Community Care

Merging Missions to Feed Communities

Anne Rondepierre-Riczu

In 2011, St. Vincent’s Mission Services and Aquarion Water Company began collaborating on the House of Hope Food Drive, an initiative launched to help area food banks and shelters experiencing severe food shortages. 

Each fall, the House of Hope shed, where donations are collected, reappears near the hospital’s front entrance. From mid-September to just before Thanksgiving each year, up to seven tons of food are collected and distributed to such organizations as The Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Healthy Choices for Seniors, Port 5 National Association of Naval Veterans, Spooner House, Sterling House and The Thomas Merton Center. 

Bill Hoey, vice president of mission integration at St. Vincent’s, described the impact the St. Vincent’s-Aquarion partnership has on the community by saying, “As two of the largest employers in Bridgeport, we knew we had the ability to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the needy and vulnerable here in the community. The generosity of employees at both organizations was the impetus behind the initial food drive.” 

In 2020, due to the pandemic, food disparity in Bridgeport was unprecedented. 

“The number of people facing food insecurity became staggering,” Hoey recalled. “They were unable to work, unable to buy food. It’s quite humbling for people to rely on the generosity of others to help feed their families.”

While it’s exciting to see donations come in and tally the total tonnage, what isn’t always visible is the impact these donations have on a day-in-the-life of a recipient.

“More important than the total weight of food donated is the hope and reassurance that gives to people who are feeling panicked about where their next meal is coming from. The human impact that a donation has on our neighbors, our brothers and sister, is immeasurable,” Hoey said. 

Moments - Community 4The 2021 House of Hope Committee gathers for a quick selfie as part of its annual food drive. Photo by Edna Borchetta 

Speech Therapy Helps Transgender Patients

Ken Harrison

Speech therapy offers a way for people to regain their voice using techniques that help address communication disorders stemming from disease, trauma or other conditions; for transgender patients, however, it can help one regain or define their identity. 

Rebecca Burrell (pictured), speech language pathologist with the Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network (HHRN), works closely with transgender patients and knows firsthand how it can truly make a difference. 

“This type of therapy is really gender-affirming for transgender patients,” said Burrell, who treats male-to-female and female-to-male transgender and non-binary patients. “We are not just working to adjust someone’s voice. We are looking at their whole presentation and working to change the way they communicate their gender. The goal is to physically change their voice and speech patterns, which can also have a profound psychological impact as it boosts self-esteem and sense of self.” 

Burrell, site supervisor at HHRN’s outpatient clinic in Norwich, explained how her role is to not only help patients alter their voice, but also adjust mannerisms and outward appearances to match their gender identity. 

Following an initial assessment — in which Burrell establishes individual patient needs, including pitch range and frequency, phonation time, resonance, voice tension and rate of speech — she and patients work through an intensive 12-session treatment plan. Each session begins focused on a central theme, such as intonation, and ends with the patient practicing lessons learned in previous sessions. 

“I always tell patients how critical it is to apply what they learn in therapy to their day-to-day life,” she said. “I love hearing how something like being referred to as ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ can be such an amazing moment for them. These are things most people take for granted, but can make a huge difference for someone trying to establish a gender identity.” 

For many, this type therapy can be an extremely arduous journey that requires a lot of hard work and perseverance, but the rewards can be great, Burrell said. 

“I am proud of how far this program has come and how it has been embraced here at Hartford HealthCare,” she said. “I am also constantly inspired by the resilience I see in the patients I treat. It isn’t like having surgery or hormone treatment. This is hard work that requires daily practice and a complete commitment to the process. Not everyone is able to do this, so when someone does succeed, it’s very rewarding to be a part of the journey.” 

Center Expands Specialty, Primary Care Options in Milford

Robin Stanley

People living in the Milford area have expanded access to specialty and primary care providers after the fall opening of the new Milford HealthCenter. Located right off Route 95 — which offers incredible visibility of the large Hartford HealthCare sign — the HealthCenter houses a wide range of specialists and services, providing significantly more convenient access for HHC and Physicians Alliance of Connecticut (PACT) primary care patients. 

This also expands the presence of St. Vincent’s Medical Center in the Milford/Orange communities, which have been dominated by Milford Hospital, now part of Yale New Haven Health. 

The new Milford HealthCenter offers a variety of specialists and primary care providers.

