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Upstate presents Presidential Employee Recognition Awards

Dozens of employees, representing numerous hospital and campus departments, have been honored with Presidential Employee Recognition awards. The honors were presented Aug. 23 during a reception designed to resemble a Hollywood awards show, complete with red carpet, statuettes and hosts in black tie.

Winners of the Presidential Employee Awards for 2023 are:

Campus Employee of the Year: Nicole Morgante, Student Affairs

Nicole Morgante works behind the scenes on a wide range of critical projects that keep Upstate working for students, such as Financial Aid, Medical School Performance Evaluation letters and the online system Banner, among others. Recently, Morgante served as interim registrar and assistant dean of Financial Aid and Student Systems. She is known to be meticulous, organized, and excellent at communicating—and ensuring that students come first.

Campus Team of the Year: Student Success Team

One of the most recent significant undertakings of the Student Success Team is the creation of a food pantry for students, which was in response to food insecurity among students. The team worked in concert with Upstate Student Government Association, the Food Bank of Central New York and the Upstate Foundation to open the pantry, which allows students to focus on their studies rather than having to think about where their next meal was coming from. Supported by the Foundation’s Upstate Fights Student Hunger Fund, the pantry is named in honor of Alex Paley, College of Medicine class of 2019.

Campus Leader of the Year: Patty Brecht, Human Resources

Patty Brecht is one of Upstate’s most dedicated leaders when it comes to supporting and advocating for Upstate. In her nearly 30 years with Upstate, Brecht has experienced all the functions in Human Resources. She’s currently applying her expertise to support the renewed build of Human Resources. This year, Brecht led the department’s move to an off-campus location—handling the logistics, space design and communications—while ensuring the continuity of Human Resources functions. Brecht served as interim Human Resources leader during the pandemic and oversaw data gathering and reporting, employee health protocols, implementation of the vaccine mandate and staffing solutions, such as telecommuting. She was largely responsible for securing $25 million in wage improvements from the state for nurses, and $12 million in healthcare worker bonuses.

Clinical Employee of the Year: Kaelyn Bersani

Kaelyn Bersani is a critical care nurse in the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit. She is lauded by her colleagues for her unwavering care for patients, her compassion, her energy, and her mentorship to new nurses. She’s been known to send a “good luck” text to each graduate nurse on the day of their nursing boards, bring in surprise snacks, and supply Buffalo Bills shirts for nurses working during those Sunday games.

Clinical Leader of the Year: Josh Onyan, Comprehensive Stroke Center

Josh Onyan has been instrumental in the advancement and evolution of the Upstate Comprehensive Stroke Center, the premier center for the treatment of stroke in the region. He has been instrumental in many endeavors, such as the expansion of Upstate’s telestroke service, the development of a pre-hospital EMS notification and the direct door-to-CT process, as well as ensuring continued excellence in care as noted by annual awards from the American Heart Association.

Clinical Team of the Year: Nursing 6H

The Medical ICU, or MICU, serves a patient population with a wide variety of medical conditions, often at the end of life. These circumstances require flexibility, adaptability, excellent communication and professionalism. The unit, led by nurse manager Seema Dejoy and assistant manager Sarah Hafler, was at the front line during the pandemic; it was the first to take on the sickest patients with respiratory failure. Not only does it care for patients in the most difficult of times, the team is also responsible for guiding patients and families through the transition at the end of life.

Non-Clinical Employee of the Year: Patricia Mondore, Pediatrics

Patricia Mondore has been the administrator of the Upstate Pediatrics Residency Program for more than 30 years. She is an empathetic support person to pediatric residents, many of whom come from across the U.S. and other countries. Mondore also coordinates Upstate’s international observer program and serves as the founding editor of the monthly Pediatrics newsletter, the Pediatric Crier, now in its 26th year which builds camaraderie within the program.

 Non-Clinical Leader of the Year: Lisa Cardella, Psychiatry Adult Clinic

Lisa Cardella is the business manager of the Psychiatry Adult Clinic and oversees the clinic, the Pediatric and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic, the Intensive Outpatient Program and the Behavioral Health Service. She supervises a team of RNs, MOAs, psychiatric nurse practitioners, psychologists and social workers, and makes sure the clinic meets the standards of the New York State Office of Mental Health. Cardella is an exceptional administrator who strives to grow the business while supporting people’s careers across of wide range of roles, and their well-being and success.

Non-Clinical Team of the Year: CDI & Coding Team

Upstate’s Clinical Documentation Improvement Team & the Coding Team have been working closely on major initiatives and improvements for the Upstate hospitals. Accurate documentation and coding is what determine reimbursement, case-mix index, and expected performance—all of which affect the hospital’s reported quality and, ultimately, financial well-being. The CDI Team comprises Upstate registered nurses and physicians with various clinical backgrounds, working collaboratively with the Inpatient Coding Team, which is responsible for medical record review. With the work of the CDI & Coding Team and the Quality Team Upstate is positioned to improve additional metrics, that will be reflected favorably in the hospital’s public ratings, such as CMS, Vizient, Leapfrog, and U.S. News & World Report.

