Health Aug. 30.
Describe your role at UConn Health?
My role is a little different than the former chief administrative officer. I have responsibilities for administrative services, including the oversight of administrative policy development and implementation, auxiliary operations, child care and wellness centers, parking and transportation, environment of care, and life safety. Responsibilities also include development of decision support function and liaison to the “One UConn” effort.
What brought you here?
The opportunity to work in an environment with amazingly dedicated and talented individuals where the work feels meaningful. This is a great opportunity to utilize my experience in operations, strategy, finance, IT. I enjoy working in environments where no two days are alike and you learn to expect the unexpected. I can honestly say, I have experienced all that in my short tenure thus far.
What about your experience will help you in this role?
The ability to prioritize, keep the “big picture” in mind while addressing the “smaller” items that may deliver large returns in short timeframes. The ability to multitask, crisis management, being able to operate, remain calm and make critical decisions under pressure.
At DSS your clients are individuals with food insecurities, need for cash assistance, medical coverage, fuel assistance, etc. When I started, our timeliness for providing benefits for our clients ranked us in the bottom 5% in the nation, leading to the filing of three federal lawsuits against the department. This placed us under a great deal of scrutiny by those we served, the media, state and federal governments.
The department gained a reputation of not caring or not doing enough, though we had some of the most dedicated and committed individuals who really wanted to make a difference. The agency had a 27-year-old antiquated system supporting an equally antiquated paper process. We had to change our technology, process, culture, and narrative simultaneously.
It was the most challenging time. Regardless, we worked as a team to define and achieve our goals. We restructured the organization, redesigned our processes, implemented a new $350 million eligibility system, and changed our culture. Connecticut is recognized by the federal government as the gold standard for system implementation, top two and top ten nationally for timely processing of SNAP and Medicaid eligibility respectively. With these changes, Connecticut received $6 million in bonus funding from the federal government. The department successfully satisfied all terms and conditions of all three federal lawsuits in less than three years.
What do you see as the most promising and challenging aspects of being CAO at UConn Health?
The promising thing is that whatever challenge we face, we have the team in place to tackle it. You see it exemplified every day.
Like other state agencies, and frankly, many private companies, you must achieve your goals with finite resources and fewer dollars than one’s spending needs. Here at UConn Health we all have the same overarching goal, together we must and will achieve it.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I volunteer my time mentoring middle and high school girls of color.
Whether the need is for a straighter smile or better bite, the Center for Orthodontic Care at UConn Health, located in the 6th floor of the Outpatient Pavilion on the Farmington campus, is ready to offer a customized treatment approach. Dr. Flavio Uribe, interim chair of the UConn School of Dental Medicine Division of Orthodontics, is clinic director.
Why is a healthy smile so important, particularly in children?
Creating beautiful smiles that will have a lasting effect on the well-being of our patients is at the core of what we do as orthodontists.
Smiles are contagious and help to spread positivity and joy. Children’s perception of their smile can influence their self-esteem and psychosocial development. Having a beautiful smile can help patients look and feel better about themselves, which has a significant impact on multiple aspects of their life.
As orthodontists, we are always striving to provide unique and beautiful smiles to our patients, and we believe that every patient deserves to feel the self-confidence that results from orthodontic treatment.
What about the overall health aspects of orthodontic care?
While there are numerous aesthetic and psychosocial benefits associated with a beautiful smile, one of the fundamental principles of our profession is to create an oral environment that fosters proper function and overall dental health.
It is typically recommended that children begin seeing an orthodontist by the age of 7 to evaluate their growth and overall dental development. Starting at this age, there is a potential for intervention which can help prevent worsening of dental problems. This is also the age during which psychosocial development may be the most impacted.
What are some recent advances in care that the Center for Orthodontic Care can offer?
There have been many exciting developments in the field of orthodontics over the past couple of decades which have helped to broaden the scope of treatment we are able to provide as well as aid in providing faster, more efficient treatment. Advances such as 3D imaging, digital scanners, and the mainstream use of clear aligners are some of the ways in which we can treat a range of complex malocclusions (misalignment of the teeth or bite) that once may have been difficult.