Photo by Rusty Kimball

Paramedics Recognized for Saving 9-Year-Old Girl

Elissa Bass

The 911 call came in at 8:12 a.m., October 1: A 9-year-old girl in Coventry was having trouble breathing due to an asthma attack; Windham 

Hospital paramedic Ryan Will responded with town firefighters, EMTs and police. 

Will, a Windham paramedic for two years and a full time Manchester firefighter, immediately recognized that the girl was quite ill. He called for backup and Paul Pedchenko, Windham EMS program coordinator, arrived within minutes. 

The girl was barely breathing and showing signs of neurological damage. 

“We were using a nebulizer, gave her multiple doses of epinephrine, steroids and had her on a magnesium infusion,” said Pedchenko, a paramedic at Windham since 2007. “She wasn’t improving.” 

In the 10-minute ambulance ride to hospital, the team called for LIFE STAR to bring the girl to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and, perhaps even more importantly, “we decided to perform a rapid sequence induction (RSI),” Pedchenko said. RSI is for patients in acute respiratory failure due to poor oxygenation or ventilation and involves sedating the patient, introducing paralytics and intubating them so oxygen is brought directly into the lungs. 

Shortly after they arrived at Windham, LIFE STAR landed and the girl was brought up to the helipad.

At Connecticut Children’s, she was successfully treated and discharged the following week, expected to make a full recovery.

Pedchenko and Will got to see their young patient again later in the fall at a Coventry Town Council meeting, where they and members of the Coventry Fire Department were awarded Life Saver Awards for their actions.

“There are not enough words to say thank you for saving my daughter’s life,” said Tricia Kajlik, the girl’s mother. 

“We are forever in everyone’s debt,” her father, Alex, told the first responders. 

Will and Pedchenko are fathers and, while they always do their best for every patient, Pedchenko said, “when it’s a young child, you really identify with the situation and it gives you a little extra motivation.” 

Below: Nine first responders including Windham Hospital Paramedics Ryan Will and Paul Pedchenko were recognized at the Coventry Town Hall for helping to save the life of a young resident, Adriana Kajlik, center, who attended the event with her parents Alex and Tricia Kajlik and brother Mason. First responders honored were, from left to right: Dept. Fire Chief D.J. Figiela, Lt. Alex Bohr, Lt. Ron Hodgkins, EMT Linda Hodgkins, EMT Josh McGill, EMT Kelly Phillips, Police Officer Michelle Krukoff, Windham Hospital Paramedic Ryan Will, and Windham Hospital Paramedic Paul Pedchenko.

Moments - Community 5

Self-Defense Classes Arm Women with Confidence

Susan McDonald

 It was startling to hear about the random attack and abduction of a woman in a supermarket parking lot in her town, but Allison Mahon wasn’t going to live in fear so she asked a Hartford HealthCare colleague to help restore peace of mind for herself and others. 

“It had the whole town on edge, particularly women, because it was random. It made everyone feel vulnerable,” said Mahon, director of marketing operations with HHC, of Marlborough residents. 

She turned to Dominick Violante, Public Safety Training & Education Program manager in her System Support Office in Newington whom she knows from the ALICE training he’s conducted in the Marketing Communications Department. She then worked with community leaders to have him conduct a self-defense class called Women Against Violence Everywhere (WAVE). Violante offered a significant cost discount and the victim covered the cost with funds raised by townsfolk for her recovery. 

“Her donation helped us keep the classes free. She feels strongly that helping prevent this from happening to another woman in town will help her healing journey,” Mahon said. 

The first class filled within one day. After several sessions through the fall, more than 300 women and young girls, who took a special junior class with Violante and his team, were trained to defend themselves. 

The ability to coordinate the classes, Mahon added, speaks to the HHC culture that fosters a desire to help others, and the connections colleagues forge with one another.

“This is a potentially lifesaving moment for women in our town,” said Mahon, who attended all four classes. “The classes were so well-received and the camaraderie of participating in something like this together as members of the community has been remarkably healing for everyone.” 

Feedback from class participants was positive. 

“This class really pushed us to put ourselves in some uncomfortable, yet realistic circumstances and gave us tools to navigate out of them,” said one woman. 

The classes Violante offered in Marlborough might evolve into training for HHC colleagues, many of whom walk to their cars in the dark after their shifts. 

Moments - Community 5Dominick Violante has held several self-defense classes in Marlborough after a random kidnapping left many frightened. Photos by Rusty Kimball