Medical Center Board Bestows Patient Care Awards on Top Staff

Six Individuals, Four Teams, Spotlighted for Stellar Service

January 28, 2013

This week, during the University of Rochester Medical Center Board’s annual meeting, Board Chair George Hamlin presented the 2012 Excellence Awards to some of the institution’s most exceptional employees. Altogether, six individuals and four teams were spotlighted for their unwavering personal and professional dedication to delivering a patient care experience that demonstrates integrity, compassion, accountability, respect and excellence.

The awards are among the highest honors given to Medical Center employees, as they are the only institution-wide patient-care awards that recognize staff from throughout the Medical Center’s many divisions.

Individual Awards

Clinical assistant professor and dentist Michael Yunker, D.D.S.,  receives this year’s Board Excellence Award in the Dentistry category. A skillful teacher (he’s won two part-time faculty awards, plus the coveted Iranpour Award for Excellence in Clinical Education just last year), Yunker first joined Eastman Dental in 1988 as part-time faculty while he maintained a private practice in general dentistry. But upon selling his practice in 2004, he increased his time at Eastman, enjoying the opportunity to give back to Rochester’s underserved patients and to do for others what his mentors did for him. Colleagues call him the “driving force for excellence” in the General Dentistry program; the residents he mentors and the staff he works alongside daily say he is ever-approachable and wholly committed to helping them improve their knowledge and clinical skills. His work with ethics and care quality are also noteworthy – Yunker serves as co-chair of Eastman Institute for Oral Health’s (EIOH) Ethics Committee, and is an active member of EIOH’s Quality Assurance and Process Improvement Committee, where he’s worked closely with technology staff to develop new web reports that gauge how quality improvement projects are moving the needle to create safer care experiences. Yunker lives in Brighton.

This year’s Board Excellence Award-winning physician is John Bisognano. M.D., Ph.D. As Director of Outpatient Cardiology, he has a unique knack for thriving in a busy academic medical center while still providing patients compassionate care reminiscent of a country doctor. He’s known for his “can do” attitude and steadfast commitment to great service – which still includes house calls every now and then. Clinicians say they’re impressed by the close relationships Bisognano builds with patients; his seemingly unhurried bedside manner, warmth and attention to detail make each feel special. These patients say they especially appreciate Bisognano’s ability to teach; he works hard to bring the complex aspects of heart care to life with down-to-earth explanations and simple lifestyle tips. Educating each patient, Bisognano says, is key to engaging them as partners in their own healing. Besides tending to patients, he also teaches future physicians, conducts research, and works to improve our community’s overall health. An NIH-funded expert in hypertension prevention and treatment, he’s an integral part of the Finger Lakes Health Collaborative, working to reduce high blood pressure and ultimately prevent heart disease and strokes. He lives in Pittsford.

Our next award, for the Business category, went to Rosemarie Kolker of URMC’s Quality Improvement team. As health care reform ushers in an era of unprecedented transparency, publicly reported quality metrics increasingly will determine our hospital’s reputation – and our reimbursement rates. That’s why Kolker, an associate quality officer and 27-year veteran at URMC, has such an important job; she manages Strong Memorial’s Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Quality Data Submission Program, which tracks performance on both clinical core measures and “patient experience” survey results. Coordinating with data abstractors and clinical leaders across the hospital, Kolker ensures that the hospital submits timely, accurate data – thereby avoiding penalties that would shrink URMC’s Medicare payments. Over the past 18 months, the role has taken on new importance, thanks to the advent of CMS’s value-based purchasing program – a reform initiative that incents safer, more effective, more efficiently-run hospitals. The program’s ever-growing list of mandatory reporting requirements must be met or exceeded for withheld federal payments to flow back to hospitals. Partly thanks to Kolker’s oversight, Strong performed so well on the first “grading period” that it will actually earn back $170,000 more than was initially withheld. Kolker lives in Fairport.

Nurse leader Lisa Beckford, R.N., is the recipient of the Nursing category award for her commitment to mentoring tomorrow’s health care professionals. A nurse at Strong since 1991, Beckford has served as Nursing Recruitment’s coordinator for all high school explorer programs in Monroe and Wayne counties over the past two years. By providing students a chance to observe, firsthand, the important role nurses play in a lively medical center, the program offers an enticing first taste of a future career – plus practical guidance on how to get there. The High School Shadow Program, Nurse Internship Program and Nursing Career Awareness are just some of the programs Beckford has been charged with developing, running, or growing. More recently, Beckford worked to establish new “patient safety assistant” positions. A pilot project at the time, the jobs went out to young adults affiliated with the Hillside Work Scholarship Connection and our University’s Teen Health & Success Partnership program. In spring 2011, Beckford personally trained and supervised the first three hires, all teens from the Rochester City School District. The students proved to be such energetic additions to the team, Beckford has since expanded the venture into a more formal program that currently employs a dozen Hillside teens at Strong Memorial. Beckford lives in Greece.

This year’s Excellence Award in the Clinician category goes to social worker Lisa Gordner, LMSW, for her dedication to patients and families. Despite her high-volume case load, Gordner takes the time to listen closely and be an effective advocate. Staff on the units say she’s consistently supportive, always offering a helping hand, listening to nurses’ concerns, and working effectively with leadership to find safe placements for difficult-to-discharge patients. Her nominator, nurse manager Lisa Capurso, cites Gordner’s smart, graceful touch, even in the midst of crisis. Beyond her regular duties, Gordner also runs a support group for 3-2800, our Kessler Burn and Trauma Unit. Her sincere compassion makes her uniquely suited to helping patients face the deep psychological issues that persist after burn and trauma injuries. Gordner lives in Farmington.