The added benefit of innovation in orthodontics has been improving the ease and accessibility of orthodontic care, which continues to reach a broader spectrum of patients from what was once predominantly children and adolescents to more and more adults seeking orthodontic treatment.
We take pride in staying on the cutting edge of technology and research to provide our patients with the highest standard of orthodontic care possible.
How is it determined if a patient is a candidate for braces (or other orthodontic intervention)?
It starts with a screening examination to determine if the patient would benefit from braces. (There is no charge for this initial examination.)
If we determine the patient would benefit, the next step is a records appointment, where we do imaging work, take models of the teeth, conduct a thorough clinical exam, and review medical history.
From there we come up with a diagnosis and a treatment plan. Sometimes this can include surgical orthodontics first before we can proceed with braces. We then discuss the risks and benefits of the proposed treatment with the patient (and parent, when applicable), answer their questions, and if all are in agreement, we move forward.
What should we know about “invisible” braces?
Traditional braces involve metal or ceramic brackets or bands that are glued to the teeth. A wire runs through each one to gradually move the teeth over time, resulting in a corrected bite and/or smile.
An alternative to traditional braces is a clear-aligner treatment, commonly known as Invisalign. This treatment uses transparent orthodontic devices that are removable, although we recommend leaving them in all the time to get the desired results. As the brand name suggests, the aligners are nearly invisible, which makes this approach very popular. It can be a treatment option in many circumstances.
Often when patients come to the UConn John Dempsey Hospital, particularly for surgical procedures, the first and last people they encounter during their stay are the transport aides. UConn Health has 25 transport aides: nine full-time staff, 12 part-time staff, and four students. They are a unit within the Office of Logistics Management that works around the clock, and as such, are considered Level 1 (essential) staff.
Describe the role of transport aides and how they fit into our care delivery mission?
“First and foremost, they’re transporting inpatients,” says Alex Schwarz, who supervises the transport aides. “They’re also moving specimens, they’re getting and moving equipment (such as stretchers or wheelchairs) when it’s needed, they’re rounding, they’re responding to Code Blues, Rapid Response Team calls, in addition to the massive transfusion protocols. Sometimes they’re the first ones to see the patients, and usually they’re the last people the patients talk to before heading home. They can leave a lasting impression of the care we offer here.”
“Even though they’re not treating patients, they play a vital role, in that they get the patients where they need to be for treatment,” says Logistics Management Director Jeff Boyko. “Whether it’s bringing patients down for CT scans or X-rays, or moving specimens and equipment, they focus on getting people and things where they need to go so our doctors and nurses can focus on patient care.”
“People are feeling sick, we’re trying to help them get better, so they can move on,” says Howard Fairley, who, in his third decade in the role, is UConn Health’s most veteran transport aide. “We do whatever we need to do as far as transporting them, and then help the nurse do all that she does, so we can get this patient down to the doctor and it all can run smoothly and safely.”
“Any patient or anything patient-related, we’re here to move,” Schwarz says. “We averaged 169 transports per day in December.”
What are their qualifications?
“Our transport aides are CPR-certified,” Schwarz says. “They go through crisis prevention intervention (CPI) training, which teaches them to recognize the signs of patients or visitors who may go from exhibiting normal behavior to becoming agitated, then agitated escalating to aggressive, then aggressive to violent; it teaches them what to do to keep themselves safe and to try de-escalate the situation.”
“We also look for people with experience in a hospital or clinical setting, transporting patients, transitioning them from different modes of transport. They also have experience with the equipment, such as patient lifts, and they are trained in safe patient handling and two-step identification to verify they’re moving the correct patient.”
“You try to make the patients feel comfortable in a sick situation,” Fairley says. “You try to feel them out first, to see how you can uplift their spirits, to make them feel that this is going to be OK.”
What are the most rewarding/challenging aspects of the job?
