Looking at Us

Looking at Us: Lucius Downey, IT Tech and Children’s Book Author

Lucius Downey in bookstore
Lucius Downey, a UConn IT desktop support manager, created a children’s book character based on his son, Tyler. His first book, Tyler Travels New York City, is available at the UConn Health bookstore and on his website, tylerclub29.com, along with t-shirts, hats, and the Tyler doll on his left. (Photo by Chris DeFrancesco)

Lucius Downey is in his 10th year working for UConn Health’s Department of Information Technology, where he recently accepted a promotion to the position of desktop support manager. He had been a technical analyst for the last six years, and was a contract employee before that. He is also a children’s book author. His first published book, Tyler Travels New York City, is available at retailers, including the UConn Health Bookstore, and via tylerclub29.com and Amazon.

Downey lives in New Britain with his son, Tyler, who turns 12 Sept. 29.

Lucius Downey

Luicius Downey environmental portraitFavorite movie:
“Coming to America”

Favorite actor:
Denzel Washington

Person you’d most like to meet: Tyler Perry

Favorite place to visit:
I would like to visit Hawaii or Alaska.

Something about you today your younger self would never believe:
That I would live outside of New York City

What was it like working in IT during the height of the pandemic?

During the height of the pandemic, it was very busy. The first few weeks were very challenging, but we were able to work through those challenges and resolve many issues. One of the challenges was preparing equipment for our users to work from home.

What would you say is the most misunderstood thing about the work you do?

I think technicians can make the work look easy, so some will assume it is, but we face challenges as well.

What is the most rewarding thing about your work at UConn Health?

My job is to provide desktop and hardware support to our staff. The most rewarding thing is being able to resolve technical issues for our users. I really love helping people.

You’re also a children’s book author. How did that come to be, and when did you start?

I started writing music and poetry at a very young age, but never a book. During the pandemic, I wanted to try something new and challenge myself, so I started writing children’s books. I wanted the books to be of significance to me, so I decided to write the book with my son, Tyler, as the main character.

I took a picture of him when he was three years old, and I handed it off to a friend of mine who’s an illustrator. His name is LaMont Russ. From that picture, we created the character, and from there we created the story. We also have a small cartoon on YouTube. Tyler’s 11 years old now. He’s into sports, he loves pizza, he loves riding bikes, and he loves reading as well. So that was the inspiration behind this entire project. We would like to have not only books for students, but also an app. At some point, we will finish up the app and then we’ll move on to other subjects for school, but right now we’re focusing on reading.

Cover of book "Tyler Travels New York City"

How many have you written/published? What can you tell us about your body of work as an author?

Currently, I have about seven books finished and waiting to be published. Tyler Travels New York City is the first book I’ve published that is part of the TYLERCLUB29 traveling series. Tyler will travel to a different location in every book. He just so happens to go to New York City in the first book because that’s where I was born and raised. In addition to the travel series, I also have other books I’ve written which I plan to publish as well. The next book to be released is Tyler It’s Time. In that particular book, it’s time for something — time for practice, time for school — and that particular series will rhyme.

Learn more about Downey’s creative work at tylerclub29.com.

Looking at Us: Dr. Alan Lurie, 45 Years and Counting

Alan Lurie and his father (1974)
Do you recognize Dr. Alan Lurie without a beard? Pictured here in 1974, Dr. Lurie says his father, Mitchell Lurie (left), was his favorite musician and used to be “pretty widely considered the greatest clarinetist in the world.” Dr. Lurie is an accomplished concert pianist and says a career in classical music was a close second to oral radiology. (Photo provided by Alan Lurie)

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

Alan LurieFavorite book:
The Lord of the Rings

Favorite author:
David Brin

Favorite musical:
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.


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.

Looking at Us: Ellen ‘Bleeds Blue’ Benson, OR Nurse Manager

More than 11,000 surgeries are performed here every year from foot surgery to brain surgery which takes a lot of coordination and planning to make sure patients get the best care possible. A key reason our ORs run smoothly and efficiently is the dedication and tireless work of nurse manager Ellen Benson. She’s worked at UConn Health for the last 28 years. Ellen lives in Harwinton with her husband of 36 years. She has three grown children.