Outstanding Clinical Contribution of the Year: Peter Rosher, Pharmacy

Peter Rosher is a pharmacist and a chair of the Endocrine Safety Committee. In the hospital, intravenous insulin is the recommended method of diabetes management in critically ill patients. However, the methods for administering insulin are complex and are usually limited to ICUs. To provide a new, safe option for glycemic control—and to save time that can be directed to additional patient care—Rosher oversaw the procurement, preparation, and rollout of an innovative program called Glucommander. This software for insulin dosing keeps patients’ blood glucose levels stabilized in a target range. For the past two years, Rosher has spent hundreds of hours working with vendors, administrators, the Epic development team, and training for nurses to ensure this new technology is safe, effective and tailored to Upstate’s needs. The first phase of the project has resulted in a marked decrease in hypoglycemic events. In all, he has worked with 20 areas, forming a multidisciplinary team to assess and successfully implement this innovative program.

Outstanding Team Contribution of the Year: Connect Care

Connect Care is a new clinic multidisciplinary initiative, aimed at finding innovative ways to conserve beds for the sickest patients and streamline care for others, without unnecessary admissions. To effectively and safely transition patients from the inpatient setting to an appropriate outpatient setting or to home, the team fulfills such patient needs as temporary primary care, special workups, testing, patient education, and timely follow-up care. Additionally, Connect Care invites collaborating departments to its staff meetings and offers a simple phone line for connecting with the clinic to make the process efficient and streamlined for the end user. The clinic is also represented in many collaborations including the Capacity and Throughput Committee, the Monkeypox response team, and the 4-Kare employee wellness program. Located in the Upstate Nappi Wellness Institute, the clinic team has a new home base for their vital work, and to ensure patients have alternate treatment locations for non-emergency healthcare needs.

Outstanding Non-Clinical Contribution of the Year: Scott Bloss

Scott Bloss has been responsible for overseeing the design and construction of the Nappi Wellness Institute. He assumed the leadership role for the in-house construction crew, as well as worked with additional external professionals for this new facility. As a skilled architect, Bloss has been instrumental in reviewing and overseeing other projects such as the hyperbaric chamber and the emergency room canopy. His attention to detail, ability to multi-task, and willingness to share technical expertise have been invaluable in ensuring that complex projects are completed with the least interruption as possible.

Outstanding Leader Contribution of the Year: MaryGrace VanNortwick.

MaryGrace VanNortwick serves as chief of staff for the Norton College of Medicine Dean’s Office. With a major focus on space planning, finance and budgeting, she is one of Upstate’s most effective behind-the-scenes leaders, working on multiple projects with multiple teams to move the organization forward. VanNortwick represents the Dean’s Office and College of Medicine to the hospital, the practice plans and clinical chairs in many venues. She is passionate about her role and is willing to help with almost anything, drawing on years of institutional knowledge. In addition to her work ethic, she routinely makes sure her co-workers are recognized for their contributions.

Provider of the Year: Christopher Tanski, MD.

Christopher Tanski started and grew Upstate’s Extra Corporeal Life Support program, also known as ECMO. Several years ago, he recognized the need for advanced life support, and developed the business plan, infrastructure and training to provide much-needed life-support to patients in extreme respiratory or cardiac failure. His team cites his energy and passion for his work, particularly noting that his tireless efforts resulted in the ECLS program being accredited through the DNV—the second hospital in the United States to receive this distinction. As the medical director of the Transfer Center, he is focused on improving processes to enhance relationships with other healthcare organizations. He works with Nursing to support the transfer of patients who need Upstate’s specialized care.

Provider Leader of the Year: Stephen Knohl, MD.

Support for Dr. Stephen Knohl’s award nomination has come from from near and far. From Upstate, Yale, the Mayo Clinic, the National Cancer Institute, Crouse, and the VA, students and colleagues have come forward to support his nomination. Repeatedly, these colleagues mentioned his ability to mentor them, and support them, and cited the life-changing differences he made in their lives. In addition to overseeing the Internal Medicine Residency Program, he took on additional duties as interim chair for the Department of Medicine. The Internal Medicine residency program has grown exponentially under his leadership. The total number of house staff has doubled since he inherited the program. This increase in the pool also contributes to improved patient care at Upstate, Crouse and the VA, as well as faculty satisfaction.

Community Service Team of the Year:  Tamara Roberts, RN and Kara Judd, RN, Burn Unit

Tamara Roberts, RN, and Kara Judd, RN, have been called the dynamic duo; they are always on the go to promote fire safety and burn prevention. Roberts, a former 6E burn nurse who is now Burn Program manager, runs the Phoenix Society burn survivor group. Judd is a QI Fire & Burn Outreach educator. As a Juvenile Fire Setter Intervention Specialist, she developed a program for the autism community aimed at reducing fire-setting habits, especially for individuals who may not fully comprehend the consequences. She also serves as a firefighter and EMT in Cazenovia. Roberts and Judd also provide burn safety information for older adults via Meals on Wheels. Another program they support, in collaboration with the Syracuse Fire Department, East Syracuse Fire, Upstate Poison Control, and Safe Kids with Golisano Children’s Hospital, is called Install a Device, save a Life, which recently won a national American Burn Association award.

Individual Community Service of the Year: Zanette Howe

As a longtime Upstate employee, Zanette Howe has gone above and beyond to cultivate the Upstate, and to bring these values to people and community organizations of Central New York. In addition to being the face of Upstate’s Community Giving Campaign for 20 years, Howe embodies the spirit of service with her leadership of Team Upstate. Dozens of community agencies have benefited from Upstate’s support.  Howe started Upstate Emerging Leaders United to cultivate the next generation of volunteerism and philanthropy. She recognizes that such work helps with retention, recruitment, and—most importantly—it’s the right thing to do.

Caption: The nurses from the Medical ICU were honored with the Clinical Team of the Year award.