“I really enjoy the patients,” Fairley says. “I try to come across friendly and easy to talk to, and I want them to feel that way, to help them feel more at ease about their medical situation.”
“There was this one older gentleman who had heart surgery, and he was just fretting, saying he was going to die. I spoke to him, I said, ‘Life and death is about your tongue. Speak life, and live!’ Four days later, he was so happy, when I saw him he said, ‘Hi, my friend!’ I get joy out of seeing that. It’s all about the patient. That’s pretty much the way we do it.”
“It can be a challenge when the patient doesn’t really want to be here, but that’s understandable. When a patient’s not nice, you’ve got to find your way around that and not take it personally. They’re sick, they’re hurting, they may be angry, they may receive bad news from the doctor. When someone gets a bad report, or doesn’t make it, those are some of the things you deal with. It weighs on a person to see stuff like that.”
What’s an example of when the transport aides are moving something other than patients?
“When someone’s in the O.R. for a surgery or a mother’s giving birth, if the patient starts losing blood, UConn Health has a massive transfusion protocol,” Schwarz says. “Many departments are notified, including ours. Transport’s role is to go get the requisition for the blood, haul up to the blood bank, get that blood, and run back and forth with the blood, which obviously is a pretty critical component.”
How far back does the role of transport aide go, and what has changed?
“Transport goes back to the start of the hospital and used to be a function of what today we call Facilities Management and Operations,” Schwarz says. “It was under Nursing for a while, and in 2013 it came under Logistics Management.”
“The job has remained pretty much the same over the years in terms of responsibilities. But the way that we log the calls and the way that we track performances have changed throughout the years. When transport moved to logistics, they were logging all the calls that came through. We had someone dedicated to answering the phone, taking all the calls and handwriting all of the calls that came through on a log, and then they were going into Excel after the fact and they were transcribing everything that was written into the log. Then we moved toward having an Excel log, in which they directly entered the information. We had all kinds of formulas set up in the spreadsheet, and we gained some efficiency and reporting capabilities. And now we’ve moved to UConn HealthONE, so we don’t even have that person sitting on the phone anymore. That individual is basically an on-shift lead person who’s actually out there helping with the calls, which I think has proven to be beneficial. On average, 97 percent of the calls are completed within 16 minutes of being requested. Before HealthONE the average would fall between 20 to 23 minutes.”
How do we request a transport?
“Basically anything patient-related that needs to be transported within the hospital should be placed into HealthONE,” Schwarz says. “Everyone should have access to place patient and non-patient transport requests. Our transporters sign in to HealthONE, which assigns them to the calls on a rotating basis, subject to availability.”
He most likely has been at UConn Health longer than you have. Dr. Alan Lurie, professor and chair of the UConn School of Dental Medicine Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, recently was recognized for 45 years of service. UConn Health is the only place he’s ever worked full-time. He started as an assistant professor of oral and maxillofacial radiology and has been division chair for the last 28 years. Dr. Lurie lives in West Hartford with his wife, Dr. Susanne Shrader, who’s a UConn School of Medicine alum. They have three adult children and three grandchildren.
How has your role here changed over the years?
I was here for almost 20 years, most of that time spent being a scientist working on radiation cancer induction and interaction with chemicals. I did some teaching and clinic coverage, but I was mainly in the lab. And then in 1990, the person who had been the chair the whole time, Allan Reiskin, left the institution, and they asked me if I would take it over. I had to think about that, because when you do that you can’t be a lab scientist anymore. I accepted that, and I saw a shift in my research over to collaborative clinical and translational research, and then got involved with administration of research programs, of oral biology, of the DMD-Ph.D. program, and before that the residency Ph.D. program, then known as the dentist-scientist award. I shifted gears frequently.
Dr. Alan Lurie
Favorite book: The Lord of the Rings
Favorite author: David Brin
Tie between “My Fair Lady” and “West Side Story”
Favorite actress: Kate Beckinsale
Favorite place to visit:
The Brazilian Pantanal
Person I’d most like to meet: Barack Obama
Something about me that my younger self would never believe:
I like birding, and I have parrots living in the house with me: Prestwick (military macaw) and Ava (African grey parrot).
