Patient Care

New Award Honors Dr. Richard Simon

The Dr. Richard Simon Excellence in Clinical Neurosciences Award will be given annually to celebrate Dr. Richard Simon’s distinguished career at UConn Health and his pioneering contributions to medicine. The award will be given to a clinician, staff member, or student who exemplifies excellence in any area of the neurosciences at UConn Health. The awardee will be chosen in the Spring by a selection committee lead by Dr. Hilary Onyiuke following a call for nominations.

Dr. Richard Simon portrait
Dr. Richard Simon, UConn Health medical chief of staff (Photo by Janine Gelineau)

Richard Simon was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was a neurologist/psychiatrist. Dr. Simon graduated from Stanford University, class of 1965 and from St. Louis University School of Medicine class of 1970 and a Masters in Mathematics in 1988. He trained in General Surgery and Neurosurgery at the University of Colorado, completing his neurosurgical residency in June 1976.

Dr. Simon has spent his entire postgraduate career at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine where he is now Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery). Formerly, he was Chief of the Division of Neurosurgery and Director of the Department of Neurosurgery at Hartford Hospital and the Program Director for the University of Connecticut/Hartford Hospital Neurosurgical Training Program.

An endowed fund has been established at the UConn Foundation to receive gifts from those who wish to honor Dr. Simon and award excellence in the neurosciences at UConn Health. It was launched by generous gifts from Dr. Simon’s colleagues and former students.

Anyone wishing to contribute may do so at https://uconn.givecorps.com/causes/15343-dr-richard-simon-excellence-in-clinical-neurosciences-award-fund-iho or by contacting Peter Lamothe, Associate VP for Development, Health Sciences at the UConn Foundation, plamothe@foundation.uconn.edu or 860-679-4962

“Our vision is for UConn to be a global center for excellence in neurosurgery in the context of the world class care that is already being provided at UConn Health. Dr. Simon has dedicated over 40 years to UConn Health. I can think of no greater honor for him than the knowledge that this award had been established by his colleagues, friends and former students whose careers he helped to launch.”

—Ketan Bulsara, M.D., MBA
   Chief, Division of Neurosurgery, UConn Health

Spotlight on Services: Orthodontics

Dr. Flavio Uribe
Dr. Flavio Uribe, UConn School of Dental Medicine

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.

Learn more about orthodontic care at UConn Health, or call 860-679-2664 for an appointment.

Spotlight on Services: Transport

UConn Health transport aide Howard Fairley brings a patient to his hospital room. “I love the job. I give it all I got. I was hired on Valentine’s Day and fell in love with the job,” he says. (Photo by Kristin Wallace)

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.”

UConn Health transport aides (from left): Howard Fairley, Anna Kustra, Brian Schramm, Gabriela Buksza, Sean Reynolds, and Gwen Williams
UConn Health transport aides (from left): Howard Fairley, Anna Kustra, Brian Schramm, Gabriela Buksza, Sean Reynolds, and Gwen Williams (Photo by Alex Schwarz)

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.”

UConn Health December 2018 Programs, Events

December 2018 calendarHere is a list of UConn Health programs scheduled for December 2018 and early January 2019. This information will be updated with any additions or other schedule changes.

Living Well With Epilepsy: A Support Group for Young Adults
Saturday, Dec. 1, noon to 1:30 p.m.
, UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, 2nd floor large conference room S2010

The Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut, in partnership with the UConn Health Department of Neurology, offers a support group for young adults who live with epilepsy. This group is open to those aged 18 to 30 who would like to join others to share experience, gain peer support, and learn together about epilepsy and overcoming its challenges to live well. The group generally meets on the first Saturday of the month. Please call 860-346-1924 or email manzelone.efct@sbcglobal.net for more information.

Bladder Cancer Support Group
Saturday, Dec. 1, 2 to 3 p.m.
, UConn Health, Onyiuke Dining Room
Patients, family members and caregivers (not limited to UConn Health patients) are invited to join others whose lives have been touched by bladder cancer. This month, UConn Health’s oncology dietitian joins as a guest speaker. This support group, established in partnership with the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, usually meets on the first Saturday of the month and is the only group of its kind in New England. Call 888-901-BCAN for more information.

