Safety Director Goes the Distance for Special Olympics

By Brian Spyros
Kelly Walsh, right, poses with another runner and the torch she carried in the Torch Run leading up to this summer’s World Games in Germany

At age 13, when she was a police explorer in Wethersfield, Kelly Walsh became passionate about helping those with intellectual disabilities through Special Olympics; 30 years later, that passion literally put her on the world stage.

Walsh, director of public safety for the Central Region, traveled to Germany this summer as a torch runner in the Special Olympics World Games.

“It’s a huge honor just to be asked and given that opportunity to promote Special Olympics,” she says.

Walsh is no stranger to the task. As an Avon police officer, she helped coordinate Connecticut’s Law Enforcement Torch Run, raising funds and awareness leading up to the local games. In 2022, she spearheaded efforts to have Central Region public safety officers take part in the run.

Her years of dedication to Special Olympics got her nominated as the only person from Connecticut to take part in the World Games in June.

“You almost can’t comprehend the magnitude of the opportunity. It was such an honor to also be there with the athletes,” Walsh explains of flying to Berlin where she was one of 93 torch runners from around the world. “On my team, I was running with people from Cyprus, Australia, Germany, Canada, Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Arkansas, New Mexico and Oregon. The Law Enforcement Torch Run is a new concept for Germany, so many officers and communities along our route were quite emotional.”

Over four days, Walsh and her team ran 30 miles through 18 different German counties, leading up to the World Games opening ceremony.

“One of the police officers I ran with in Germany wants to organize their own Law Enforcement Torch Run so she’s coming here next June to see what we do, and I offered to go back to Germany at some point to help her implement it there,” says Walsh, who was inducted into the Special Olympics Connecticut Hall of Fame in 2022.

BrainDance Celebrates 20 Years of Smashing Stigma

By Elissa Bass
Students can use various mediums to create entries like this one in the BrainDance Awards competition

Twenty years ago, it was edgy to invite high school students to create projects based around serious mental illness to destigmatize the diseases, and yet that’s exactly what two Institute of Living specialists did.

Clinical psychologist James Seltzer, PhD, and Godfrey Pearlson, MD, director of the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center at the Institute of Living, called the academic and art competition BrainDance. BrainDance Awards encourage students to learn about psychiatric diseases, develop a more tolerant, realistic perspective toward people who have them, and promote interest in careers in mental health care.

The 20th annual BrainDance this year celebrated deeply personal, evocative and moving works of art, research papers and mixed media presentations that took the top prizes.

“BrainDance was created to help us connect to high school students across the state and encourage them to look beyond the stigma of mental illness,” says Nancy Hubbard, IOL vice president of clinical operations. “Each year, we are floored by the depth of the work.”

More than 120 submissions this year covered topics from postpartum depression to anxiety and PTSD to suicide ideation.

“(In the early 2000s), we were bemoaning the fact that there were few efforts to fight the stigma around serious mental illness,” Dr. Pearlson says. “We were asking what we could do, and we thought we should get the word out to people who hadn’t yet formed their first impressions — high school kids. They have open minds and can understand the issues.”

The concept fuels the IOL mission to educate the community to be more understanding and tolerant of mental illness, he adds.

“If even one student finds the courage to either seek treatment for themselves or encourage a friend or family member, then we’ve played a part in improving or saving a life,” he says.

BrainDance submissions can be in any format, including research studies, reviews, essays, videos, paintings, poems or short stories. Students can choose to compete in the art or academic competition, and submissions undergo three rounds of judging.

Awards up to $1,000 are given to the best projects.

After 20 years, the program is expanding to include a Youth Advisory Council that allows teens “to help us think about what treatment might look like,” says Melissa Deasy, LCSW, director of the IOL residential and ancillary services and Family Resource Center. “We have a Patient Family Advisory Council, and realized we really need a council for youth specifically. Youth want to be part of these conversations.”

First of its Kind Addiction Treatment Center to Open

By Tim LeBouthillier
The Ridge Recovery Center is the first addiction treatment program of its kind in the area, offering services in a serene, wooded setting in Windham.

The Ridge Recovery Center buzzed with activity and progress all summer as teams from the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network prepared to open the newest behavioral health facility in the Connecticut northeast corner in November.

Renovations, new construction, painting and preserving existing artwork inside the building has been ongoing and new campus wayfinding and building signage installed. Landscaping was also improved on the property’s 55 acres, a special feature of this first-of-its-kind treatment center in Windham.

“This facility will provide high-quality care and easy access to substance use treatment to include evidenced-based programming from detox, residential care and extended stay to ensure continuous care and recovery services,” says Kristie Scott, vice president of operations at Rushford.

The Ridge will include private rooms, withdrawal management rooms, meeting rooms, a fitness gym donated by Planet Fitness, special suites for those who want to stay longer than insurance provides, around-the-clock registration, and a transportation service to pick up individuals if needed. The site also includes peaceful outdoor spaces and walking trails ideal for activities such as therapy sessions, yoga, expressive arts and leisure activities.

Located at 289 Windham Road, The Ridge Recovery Center will operate under the umbrella of Rushford, which has provided substance use prevention and treatment services for more than 40 years. It is also in close proximity to Natchaug and Backus hospitals, which provide mental health and medical care, something that often goes hand in hand with addiction care.

Leaders Put on Their Dancing Shoes for Parkinson’s Fundraiser

By Susan McDonald
Karen Goyette, executive vice president and chief strategy and transformation officer, above, earned the judge’s top scores to win the competition. Photo by Chris Rakoczy

Leaders from across the system took spins around the dance floor to help Parkinson’s disease patients and others with movement disorders maintain their freedom of motion. Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer Karen Goyette took home the top prize among eight talented HHC performers.

The Stars Dancing for Parkinson’s event supports dancing lessons, exercise classes and other programs for patients of the David & Rhoda Chase Family Movement Disorders Center, part of the Ayer Neuroscience Institute. In addition to Goyette, dancers this year were: Jennifer Doran, senior director, practice strategy and operations with the Digestive Health Institute; Stephanie Alessi-LaRosa, MD, medical director of the Sports Neurology Program; Padmanabahn Premkumar, MD, president of the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group; Vijay Yanamadala, MD, medical director of neurology spine quality and surgical optimization; Catherine Gualtieri, a board member of the Chase Family Movement Disorders Center Patient & Family Advisory Council; Keith Grant, vice president of operations for the Hartford Region; and Wheatley Wentzell, senior vice president of the Heart & Vascular Institute.