What would you say are the biggest changes that have taken place in the dental school over 45 years?
When I first came here, there wasn’t a CT (computed tomography) machine in the institution. I don’t believe there was one in the state. There’ve been so many big changes. CT shows up, MR (magnetic resonance) shows up, nuclear medicine shows up, PET (positron emission tomography) scans, molecular imaging, cone beam CT, all of these things didn’t exist, and they’re still showing up. You have to be very nimble to be in radiology because it’s advancing so rapidly, and I think that the advances over the next quarter of a century are just going to be astonishing.
When I arrived here, this dental school was unique in the history of dental schools. It was truly creating a physician stomatologist, scientifically based. The interaction between the medical and dental wings of this institution was very very close, very very intense. We were really in a partnership. It was very small. I arrived here after the first class graduated, and I think there were eight people; and then the next class, the first class I taught, I think there were 12 people, and the medical school was about 24 people. The faculty was small. Everybody knew everybody. It was very intimate, what today would be called evidence-based (back then it was called science-based) medicine and dental medicine. The student body has always been a powerhouse. We’ve always had a very strong faculty. We’ve almost always been on top of technological advances.
Probably we have been best known for our emphasis on the science behind imaging and the safe imaging of patients. We’ve had a lot of research on carcinogenesis and extrapolation out to risk, and what are the safest practices and how do you teach the safe practices. I think that’s had a fairly significant influence on the way radiology is taught and practiced.
When you first started in 1973, if someone told you that you’d be here for 45 years, how would you have reacted?
I can answer that in one word: disbelief.
For the first several years here, I was fully intending to return to my home state of California. However, over time, I really got entrenched in this area, and I became more and more committed to this institution, more and more committed to my personal health care providers, committed to giving my children a stable environment and school system and friends. I just got to like it more and more.
What motivates you to keep coming to work at the same place every day for as long as you have?
Great students, great residents, terrific staff and faculty colleagues, and an interesting job that’s quite variable in its texture. I can control its shifts from clinical activities to teaching to doing collaborative research and overseeing other people doing research and helping them, and participating in national activities. It’s quite variable and that keeps it interesting.
What are your plans moving forward?
I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. I like it too much. I’m having too much fun. There’s something new happening in my field like every week, so I’m just waiting to see the next thing.
What makes the UConn School of Dental Medicine so successful and highly regarded?
It’s a variety of things. I think the smallness is a great strength, because it lets you be very selective in your student and resident selection. It also lets you be selective in your faculty. I think we always had a very strong faculty. We still have many close relationships with people in the medical school and in the hospital, and so there’s a good deal of interactive teaching in patient care and residency training. The science that’s coming out of the dental school is still a leader in the world. We have world-renowned scientists and leaders through the dental school, and I think with the addition of the Biomedical Engineering Department and the sharing between the schools and with Storrs has the potential to become something really tremendous, because that’s playing to our strengths. Interactions in imaging and in medically complex patients and in cancer patients and especially in bone and musculoskeletal, are ongoing major strengths of this place.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I’m a serious classical pianist. I have been all my life. That was my other career choice. I was a guest artist in the Casals Festival in 2015. I run a chamber music trio (we’ve been together over 20 years now) and we play annually on commencement weekend here. Our name is The Noteworthy Ensemble; my wife plays violin and viola, and Gwen Winkel, the music director for the Simsbury school system, plays clarinet and ancient wind instruments. My parents were both professional musicians, so I grew up in a household of classical music, and I’ve been at the keyboard since I was 6.
I love golf. I’m a competent player. I used to be a pretty good player, but it’s hard to be good when you’re 72.
I’ve done quite a bit of birding around the world, in Japan, Europe, South America, the U.S., and in New Zealand (my daughter lives in New Zealand). I’ve led a few birding-based eco tours in Latin America. I love birds. There are a couple of birds that have been living in our home for over a quarter of a century.