Free Hospital Maternity Tours
Saturday, Dec. 1, 2 p.m.
, UConn Health, University Tower lobby
A representative will guide you through labor and delivery, postpartum, and the nursery at the UConn John Dempsey Hospital. Children and grandparents are welcome. Call 800-535-6232 to register or for more information.

Auxiliary Festival of Trees
Tuesday, Dec. 4, through Thursday, Dec. 6
, UConn Health, University Tower, mezzanine
The UConn Health Auxiliary brings back its display of holiday-themed trees donated by UConn health faculty, staff, students, and Auxiliary members. The trees are on display for three days before a drawing is held for each to be taken home. For more information please call 860-679-2963.

Auxiliary Holiday Bazaar and Basket Raffle
Friday, Dec. 7, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
, UConn Health, main building, cafeteria
The UConn Health Auxiliary’s annual winter holiday shopping event includes local crafters and artists offering unique holiday gift ideas, including, home décor and personalized ornaments. At 3 p.m., the winners will be drawn for the popular raffle of gift baskets created and donated by UConn Health employees. For more information please call 860-679-2963.

Free Cosmetology Services for Cancer Survivors
Tuesday, Dec. 11, 1 to 3 p.m.
, UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, 4th floor
“Look Good…Feel Better” is a free program to help improve the self-image and self-esteem of women experiencing appearance-related side effects from cancer treatment. During this hands-on workshop, a trained volunteer certified cosmetologist will teach women how to cope with skin changes and hair loss using cosmetic and skin care products donated by the cosmetic industry. Classes are offered every other month and are not limited to UConn Health patients. Please call 860-679-7820 to register (required).

Breastfeeding Class
Wednesday, Dec. 12, 6 to 8 p.m.
, UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, 3rd floor large conference room S3301
A certified lactation consultant leads a discussion of topics including the benefits of breastfeeding, how to get started, and how the rest of the family can help the breastfeeding mother as well as how to continue breastfeeding and working. Fee is $25 per couple. Call 800-535-6232 to register or for more information.

Free Hospital Maternity Tours
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2 p.m.
, UConn Health, University Tower lobby
A representative will guide you through labor and delivery, postpartum, and the nursery at the UConn John Dempsey Hospital. Children and grandparents are welcome. Call 800-535-6232 to register or for more information.

Infertility Peer Support Group
Thursday, Dec. 20, 7 to 8:30 p.m.
, Center for Advanced Reproductive Services, 2 Batterson Park Road, Farmington.
The Greater Hartford chapter of RESOLVE, a national nonprofit resource for those facing the challenges of infertility, offers support, information and confidential, informal, peer-led discussions on the third Thursday of the month. To learn more or to check for weather-related cancellation, call 860-523-8337.

Free Hospital Maternity Tours
Saturday, Dec. 29, 2 p.m.
, UConn Health, University Tower lobby
A representative will guide you through labor and delivery, postpartum, and the nursery at the UConn John Dempsey Hospital. Children and grandparents are welcome. Call 800-535-6232 to register or for more information.

Free Workshop: “Things to Consider Before Joining a Research Study”
Monday, Dec. 31, 5 p.m.
, UConn Health, Onyiuke Dining Room
The UConn Health Human Subjects Protection Office offers an educational session about the rights and responsibilities of participants in research projects on the last Monday of the month. Registration is required: 860-679-8802 or cagganello@uchc.edu.

Living Well With Epilepsy: A Support Group for Young Adults
Saturday, Jan. 5, noon to 1:30 p.m.
, UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, 2nd floor large conference room S2010
The Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut, in partnership with the UConn Health Department of Neurology, offers a support group for young adults who live with epilepsy. This group is open to those aged 18 to 30 who would like to join others to share experience, gain peer support, and learn together about epilepsy and overcoming its challenges to live well. The group generally meets on the first Saturday of the month. Please call 860-346-1924 or email manzelone.efct@sbcglobal.net for more information.