Ellen Benson, screen shot from video by Frank Barton and Ethan GiorgettiEllen Benson

Favorite book:
I was never much of a reader, but I fell in love with Edgar Allan Poe when I was a kid, weird little short stories, they were great for my attention span at the time

Favorite movie:
I love Harry Potter and Indiana Jones movies.

Favorite time of year:
I love the fall. The cool crisp air, the colors, the smells and the comfort foods (like apple crisp and ice cream). Halloween is one of my favorite “holidays.”

Favorite place to visit:
This is a toss- up. I love the beach and I also love to hike in the woods, no particular location. As long as my family is with me, I’m happy anywhere.

Famous person you’d most like to meet:
Colin Powell. I read his autobiography and was amazed at his life story, the places he has traveled, the work he did, the people that he knew. I would also have loved to have met and worked with Florence Nightingale – she is my hero!

Something about you today that your younger self would never believe:
That I would love my job even more today than I did when I first started and that I would be the manager of the OR.

Why did you become a nurse?
I went to a career fair when I was 18 years old and was introduced to the surgical technology profession. I grew up butchering chickens with my grandfather, so I thought – I can do that job! I worked for about a year full time and then realized I could do more, so my husband encouraged me to go to nursing school.

How did you end up being the OR nurse manager?
I worked for nearly 19 years from 3 to 11 p.m. as a staff nurse. That was an extraordinary opportunity because I learned so much. I worked with a small group who really helped each other and it was an awesome environment. Working evenings also gave me the opportunity to be home during the day with my children. It was the perfect work/life balance for us. When my youngest daughter was in high school, my husband said it was time to switch shifts. It just so happened that the assistant nurse manager position opened up. I had never thought about going into management but I thought that it might be a good move for me. I got the position and learned many new skills. When the manager position became available, a few people encouraged me to apply. Much to my surprise, I was hired for the position and have been the manager for almost five years now.

What has been a major milestone in your career?
I earned my bachelor’s degree about a year ago. That was a huge personal achievement! I was highly encouraged to complete my degree by nursing administration and they really supported me through the process. I enjoyed taking classes with the younger students who were fresh out of their associate degree programs. I have worked in the OR my whole life so it was great looking at nursing through their eyes. I ended up being a mentor to quite a few of them and I still stay in touch with them, so that was really a wonderful experience. My husband and children also helped me achieve this milestone, if it weren’t for their support, it would have never happened.

Why do you like working at UConn Health?
It’s just a wonderful place to work. We have this beautiful new hospital and we have great nurses, physicians and support staff to help us fulfill our mission of teaching and caring for the people of the state of Connecticut.

I love coming to work every day. I am proud to be a part of the UConn family.

I really do bleed blue!

Looking at Us: Aretha ‘the Friendly Phlebotomist’ Floyd

If you’ve ever encountered Aretha Floyd, you may have found her so pleasant that you almost could forget she was sticking you with a needle. Aretha is an inpatient phlebotomist who draws blood throughout the University Tower. She’s worked in health care for 23 years, including the last three at UConn Health, where patients and coworkers know her to be friendly, upbeat, and always smiling. Aretha is a mother of five and grandmother of four. She and her husband live in Bristol.

Aretha Floyd, inpatient phlebotomist (Photo by Kristin Wallace)

Aretha Floyd

Favorite book:
Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Favorite time of year:
New Year’s

Favorite place to visit:

Famous person you’d most like to meet:
Aretha Franklin, because I was named after her!

Something about you today that your younger self would never believe:
I will become a nurse. I’m starting school in January and I’m really excited about it!

What is the most challenging or rewarding aspect of your job?

The most challenging and rewarding thing that I can say that I have here is drawing patients’ blood. Everybody’s scared, they’re nervous, and they’re upset, they don’t know what’s going on with them, and some of them just don’t want to be bothered. But when I come in I just come in with enthusiasm, showing them that I care and that I want them to get their results so they can be well. It’s one of my favorite aspects of things that I need to do to help them get along.

What do most people not know about phlebotomists?