I’m a big sports fan. My favorite team is the Patriots, and my second favorite team is – most people won’t know what it is –the All Blacks, the national rugby team of New Zealand, probably the greatest dynasty in the history of team sports. I like all sports, I’ll watch any of it.
The other thing I love is science fiction, movies and books. I’ve been a member of the Science Fiction Book Club since two years after it was founded in 1956. I’ve been a member for 60 consecutive years and I’ve read hundreds if not thousands of science fiction novels and seen an awful lot of science fiction movies. My favorite is Godzilla. I was interested in radiation from the first time I saw Godzilla, and I was only 8 when I saw it. I watched science fiction and horror movies as a kid, and almost all of them were radiation – making things big, making things small, making things blow up – but it was always radiation. And in dental school I found out that there was a real science of radiation. That headed me into being a radiologist.
November has become synonymous with inspiration and celebration at UConn Health, with the annual employee recognition of milestone years of service ceremony and the presentation of the Dr. Peter J. Deckers Employee Appreciation Award.
This year’s winner is Jeff Boyko from the Department of Logistics Management.
The Dr. Deckers award is given to an outstanding employee who consistently demonstrates commitment and passion, strong leadership, exemplary professional skills, and commendable personal attributes, all in support of the UConn Health mission. This year’s four nominees were singled out of over 5,000 employees for displaying all these attributes with style, grace, and fortitude.
The 2018 Dr. Peter J. Deckers Employee Appreciation Award Nominees
The November 19 event also recognized over 650 UConn Health employees achieving milestones of five, 10, 15 or 20 years of service.
“This is a fabulous occasion to feature the distinguishing, everyday contributions our employees make towards the enhancement of our UConn Health mission,” says Carolle Andrews, chief administrative officer and interim vice president of Human Resources.
When a person has dementia – and the decline in independence that comes with it – loved ones often find themselves in the role of care partner.
It’s happening more and more as the population ages and dementia becomes more prevalent, coupled with a trend of people waiting longer to enter assisted living or skilled nursing facilities.
“Care partners, or informal caregivers, have often been called ‘the invisible army’ because they’re vast in number and they go largely unrecognized by the health care system,” says Dr. Karina Berg, a geriatrician in the UConn Center on Aging.
More than 80 percent of the help provided to older adults in the United States comes from unpaid or informal caregivers, primarily family members. Nearly half of these caregivers provide care to someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. In 2017, caregivers of people with dementia provided an estimated 18.4 billion hours of assistance, a contribution to the health care system valued at $232.1 billion.
“Despite their social and economic value, care partners get very little support and very little education,” Berg says. “They’re doing an incredibly hard job and the best strategies are not clear because they don’t have any training.”
To address this, twice a year Berg and colleagues offer a four-week care partner course in partnership with the Connecticut chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. She’s offered it in the spring and fall each of the last two years and plans to continue on this schedule.
For many of the challenges care partners endure, there are real, teachable strategies for caring for parents or spouses with dementia, Berg says. “Things like how to help a person with dementia bathe, how to encourage them to get adequate nutrition, and perhaps most importantly, how to communicate in ways that are productive instead of agitating.”
Care partners also are thrust into having to handle matters such as, when is it no longer safe to live alone, or drive, and how to have those difficult conversations, plus complex legal and financial issues, and understanding community resources and state or federal benefits. They often use their own financial resources and may miss time at work or stop working full time.
And while they’re dealing with their loved one’s health suffering, care partners are prone to their own health suffering. They’re less likely to take care of themselves, which can exacerbate chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. When they don’t feel comfortable leaving their parent or spouse alone, they can become isolated and feel unable to go anywhere – including their own medical appointments. The emotionally taxing nature of being a care partner commonly leads to depression and anxiety. Among caregivers of people with dementia, nearly six in 10 report high or very high levels of emotional stress due to caregiving.
“The health of the caregiver affects the health of the person with dementia,” Berg says. “So even though the caregiver is not my patient, I spend a lot of time providing support and education to them. Because if we can reduce caregiver stress, it’s better for the patient, and that’s my primary responsibility.”