Bladder Cancer Support Group
Saturday, Jan. 5, 2 to 3 p.m.
, UConn Health, Onyiuke Dining Room
Patients, family members and caregivers (not limited to UConn Health patients) are invited to join others whose lives have been touched by bladder cancer. This support group, established in partnership with the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, usually meets on the first Saturday of the month and is the only group of its kind in New England. Call 888-901-BCAN for more information.

Breastfeeding Class
Wednesday, Jan. 9, 6 to 8 p.m.
, UConn Health, Onyiuke Dining Room
A certified lactation consultant leads a discussion of topics including the benefits of breastfeeding, how to get started, and how the rest of the family can help the breastfeeding mother as well as how to continue breastfeeding and working. Fee is $25 per couple. Call 800-535-6232 to register or for more information.

Childbirth Preparation Class
Wednesday, Jan. 16, 6 to 10 p.m.
, UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, 3rd floor large conference room S3301
This one-day class covers anatomy and physiology of pregnancy and labor, emotions of pregnancy, nutrition, fetal growth and development, comfort measures for labor, working with unexpected events in labor, cesarean delivery, and practice of relaxation and breathing techniques for labor. Class size is limited to eight couples. Remember to bring two pillows and wear comfortable clothing. Light snack is provided. Fee is $100. Call 800-535-6232 or 860-679-7692 to register or for more information.

Living With Heart Disease Meeting
Thursday, Jan 17, 11 a.m. to noon
, UConn Health, University Tower, 2nd floor conference room
Men and women affected by heart disease meet to discuss post-diagnosis topics such as prevention and wellness, social and emotional support, heart-healthy recipes, coping strategies and resources. Significant others and caregivers are also welcome to attend. Please call Sue at 860-679-3633 for more information.

Breast Cancer Support Group
Thursday, Jan. 17, 7 to 8 p.m.
, UConn Health, Onyiuke Dining Room
This is a support group intended for women under the age of 45 who’ve been diagnosed with non-metastatic breast cancer. Women at any point in their cancer survivorship journey are welcome. Meetings are the third Thursday of the month. To register or more information, call 860-679-7820 or email tillinghast@uchc.edu.

Directions to UConn Health are available at health.uconn.edu/locations.

Helping Those Who Help Those With Dementia

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.

Karina Berg, M.D.
Dr. Karina Berg, UConn Center on Aging

“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.”

Serious Senior Man With Adult Daughter At Home
(iStock)

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.

More information about the UConn Center on Aging is available at health.uconn.edu/aging.

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

UConn Health November 2018 Programs, Events

Here is a list of UConn Health programs scheduled for November and early December 2018. This information will be updated with any additions or other schedule changes. (Last updated 11/16)

Living Well With Epilepsy: A Support Group for Young Adults
Saturday, Nov. 3, noon to 1:30 p.m.
, UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, 2nd floor large conference room S2010

The Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut, in partnership with the UConn Health Department of Neurology, offers a support group for young adults who live with epilepsy. This group is open to those aged 18 to 30 who would like to join others to share experience, gain peer support, and learn together about epilepsy and overcoming its challenges to live well. The group generally meets on the first Saturday of the month. Please call 860-346-1924 or email manzelone.efct@sbcglobal.net for more information.

Bladder Cancer Support Group
Saturday, Nov. 3, 2 to 3 p.m.
, UConn Health, Onyiuke Dining Room
Patients, family members and caregivers (not limited to UConn Health patients) are invited to join others whose lives have been touched by bladder cancer. This support group, established in partnership with the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, usually meets on the first Saturday of the month and is the only group of its kind in New England. Call 888-901-BCAN for more information.

Free Hospital Maternity Tours
Saturday, Nov. 3, 2 p.m.
, UConn Health, University Tower lobby
A representative will guide you through labor and delivery, postpartum, and the nursery at the UConn John Dempsey Hospital. Children and grandparents are welcome. Call 800-535-6232 to register or for more information.

Breastfeeding Class
Wednesday, Nov. 14, 6 to 8 p.m.
, UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, 3rd floor large conference room S3301
A certified lactation consultant leads a discussion of topics including the benefits of breastfeeding, how to get started, and how the rest of the family can help the breastfeeding mother as well as how to continue breastfeeding and working. Fee is $25 per couple. Call 800-535-6232 to register or for more information.