The final individual Excellence award – for the Clerical/Administrative category – was presented to Vicky Morris. A 20-year veteran of the Imaging Sciences department, Morris, a manager of clerical operations and data integrity, was honored for leading a massive, year-long departmental project to eliminate outdated x-rays and films that lingered in medical charts. Sparked by the long-planned relocation of Health Information Management, Morris was charged with reducing the volume of imaging files that needed to be moved off-site. By rallying volunteers for months and months of “purging parties” – tiring weekend and evening work – Morris’ team beat their target date by months, clearing out 174 tons of film and recycling 63 tons of paper. What’s more, since the emulsion-based x-ray film was sent out to a secure recycling firm, silver was able to be recovered, netting the Medical Center more than $422,000 in refunds. Morris lives in Ontario.

Team Awards

A Team Excellence Award was presented to our Pharmacy Discharge Team, consisting of pharmacist Carrie Polandick, R.Ph., and technicians Barb Jackson, Tiffany Otto and Stacie Nelson. The team knows healing doesn’t just happen in our hospital, but continues long after patients leave our doors; that’s why it’s absolutely imperative that they’re discharged with the right prescriptions and a clear understanding of how to take them. In fact, national studies estimate that any discrepancies or misunderstandings about medicines when patients head home make it more than twice as likely that they’ll be readmitted in a month or less. In this light, it’s obvious why URMC’s 5-year-old Pharmacy Discharge Team so deserves of this honor; since 2008, the group has ensured that patients get medications delivered right to their bedside by the time they’re ready to head home. This means that, each morning, the team’s dedicated technicians round on units, working closely with clinical staff to secure prescription orders for patients anticipating discharge that day. If financial barriers arise, techs coordinate closely with Social Work to find payment solutions. Once filled, Polandick, the discharge pharmacist, personally delivers medicines to the floors, dispensing counseling bedside with a portable credit card machine in tow. As a result, the rate of patients having their prescriptions filled in-house has more than doubled since the team’s inception; the group dispenses 35,000 prescriptions each year.

A second Team Excellence Award was presented a group of forward-thinking providers known as the Inpatient Multidisciplinary Pediatric Asthma Care Team (IMPACT). The group has revolutionized the way the hospital cares for the roughly 140 children with asthma admitted each year, ensuring that every affected child has an “asthma action plan” to prevent and abort attacks. In less than a year, the team scoured existing literature and took an up-close look at how our hospital managed care for asthmatic kids. After careful planning, they then piloted a new, integrated care pathway that’s entirely evidence-based – and represents a bold shift in asthma management. Of note, the team chose to forgo traditional nebulizers, instead arming patients with metered-dosed inhalers that are more effective and cause fewer complications. The switch has been incredibly effective, reducing the length of hospitalization, cost, and unnecessary readmissions; it’s also kept some kids out of the hospital altogether. Next month, all three general pediatrics units will adopt IMPACT’s approach. Team members include Eric Biondi, M.D., Mike Leonard, M.D., Jan Schriefer, Dr.P.H., M.B.A., Julie Gottfried, R.N., and Irene Dutko-Fioravanti, R.N.

The nursing staff of the Neurology Inpatient Unit, 5-1600, received the third team Excellence Award for their commitment to patient satisfaction and safety. A key to the team’s success has been their relentless focus on improving communication – both among caregivers and with patients and their families. This goes far beyond the routine coordination that takes place between residents, attending physicians, and nurses as they hand-off care during a shift change. It means new hourly “huddles” among nursing staff to review patient status, plus regular rounding by nursing staff to check with patients and their families to ensure that all of their needs are being met. Also at the prodding of the nursing staff, it means attending physicians round at a consistent time each morning, so the families can plan to participate. This team-mindedness is also one big reason the unit sees so little staff turnover. In 2012, the unit exceeded patient satisfaction scores (HCAHPS survey) in every category, consistently beating the hospital and national averages. One of 5-1600’s signature accomplishments has been their focused effort to reduce in-hospital falls with their creative educational “Call, Don’t Fall” campaign (which includes reminder signs over patients’ beds, installing incremental bed alarms, and conducting post-fall debriefings to investigate probable causes and how to prevent future slips). The results have been impressive – the unit reduced its fall rate by 54 percent in 2012 – and other units are now piloting the same strategies. The nursing team is led by nurse manager Shayne Hawkins, R.N.

The fourth and final group Excellence Award was presented to the all-volunteer Strong P.E.T.S. (Pets Engaged in Therapeutic Socialization) team, celebrating their more than 12 years of incredible service. The program dates back to 2000, when Ann Lacey (and her sheltie, nicknamed “Dr. Rickey”) first contacted Friends of Strong, offering to bring Rickey to visit patients. Since then, Lacey’s worked tirelessly with Friends of Strong and Infection Control, breaking down barriers to create appropriate guidelines for animals in the hospital. To volunteer, dogs must display the right temperament, undergo two annual health checkups, be meticulously groomed, and pass extensive behavior training and certification by a pet therapy organization (generous dog owners pay all fees out of pocket). The efforts have been worth it; unit staff report that the animals are powerful stress relievers, with a remarkable ability to settle anxious patients. Uncommunicative children begin socializing and reach out to pet the dogs, and those near the end of their life’s journey draw comfort. Lacey manages the group (now consisting of 15 handlers and 21 dogs) with the help of co-coordinator Kathleen Richards. Each week, they dogs, wearing their trademark red bandanas, visit 14 units, including Pediatrics, Oncology, Orthopaedics, Cardiology, Behavioral Health, Rehabilitation and Palliative Care.

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