Phlebotomists are nervous too! When we’re drawing their blood, the patient is saying, “Oh my gosh, you’re going to stick me with a needle,” but I’m saying, “Oh my God, I’m going to stick you but I hope I get it on the first try.” Being phlebotomist is a hard job. It’s not as easy as people think it is. When you are really drawing someone’s blood, you have to deal with people from all different races, different thoughts, how they think, you have to try to compromise and have sympathy and empathy for everyone, because everyone doesn’t like needles.

You have a reputation as a very positive and pleasant person. What drives that?

I love my family, friends, and coworkers, and most of all I love people! I love giving respect to people. I don’t care where you come from, who you are, I feel like everyone is my family. I think it’s important that we respect one another, always greet, and say something nice. It doesn’t cost that much. Say something nice.

What would you do to make UConn Health better place?

I would love to have a group of volunteers go into each and every patient’s room and sing. I would love that.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I like to sing with my band, I’m in a five-piece band, we’re called Five Straight. I like to rehearse with them and learn new songs so we can show our talent. We’re not on Facebook yet, but if you need to know where we’re playing, you can come to me, I’ll let you know, I’ll text you, I’ll do whatever I need to do to let you know that we’re playing somewhere.

Looking at Us: Alka Sharma, Epic Architect

Alka Sharma receives a PAWS Award from Dr. Scott Allen (left) and Dr. Andy Agwunobi (right) March 29, 2018, in Keller Auditorium. (Kristin Wallace/UConn Health photo)

The cheers were loud when Alka Sharma was presented with a PAWS Award this spring. It’s a testament to the numerous colleagues who understand and appreciate her contributions, particularly to the transition to our new electronic health record, UConn HealthONE. Alka is an application architect in the Information Technology Department who, among other things, was instrumental to the technical dress rehearsal, or TDR—the testing of the functionality of every work station that would use HealthONE to ensure device compatibility. She lives in Southington.

Describe the HealthONE journey and your role in it?

My HealthONE journey has been fun. It has included many highs, a few lows, and more than a couple unexpected twists and turns. I have learned many valuable lessons and insights about myself, my abilities, and most importantly, my true potential.

I have been fortunate enough to work under four different chief information officers. Each of them saw some kind of potential and assigned me challenging and high-profile projects. I remember talking to Bruce Metz, our current CIO, and asking to lead “Technical Dress Rehearsal” (TDR) alongside project manager Dean Moroniti.

Alka Sharma

Favorite movie:
“The Emperor’s Club” with Kevin Kline

Favorite holiday:
Thanksgiving—John and I cook for the entire family and they enjoy each and every dish!

Favorite place to visit:

Famous person you’d most like to meet:
Michelle Obama… and I’d really love to have lunch with Dr. Andy one day.

Something about you today that your younger self would never believe:
I would play a key role in an Epic implementation for a hospital.

Bruce brought a unique perspective to my personal and professional development and his wisdom pushed me to see things about my own leadership capabilities and aptitudes that I had never seen, fully appreciated or understood in myself before.

I report directly to AVP of Strategic Projects Rob Darby, who is clearly interested in helping me grow as an employee. I continue to emulate his energy, expertise, and vision for UConn. Rob has also provided me many opportunities to grow in my role. He empowers me to make decisions in my current role and is open to new ideas. However, my thirst for learning and passion for work makes Rob’s job a bit difficult.

What is your assessment of how we’re doing with HealthONE so far?

Our go-live (April 28) was very successful. Our open ticket rate was below 20 percent after five weeks. I think we are doing great. HealthONE’s success is largely a collaborative effort from all of the HealthONE analysts, who deserve recognition as well.

What was your reaction to being honored with a PAWS award this spring?

I was overwhelmed and humbled by the nomination from [application analyst] Cori Brown. It’s a great feeling to be recognized by your peers. It was a busy month as we were preparing for go-live, yet a lot of people showed up to support my nomination, which made it even more special.

How would you describe the changes you’ve seen at UConn Health since your arrival here?

All the changes that I have witnessed in IT have been very positive, specifically the decision to move to our integrated system, HealthONE. Some folks have left but new people joined, bringing fresh outlook to technology and research, and they have made transformative changes to enhance patient care.

Personally, I love change because it gives one an opportunity to learn, unlearn old things and relearn new things.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I like to watch inspirational videos on YouTube and love ironing to de-stress.