Breast Cancer Support Group
Thursday, Nov. 15, 7 to 8 p.m.
, UConn Health, Onyiuke Dining Room
This is a support group intended for women under the age of 45 who’ve been diagnosed with non-metastatic breast cancer. Women at any point in their cancer survivorship journey are welcome. Meetings are the third Thursday of the month. To register or more information, call 860-679-7820 or email tillinghast@uchc.edu.

Infertility Peer Support Group
Thursday, Nov. 15, 7 to 8:30 p.m.
, Center for Advanced Reproductive Services, 2 Batterson Park Road, Farmington.

The Greater Hartford chapter of RESOLVE, a national nonprofit resource for those facing the challenges of infertility, offers support, information and confidential, informal, peer-led discussions on the third Thursday of the month. To learn more or to check for weather-related cancellation, call 860-523-8337.

Free Hospital Maternity Tours
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2 p.m.
, UConn Health, University Tower lobby
A representative will guide you through labor and delivery, postpartum, and the nursery at the UConn John Dempsey Hospital. Children and grandparents are welcome. Call 800-535-6232 to register or for more information.

Free Workshop: “Things to Consider Before Joining a Research Study”
Monday, Nov. 26, 5 p.m.
, UConn Health, Onyiuke Dining Room
The UConn Health Human Subjects Protection Office offers an educational session about the rights and responsibilities of participants in research projects on the last Monday of the month. Registration is required: 860-679-8802 or cagganello@uchc.edu.

Stroke Survivor Group
Wednesday, Nov. 28, noon to 1 p.m.
, UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, 3rd floor
The UConn Health Stroke Center invites stroke survivors, families and caregivers to a monthly group meeting to discuss topics such as prevention, coping methods, support systems, rehabilitation tips, resources, and promoting independence. The Stroke Survivor Group generally meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month. Call 860-679-4846 for more information.

Living Well With Epilepsy: A Support Group for Young Adults
Saturday, Dec. 1, noon to 1:30 p.m.
, UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, 2nd floor large conference room S2010
The Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut, in partnership with the UConn Health Department of Neurology, offers a support group for young adults who live with epilepsy. This group is open to those aged 18 to 30 who would like to join others to share experience, gain peer support, and learn together about epilepsy and overcoming its challenges to live well. The group generally meets on the first Saturday of the month. Please call 860-346-1924 or email manzelone.efct@sbcglobal.net for more information.

Bladder Cancer Support Group
Saturday, Dec. 1, 2 to 3 p.m.
, UConn Health, Onyiuke Dining Room
Patients, family members and caregivers (not limited to UConn Health patients) are invited to join others whose lives have been touched by bladder cancer. This month, UConn Health’s oncology dietitian joins as a guest speaker. This support group, established in partnership with the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, usually meets on the first Saturday of the month and is the only group of its kind in New England. Call 888-901-BCAN for more information.

Free Hospital Maternity Tours
Saturday, Dec. 1, 2 p.m.
, UConn Health, University Tower lobby
A representative will guide you through labor and delivery, postpartum, and the nursery at the UConn John Dempsey Hospital. Children and grandparents are welcome. Call 800-535-6232 to register or for more information.

(Added 11/16)
Auxiliary Festival of Trees
Tuesday, Dec. 4, through Thursday, Dec. 6
, UConn Health, University Tower, mezzanine
The UConn Health Auxiliary brings back its display of holiday-themed trees donated by UConn health faculty, staff, students, and Auxiliary members. The trees are on display for three days before a drawing is held for each to be taken home. For more information please call 860-679-2963.

(Added 11/16)
Auxiliary Holiday Bazaar and Basket Raffle
Friday, Dec. 7, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
, UConn Health, main building, cafeteria
The UConn Health Auxiliary’s annual winter holiday shopping event includes local crafters and artists offering unique holiday gift ideas, including, home décor and personalized ornaments. At 3 p.m., the winners will be drawn for the popular raffle of gift baskets created and donated by UConn Health employees. For more information please call 860-679-2963.