The well-attended semiannual series of care partner workshops is scheduled to return in the spring. In addition to Berg’s presentation on how to better understand Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, presenters include an educator from the Alzheimer’s Association to discuss communication and behavioral challenges, a local elder care attorney to discuss legal and financial issues, and UConn Health social worker Vicky Aldrich to discuss family dynamics, community resources, and keeping the caregiver healthy.
Last night’s mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., may have you thinking about what you would do in a similar situation. UConn Police and law enforcement agencies across the country recommend escaping if you can, hiding if you can’t, and fighting only if you have to. Or to put it more simply: Run, hide, fight.
The UConn Police Department’s Safety Techniques and Awareness Resource Team (S.T.A.R.T.) offers programs that teach employees how to recognize the potential for violence, discuss realistic strategies during an active shooter threat, and help instill a survival mindset.
UConn Police Lieutenant Jason R. Hyland leads the Community Outreach Unit and says, not surprisingly, that following a mass shooting incident the number of requests for their programs increases. The Responding to an Active Theat: A Survival Mindset program is offered as a one or two hour presentation on a first-come, first-served basis. S.T.A.R.T typically presents around 60 of these free programs a year at UConn campuses throughout the state.
“Our educational programs lay a solid foundation to help employees and students increase their sense of safety and gives them a chance to think tactically if they find themselves in an active shooter situation,” explains Hyland.
During their “Responding to an Active Threat” presentation, S.T.A.R.T. officers discuss pre-attack indicators and reporting behaviors of concern, as well as the steps you should take in an active shooter situation.
Run: Have an escape route and plan in mind; leave your belongings behind; and keep your hands visible.
Hide: Hide in an area out of the shooter’s view; block entry to your hiding place and lock the doors; and silence your cell phone.
Fight: As a last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to incapacitate the shooter; act with physical aggression and improvise weapons.
Hyland says their initial presentation can be followed with a second session in which the officers do a tactical walk-through of the employees’ main work area and offer specific instructions on what best route for escape or places to hide.
“We know that a trained person experiences less stress in these situations,” says Hyland. “They can focus on strategies of escape and survival while others may panic and freeze in disbelief. Our program offers an in-depth look at the physiological and psychological effects of a lethal threat situation. We then discuss methods to overcome these natural reactions and increase our survival mindset.” Hyland also recommends visiting the UConn Office of Emergency Management website for additional information and downloadable content.
Even though it’s been more than 20 years since she retired from UConn Health, Irene Engel never stopped working to make it a better place.
Irene has been a fixture at UConn Health since before John Dempsey Hospital opened, first as a nurse at the old McCook Hospital in Hartford, then as a nursing administrator, then in various positions as part of the medical school administration, and then, in “retirement,” working to rejuvenate the UConn Health Auxiliary.
Today, Irene’s life as a retiree in the more traditional sense is underway. Earlier this year she stepped aside as Auxiliary facilitator and helped with the leadership transition, with Debbie Baril and Chris Kaminski now serving as co-facilitators.
The Irene Engel Fund for Professional Advancement in Nursing
In honor of Irene’s dedicated service to UConn Health, both as an employee and in retirement as facilitator of the UConn Health Auxiliary, the UConn Foundation has established the Irene Engel Fund for Professional Advancement in Nursing. This fund is to benefit UConn Health nurses who would like to enhance their professional development through channels such as academic courses and conferences.
The Foundation is accepting checks (payable to The UConn Foundation, please specify it’s for Irene’s fund) at 10 Talcott Notch Road, Suite 100, Farmington, CT 06032. Checks also can be dropped off at the Connucopia Gift Shop.
The next chapter for Irene starts with her spending winters in Florida. But we couldn’t let this snowbird fly without answering a few questions before she left!
How did a young nurse from New Hampshire end up at UConn?