Looking at Us: Peter Canning, EMS Coordinator

If you’ve had any interaction with emergency medical services or the emergency department, chances are you’ve met Peter Canning. Peter is a registered nurse, a paramedic, and the EMS coordinator for UConn John Dempsey Hospital. Last month the Connecticut Department of Public Health presented Peter with the Public Health Commissioner’s Award in recognition of his impact on pre-hospital care, his leadership, and his promotion of the EMS system. Peter joined UConn Health in 2008 and his position is part time. He lives in West Hartford with his wife and three daughters.

What is an EMS coordinator?

I provide EMS education and quality assurance. My job is to see that area ambulance services bring patients to our hospital and provide them with great care, and that as a hospital, we treat EMS as a valued partner.

Peter Canning, Paramedic, R.N., EMS Coordinator at UConn Health.

Peter Canning

Favorite musician:
Bruce Springsteen

Favorite literary work:
Homer’s The Odyssey

Favorite vacation spot:
Misquamicut, Rhode Island

Favorite delicacy:
Ackee and saltfish with breadfruit (My wife is Jamaican.)

Favorite sports team:
Boston Red Sox

What are the most challenging/rewarding aspects of your job?

Care for many of our patients begins when EMS arrives on scene of a 911 call. When someone is having a heart attack or stroke, EMS can diagnose the problem and provide us with advance alerts that speed the life-saving interventions such as cardiac catheterization and thrombectomy that UConn JDH provides. Every month in our EMS newsletter we highlight these cases where our care partnership has made a difference in our patient’s lives.

What’s something a lot of us don’t realize about EMS?

People are often unaware of the high degree of training and the advanced capabilities of paramedics. They are highly trained professionals who can administer more than 30 different emergency medications and perform skills such as endotracheal intubation, surgical airway and needle decompression. They are also skilled in crisis intervention as nearly every day they deal with people in emotional and psychiatric distress.

How has EMS/emergency medicine evolved since the start of your career?

When I began in EMS in 1989, we were known as ambulance drivers who often had to call the hospital for permission to give medicine. Today, we are valued partners who do most all of our work on standing orders.

Additionally, EMS recognizes UConn John Dempsey as a peer to the two large Hartford hospitals when it comes to our ability to treat critical medical patients. That has not always been the case prior to the expansion of our emergency department.

What was your reaction to being honored with the Public Health Commissioner’s Award?

You never do the work with the intention of winning an award, but to be recognized for almost thirty years of work to improve prehospital care in the state was gratifying. I am also a big fan of Commissioner Pino’s commitment to public health so it was special to get the award from him.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I am still a full-time paramedic in Hartford. I have published two nonfiction books and two novels about EMS. I love playing sports with my daughters and swimming competitively in US Masters meets.

Looking at Us: Allan Peterson, Parking Czar

Allan Peterson, director, Parking, Transportation and Event Services (Photo by Kristin Wallace)

Parking has been known to be a polarizing issue on our campus. But most would agree that as the Bioscience Connecticut construction led to the addition of three garages, we’re at a much better place today. The man who oversees parking (and transportation, and event services) is Allan Peterson. Allan’s been at UConn Health for three years now. He lives in Griswold with his wife and the two youngest of their four children.

How has parking and transportation on our campus improved over the last few years?

In terms of parking the key improvement has been increased capacity (spaces) in high-demand areas. This has allowed us to offer additional Area 1 permits which in turn led to more convenient Area 3 spaces becoming available. We were also able to provide evening and weekend enhancements for our students and residents. And although smaller in scale, the repaving and restriping of several surface lots simply makes it easier to get in and out of spaces. We’ve also had some nice improvements in transportation services on campus with our new shuttles, well trained drivers, and the handy mobile app and desktop link which let you know where your shuttle is. CTtransit and CTfastrak have also been great partners by improving access to our campus from throughout the region. They are now carrying more than 4,000 passengers per month to and from our campus.

To what do you attribute that success?

To me it’s really a great story about teamwork. It all started with buying into our leadership’s vision of what Bioscience Connecticut and UConn Health would become. Then the people responsible for planning, safety, and operations worked together to understand the traffic and parking demands so we could create the best possible experience for the whole community. Of course there will always be bumps along the way when you undertake this type of amazing growth, but with everyone’s hard work, patience and perseverance we’re beginning to see some very good outcomes.