Breastfeeding Class
Wednesday, Dec. 12, 6 to 8 p.m.
, UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, 3rd floor large conference room S3301
A certified lactation consultant leads a discussion of topics including the benefits of breastfeeding, how to get started, and how the rest of the family can help the breastfeeding mother as well as how to continue breastfeeding and working. Fee is $25 per couple. Call 800-535-6232 to register or for more information.

Free Hospital Maternity Tours
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2 p.m.
, UConn Health, University Tower lobby
A representative will guide you through labor and delivery, postpartum, and the nursery at the UConn John Dempsey Hospital. Children and grandparents are welcome. Call 800-535-6232 to register or for more information.

Directions to UConn Health are available at health.uconn.edu/locations.

Spotlight on Services: UConn NeuroSport

Dr. Anthony Alessi on sideline at Rentschler Field
Dr. Anthony Alessi is director of UConn NeuroSport in Downtown Storrs. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Whether an athlete suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or a persistent neurologic condition, he or she can turn to UConn NeuroSport for diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. Located in downtown Storrs and part of UConn Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, NeuroSport enlists multiple specialties to deliver personalized care. Dr. Anthony Alessi, a neurologist who specializes in sports medicine and neuromuscular disease, is the director of UConn NeuroSport.

Dr. Anthony Alessi, UConn NeuroSport

What kinds of conditions do you see at UConn NeuroSport?

Although everyone is focused so much on concussion and head injuries, and rightfully so, we also take care of athletes with other neurologic injuries, like migraine headaches, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis. We’re not limited to high-velocity contact sports. Other athletes – runners, non-contact sports athletes, any of those who they feel have a neurologic problem, whether it be acute or chronic – we’re happy to see, even if it’s just to give them a second opinion. Or people who are getting symptoms, as they’re running they’re starting to develop neurologic symptoms, we’re happy to see them.

Who are your candidates for care?

We see all ages, including high school and younger, from throughout the region, including other states. We have elite athletes who fly in and stay at the hotel out here, at the Nathan Hale Inn, and will stay for several days. We put them through the regime based on what we see and who they’re going to see next in the same day. If we need imaging we get that done quickly – we’re now able to do MRI imaging here. We have everything right here in Storrs, including athletic fields to assess athletes on. It’s exciting because it’s growing pretty fast.

What is UConn NeuroSport’s approach to care?

We are familiar with what medications need to be used that are legal, from the standpoint of performance-enhancing drugs, and we have to modify our treatment based on their performance. Some drugs that we would use typically for, say, migraine or epilepsy, will impair performance. Some will cause patients to gain weight, some to lose weight.

We look at all the neurological aspects of sport. When someone comes here with head injury, we typically look at that, verify the diagnosis, and then try to implement a program of getting them back to their sport, working with athletic trainers. It’s a multidisciplinary approach to getting an athlete back. It’s crucial to all of sports medicine, and neurology is no different. UConn, here in Storrs, is one of the few places where we do that through the Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. We’re a growing of group of subspecialists within neurology who do sports.

Which other specialties are involved?

We work with primary care sports medicine specialists, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, and athletic trainers.

Who refers patients to UConn NeuroSport?

We get most of our referrals from athletic trainers. When you’re an athletic trainer for a team, your job is to get that athlete back as quickly and safely as you can. Those are the people who are closest to the action.

Second to them are primary care physicians, who evaluate their patients and then send them to us when appropriate. Anytime a physician is faced with a patient who they’re not able to get back in a timely fashion, or they keep meeting obstacles with, those are the people we want to see.

We have athletes with neurologic conditions who compete at the highest level of sport. Who would even imagine that someone could be playing at the highest level of their competitive sport with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis? But that is going on.

More information about UConn NeuroSport is available at health.uconn.edu/orthopedics-sports-medicine/specialties/neurosport.