After nursing school (Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, Lebanon, N.H.) I got a job in the ER at Hartford Hospital to be near Harry, who was my fiancé. He worked at Pratt and Whitney in East Hartford. I came to Connecticut in 1955, and lived in the old Hartford Hospital maternity ward. They rented out rooms to the employees. My whopping salary was $232 a month, and I paid $28 to live in the dorm. I was allowed to have a hot plate and an electric skillet, and we had common bathrooms.
I started in 1968 at McCook Hospital, part-time on the surgical floor, weekends only. I went to full-time in 1970 when David (our son) turned 5. I’ve been part of the Auxiliary since 1969 (its founding year). That’s when we started the art collection.
You retired as an associate dean in the UConn School of Medicine in 1996. How did you get there?
At McCook we opened the ICU, started the renal dialysis program, and instituted primary care nursing, where the patient always had the same nurse, and the nurse followed the patient. It was a really big deal at the time. In 1975 the hospital in Farmington was ready and we started all over there. By then I was assistant director of nursing and we set up all the floors in the hospital, the ER, the ICU, the NICU, the OR, and eventually pediatrics, surgery on the 7th floor, and moved the ICU to the 2nd floor.
After Harry died (in 1978) I went back to school and got a degree in business. David and I both graduated in 1983, him from high school and me from Post College in West Hartford. At that time the faculty wanted to move out of the hospital and have a faculty practice, and they needed an administrator. They originally were looking for a physician, but they gave me a chance. That was the start of what would become known as UConn Medical Group (UMG), run out of the Department of Surgery. About six years after that, my work there was done, and I moved into the dean’s office first as an assistant dean then an associate dean. My nickname was “the Czarina of Space.” I was loved by some and hated by others.
By the time I was 60 I had worked myself out of a job. In 1996, I turned 60 on April 29 and retired May 1.
But how “retired” were you really?
About a year later, I got a call from Peter Deckers (then the medical school dean) and Dr. [Steven] Strongwater (hospital director) saying they’d like to talk to me about the Auxiliary, which was struggling. They asked me if I would consider taking on a job as president of the Auxiliary. Instead I agreed to take a different approach, as a facilitator. I wouldn’t do monthly meetings, I’d only do quarterly meetings, I’d keep up the newsletter, and I would try to make us profitable again.
We were profitable, for many years, but unfortunately, the last few years have been very difficult for the Auxiliary. The gift shop moved from the main lobby in the C building to the University Tower, and although the space is beautiful, sales have been down since the move. If things don’t turn around in the next few years, the sad part is, we may have to get rid of the shop, and that would be the end of the Auxiliary, which would be a shame.
If you had to choose a few of the Auxiliary’s accomplishments you’re proudest of, what comes to mind?
The Family Place at Homewood Suites, for NICU parents, that was such a special thing. And gladly, it’s still there, even though it’s not ours anymore. The second thing I would say is the webcam project that we did with the Rotary in the NICU. Those are two things I think we should really be proud of.
The Healy Chair (Fall 2005 UConn Health Magazine, P. 15), that was a big deal. We didn’t do it alone either. The faculty collaborated with us to make that chair happen. We took on a $950,000 pledge, and with the help of the faculty to get the money, we got the $1.5 million. It still pays Audrey Chapman’s salary today.
Over the years we’ve done a lot for research, and for students, with scholarships and travel money for medical, dental and nursing students.
What is it about UConn Health that makes it such a special place to you?
My love for a teaching institution. Not only can you help medical and dental students become educated with patients, but there was a warmth and a love that we all had in those early days. We just bonded together in a way to want to be successful and be proud of what we called the health center.
So many people that I mentored went on to do such great things in the state, in other institutions and in our own institution, so it always made me feel I’ve had a tie. I’ve always been pleased that I’ve had so much to do with medical care in this state: starting up the open-heart surgery at Hartford Hospital, starting up the neonatal intensive care unit as we know it at the Health Center, and now at Children’s, and helping bring paramedics to Connecticut. Those were all big things. And that’s my life, because I felt that I helped educate other nurses, and medical students, and I met so many great people doing my jobs.
What will you miss the most?
The people. That’s easy. The people, the friendships, the loyalty.