Allan Peterson

sports team:
Go Huskies!

Favorite delicacy:
My wife’s grilled fish on top of spinach and mashed potatoes.

Favorite way to unwind:

Favorite vacation:
A few days exploring a national park with family and friends.

Something about you today that your younger self would never believe:
I drive a Prius.

People may not realize, your work is about more than lots and garages. What else does your office handle?

Although parking is a big piece, it’s not everything. Here’s a snapshot of what we handle.

  • 6,500 parking permits for staff, students, residents and contractors
  • Parking for more than 2,000 patients and visitors daily
  • 5,100 campus wide parking spaces
  • Valet parking at the University Tower, Main Building & Outpatient Pavilion
  • Campus shuttles which transport over 40,000 passengers annually
  • Partnering with CTrides and CTtransit to promote regional transportation services
  • Maintenance of the garages and parking equipment
  • Room scheduling for more than 4,000 meetings and events annually
  • Coordination of special event services

What would you say is the most misunderstood thing about parking?

One of the most common questions we hear in the parking world is, ‘Why do we charge for parking’? You will hear this from time to time at many institutions and municipalities across the country, especially during times of major growth. There is a great book (for transportation geeks like me), The High Cost of Free Parking, written by Donald Shoup, Ph.D., professor of urban planning and economics at UCLA. The book examines parking’s impact on society, the economy and the environment, and how a shift in the approach to transportation planning, engineering and operations can lead to many long-term benefits. The gist of the book is that for many decades the real costs of parking—maintaining driveways, sidewalks, lots, garages, and signage—were hidden by free or subsidized parking spaces, which in many cases lead to additional costs driven by declining infrastructures, traffic congestion, pollution, lost time, etc. One of Shoup’s recommendations, which has been widely adopted, was to first understand the planned utilization and demand of parking areas, and then to set pricing based on the distance from the destination, traffic demands, and fair market rates. Among the benefits would be reduced traffic congestion and pollution (by cutting down on ‘cruising for parking’), time savings, and modest revenues that can be reinvested into the community for maintenance, repairs, and other sustainable transportation programs.

What’s left to do in terms of parking on our campus?

Over the coming year we will be installing a new wayfinding sign package and bringing two visitor parking lots back on line. We’ll also continue to assess traffic demand and where it makes sense to initiate programs that improve efficiency and sustainability. Nevertheless, the real key to our long-term success is our staff’s caring, attentive approach, and diligence in making sure that we are providing a clean, welcoming, and safe environment so that everyone’s arrival and departure is as seamless as possible. We have this saying that goes, “Every day we have an opportunity to create an exceptional first and last impression for everyone at UConn Health.” That’s what we’re striving for: everyone, every day!


Looking at Us: Debbie Baril, Friendly Face in the Gift Shop

Debbie Baril, manager of the Connucopia Gift Shop at UConn Health (Photo by Tina Encarnacion)

If you’ve been to the Connucopia Gift Shop, either in its old location in the main lobby, its current location on the University Tower mezzanine, or the kiosk in the Outpatient Pavilion, chances are you’ve exchanged smiles with Debbie Baril. Debbie has been managing the gift shop, which is part of the UConn Health Auxiliary, since 2006. She lives in Winsted with her husband, Marcel, and their two dogs, and has three grown children.

How has the first year been in the new location, on the mezzanine of the University Tower?

The gift shop was in the main lobby of the original hospital building for more than 35 years. The transition to the new building was both bittersweet and exciting. We loved our old location but we’re now in a new, lovely, light-filled space. We are also lucky to have great neighbors, Starbucks!

How would you describe your customers?

We cater to visitors, patients, staff and students alike. I would estimate staff and students make up about 70 percent of our business at this time. We see fewer visitors and patients at the new location, but we’re always thrilled when we can help them find that special gift or at least provide a place they can come, take a break, window shop and regroup. It’s always humbling to receive a thank you note from a customer telling you how much you helped at a difficult time. We have many “regulars” who frequent the shop. We have everything from women who wait for the new apparel to arrive to get the best selection to staff who come in for their daily pack of gum. It’s been a challenging road with the move, but our regulars have remained loyal.