Spotlight on Services: Diabetes Education

UConn Health diabetes educators
From left: UConn Health certified diabetes educators Lori O’Keefe-Fomenko, Rebecca Santiago, Linda York, and Jean Kostak (Photo by Kristin Wallace)

Diabetes educators are an essential part of the care team for people with diabetes. The UConn Health Diabetes Education Program includes nurses and dietitians – some of whom are certified as diabetes educators (CDE) – as well as physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, exercise specialists, social workers, and other health care professionals. All work together to ensure the best care and management of diabetes.

Jean Kostak, diabetes education specialist
Jean Kostak, UConn Health Diabetes Education Program coordinator

Jean Kostak is a diabetes education specialist and the program’s coordinator.

How do CDEs fit into the larger care picture?

CDEs are health professionals who work with providers to support patients’ day-to-day efforts managing their diabetes. We can be registered nurses, registered dietitians like myself, pharmacists, exercise specialists or social workers. We take the time to get to know the patients, help them develop a plan, and give them to the tools to take control of their diabetes. Part of that is, as our name suggests, educating patients about their type of diabetes and how it progresses through their lifetime.

What’s the most common question you get?

“What can I eat?” We probably get that the most. We work with patients to individualize their meal plan to help them meet their blood sugar goals and lose weight if needed. Often times they can still enjoy their favorite foods, in reasonable moderation. If you think about it, it’s really not that different than those don’t have diabetes, because really we all should be careful about what – and how much – we eat.

Rebecca Santiago, diabetes nurse educator
Rebecca Santiago, diabetes nurse educator
Linda York, diabetes nutrition educator
Linda York, diabetes nutrition educator

How do you help with the self-management of diabetes?

Good lifestyle choices go a long way in managing diabetes, and the cases of people who have prediabetes, good lifestyle choices can slow down or even prevent progression to type 2 diabetes. This includes of course exercise. We work with patients to teach them how to fit physical activity and exercise into their daily routine regardless of their restrictions. We educate them about their medication and how to take it correctly. And we can assist with choosing the right blood glucose testing monitor and show them how to use it and interpret the results.


Why is this an effective care model?

Lori O'Keefe-Fomenko, diabetes nurse educator
Lori O’Keefe-Fomenko, diabetes nurse educator

Managing diabetes can be stressful. Adding to that stress is, if not managed properly, diabetes can lead to other complications. When you have someone to work closely with as you face these challenges, you can build confidence in you ability to self-manage you diabetes. And that can help you feel your best. We have an ongoing relationship with our patients. They don’t have to go through it alone, which can make a big difference in not letting their diabetes get in the way of leading a full, healthy life.

What are the qualifications of a certified diabetes educator?

We must prove our knowledge and skill in diabetes self-management education by completing at least 1,000 hours of patient education and pass a challenging certification exam. Patients can be sure that when they’re working with someone with CDE credentials, they’re in good hands.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and this year, National Diabetes Education Week is Nov. 4-10.

Learn more about diabetes care at UConn Health at health.uconn.edu/diabetes.

Keep Calm and Get Your Mammogram

National Mammography Day is October 19 and serves as a reminder to all women that the best defense is early detection. A screening mammogram looks for breast cancer in women with no symptoms. The goal is to catch the disease early, when it may be more treatable. Make sure you get your regular checkups.

Your co-workers throughout the UConn Health community ask you to join them in raising breast cancer awareness by wearing pink on Friday. Shout out to the UConn Health Internal Medicine sites in East and West Hartford for participating in the cancer center’s Community Breast Navigation Program this year! With their help and expertise, the grant funded outreach program was able to educate women on the importance of screening and provide seamless navigation to screening.

Looking at Us: In Compliance With Deb Abromaitis

Healthcare Compliance team
The UConn Health Office of Healthcare and Regulatory Compliance includes (from left) Joanna Mackie, Shannon Kelmelis, Kim Bailot, Deb Abromaitis (interim compliance officer), Michelle Mendocha, Kaitlyn Rewenko, and, not pictured, Rikel Lightner. (Photo by Chris DeFrancesco)

One of the reasons for the UConn John Dempsey Hospital’s high marks in the latest Joint Commission survey is the work of the Office of Healthcare and Regulatory Compliance. Longtime UConn Health nurse and nurse administrator Deb Abromaitis serves as its interim compliance officer, and she credits her staff (and many others) for the successful visit. Today we get to know Deb a little better. She lives in Unionville with her husband, and has two grown sons and two grandchildren.