Debbie Baril

Favorite musical:

Favorite musician:
James Taylor (Our annual Fourth of July tradition at Tanglewood!)

Favorite time of year:
Definitely the Christmas season. In our house it begins with caroling on Thanksgiving night and ending with a “new year around-the-world” party on New Year’s Eve at my house with friends and family.

Favorite delicacy:
A recipe for gravlax given to me by a retired Connucopia volunteer. It has now become our annual “tree trimming” dinner.

Favorite vacation spot:
One of my favorite places on earth is Martha’s Vineyard. We vacation there every year and now my children will continue the tradition when they have their own families.

What should people know about the kiosk in the Outpatient Pavilion?

In 2015 we opened a small satellite shop on the first floor of the Outpatient Pavilion. We staff that shop from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the week and are closed at that location on the weekends. We carry a small selection of gifts, accessories, UConn products and edibles.

What is the connection with the UConn Health Auxiliary?

The Connucopia is owned by the UConn Health Auxiliary. All profits from the two Connucopia Gift Shops as well as the UConn Health Auxiliary Thrift Shop benefit the Auxiliary, which supports UConn Health in many ways. The shops are the major source of revenue for the Auxiliary, which also benefits from membership dues, special events and vendor sales. We host vendor sales on campus anywhere from one to as many as six times a week during the holiday months. We’ve recently been lucky enough to host two farm trucks, Harvest Bakery and Truffles Food Truck, thanks to Allan Peterson [director of Parking, Transportation and Event Services].

How do you staff the Gift Shop locations?

It takes six paid employees to staff both Connucopia shops. We have one paid employee on every shift including nights and weekends. We’re fortunate to have the help of two to four volunteers per day. They assist in the main gift shop by waiting on customers, checking in and marking new products, as well as merchandising and restocking.

What’s something about the Gift Shop most folks should know but probably don’t?

Our merchandise updates constantly so our customers see something new at every visit. We’ve worked hard making the Connucopia into a mini department store. We sell everything from the new dress you need because you forgot about an after-work event, flowers, cards and gifts to brighten a patients room to UConn apparel to wear to the game. We stock a full array of sundries and tech accessories. We also carry books of stamps. As the Connucopia is not for profit, there is no sales tax charged!

Looking at Us: Dr. Bradford Whitcomb

Dr. Bradford Whitcomb

Looking at Us: Army Veteran Dr. Bradford Whitcomb, Lieutenant Colonel, Retired, Gynecologic Oncologist at UConn Health, discusses what Veterans Day means to him.

When did you serve and in what branch of the service?
I served in the Army Medical Department for more than 25 years. I deployed in 2008 to Baghdad for three months and I deployed in 2012 and 2013 to Afghanistan for seven months. The first time was as an assistant to a surgical team and an Ob/Gyn. And in the second deployment I was part of a combat research team in Afghanistan and also served as the regional Ob/Gyn consultant.

Why did you want to serve in the Army?
Patriotic reasons, of course, but it was also a conduit for me to attend medical school and college. I was on scholarship through the ROTC and I went to medical school at the  military medical school in Bethesda, Maryland (USUHS).

What did you get out of serving?
It was very humbling to take care of not only people who were injured or sick while I was deployed but also to take care of active duty service members, dependents and retirees and family members of retirees when I was back at home.

What does Veterans Day mean to you?
I think of my dad who served during the Korean War. I also think of the people who were more in harm’s way than I was in those deployed settings, and who are currently there away from their families which is one of the hardest things. I think of the families because it was very difficult on my family for one of us to be away. I think it was actually harder on my spouse than it was on me to take care of the kids and to have many responsibilities at home by herself. I think about those who are gone now and who will continue to go. They enjoy their job, dedicated, but leave behind a family that sometimes is in a very challenging situation.

Do you think veterans receive enough recognition and appreciation?
I think it has been very positive overall since 9/11. I think the population has been very welcoming and very helpful. However, as time has gone on in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Middle East, I think people have become less attuned to it because it is a chronic problem. . I worry that we may not pay as much attention as we did right after 9/11. It’s horrible that something bad had to happen for veterans to get more recognition , but we need to keep these heroes on our minds. We need to remember that people go away for a long time to serve their country and they’re away from their families, which is extremely difficult.