Deb Abromaitis

Favorite sport:
Figure skating

Favorite holiday:
Christmas. I love giving puzzles to my nieces, nephews and my children to figure out how to solve the puzzle to get a gift.

Favorite place(s) to visit:
Istanbul, Turkey. I also love to vacation in the Outer Banks with friends.

Favorite dining spot:
I love going out to different restaurants for breakfast on the weekend with my husband and friends.

Interest outside of work:
I always love and treasure spending time with my family.

Describe your role here, and how your roles have changed/evolved over the years?

I’ve been the Interim Compliance Officer in the Office of Healthcare and Regulatory Compliance for less than a year. The first time I worked at UConn Health was about 30 years ago, and I have been in many positions over the years, starting as a per diem nurse then a nursing supervisor, manager, and director.

Some of the areas where I have managed include the Nursing Supervisors, Bed Control, Float Pool, Transportation, Emergency Management, Environment of Care, Patient Relations, Volunteers, Spiritual Services, Interpreters, Quality and Regulatory.

When you were first starting as a nurse, if someone told you that you’d be a hospital compliance officer, how would you have reacted?

I would never have believed it! I love people and knew that as long as I was a nurse I would never be anywhere but at the bedside!

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job today?

The most challenging would be having others understand that we are trying to be helpful when we work with areas to meet the needs and regulatory requirements for the patients, the staff and the institution.

The most rewarding is watching patient care improve, staff pride and satisfaction grow, and the institution get recognized for the great work that we do and the care that we provide.

We recently had an unannounced accreditation survey by The Joint Commission. What goes into preparing for and dealing with that, and what made it successful?

In the hospital we say that we are always prepared for a survey. It’s working hard every day to do everything possible to educate and train all staff to meet all regulations to provide the highest level of care to all patients.

What made it successful is the commitment of everyone at UConn Health to remain regulatory compliant and provide the highest level of care to our patients. We hear that it takes a village….and it truly does! There are so many employees who work very hard and are willing to do whatever they can to help have a positive impact on our survey. They are sincerely appreciated!

I don’t want to name individuals as I know I would feel terrible about leaving out the many, many people who were instrumental in this success. I do need to recognize Dr. Agwunobi’s constant support of the readiness process, including his commitment to securing repeated visits from The Joint Commission Resource consultants who helped us prepare for the actual survey. In addition, I do need to highlight:

  • My staff in the Office of Healthcare and Regulatory Compliance, who worked tirelessly for months training and obtaining all documents needed.
  • Senior leadership, who provided a plethora of time and support as well as vision.
  • Chapter leaders, who ensured compliance and readiness with Joint Commission standards.
  • Nursing and all staff who worked tirelessly to prepare their units and the entire hospital to be ready for the survey each day. Those who willingly spoke with Joint Commission surveyors and shared the positive aspects of what we do were terrific!
  • Support staff who assisted day in and day out as ambassadors, scribes, runners, drivers, catering, maintenance, facilities, housekeeping.

Everyone worked together to ensure we showed The Joint Commission the best of UConn John Demspey Hospital. The work of so many wonderful, dedicated staff made the entire survey an incredible success!

And when you’re not working, you’re often volunteering?

I love to volunteer, including being the opening ceremonies and figure skating competitions director and coordinator for the Connecticut Special Olympics for many years, volunteering on the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), fundraising for the American Heart Association, and I’m very proud that I brought and chaired the first Relay for Life in Farmington!

Your family seems to have several connections with UConn basketball.

My husband played basketball at UConn (Jim Abromaitis, 1975-1980). My older son played basketball at Yale (Jason Abromaitis, 2003-2007), and married Ann Strother, who played basketball at UConn. They have two children, a 3-year-old boy and 1-year-old girl. My other son played basketball at Notre Dame (Tim Abromaitis, 2007-2012). I never played basketball, but was a UConn cheerleader.