When the Stakes are High, Every Second Matters

By Brian Spyros

A routine July day took a sudden turn for two colleagues at The Hospital of Central Connecticut, although, if you ask them about it, they’ll tell you they were just doing their jobs.

Bobby Bryant, a maintenance mechanic with facilities, was removing a broken bed from the Acute Behavioral Unit (ABU). To exit the unit,he had to go through a small vestibule with two opposing doors, which is when a patient tried to escape.

“As soon as I saw him coming, I tried to shut the door to stop him, but he got through,” the 70-year-old says. He was face-to-face with the patient, the bed between them. “He lunged for me. At that point, I put my badge in my pocket so he couldn’t grab it. He then jumped on top of the bed.”

“We are trained in crisis intervention and managing aggressive behavior, so we deal with situations like this pretty often.”

Bryant wanted to make sure the patient couldn’t get through the second secured door,which led into the Emergency Department and, ultimately, an exit.

“I owned two bars in the 1980s in New Britain, so I was used to dealing with tense situations like this. My focus was to make sure he didn’t get out of that room,” Bryant says.

Public safety officer Damian Czubat saw what was going on from a camera at the nurse’s station. Within seconds, he ran into the vestibule to help.

“He flew in there like Batman, went over the bed and was able to get the situation under control,” Bryant says.

Czubat’s instincts and training kicked in.“Thankfully, we are trained in crisis intervention and managing aggressive behavior, so we deal with situations like this pretty often,” he explains.

After a brief struggle, Czubat subdued the patient and, with the help of colleagues who came running to help, get him back into the ABU.

“I’m just glad nobody was hurt,” Bryant says.

Damian Czubat, left, and Bobby Bryant helped thwart a patient escape from the Acute Behavioral Unit at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.

HHC Facilities Earn LGBTQ+ ‘Top Performer’ Status

By Susan McDonald

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation recognized Hartford HealthCare entities for equitable treatment and inclusion of LGBTQ+patients, visitors and colleagues.

The group designated Backus Hospital,The Hospital of Central Connecticut, Windham Hospital, Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, MidState Medical Center, Natchaug Hospital and the Behavioral Health Network as Healthcare Equality Leaders. They are among 496 hospitals nationwide to earn a perfect score for this achievement. St. Vincent’s Medical Center was among 251 hospitals nationwide to earn Top Performer status.

“Patients want to see themselves represented in these spaces to know they will get high-quality, affirming and safe care,” says Derek Fenwick, MD, clinical coordinator of the LGBTQ+ Right Track at the Institute of Living, who helped spearhead the application. “The designation gives a sense of community.”

The application addressed everything from policies to human resources documents and insurance coverage to each facility’s physical environment, such as artwork and signage, Dr. Fenwick adds.

The announcement was part of the 15th anniversary of the foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index (HEI), the nation’s foremost benchmarking survey of healthcare facilities in this area. It highlights work done across HHC to address diversity, equity and inclusion.

HEI evaluates and scores healthcare facilities on detailed criteria under four central pillars:

  • Foundational Policies and Training in LGBTQ+ Patient-Centered Care
  • LGBTQ+ Patient Services and Support
  • Colleague Benefits and Policies
  • Patient and Community Engagement

Remarkable progress reflected in the 2022 HEI included:

  • 93% of participants met the HEI’s training requirements, completing more than 200,000 hours of staff training in LGBTQ+ patient-centered care.
  • 82% of facilities earned Leader or Top Performer.
  • 99% documented they include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in their patient non-discrimination policy.
  • 81% offer transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits to colleagues, up from 75 percent in 2019, the first year it was required to earn Leader status.
Members of the Hartford HealthCare LGBTQ+ Colleague Resource Group attend many public events across the state to share the work being done here.

Ensuring the Joy Stays in Medicine at HHC

By Susan McDonald 

The American Medical Association (AMA) recognized Hartford HealthCare for its dedication to ensuring joy, purpose and meaning for its physicians and care teams.

The Joy in Medicine Recognition Program is based on three levels of organizational achievement in prioritizing and investing in clinician well-being. Hartford HealthCare achieved Bronze level recognition this year, one of 28 organizations recognized nationwide.

“This is a great achievement for Hartford HealthCare and we’re honored to be recognized for our commitment to improving the well-being of our workforce,” says Dr. Jennifer Ferrand, HHC’s director of well-being.

To qualify for Bronze level recognition, Hartford HealthCare had to meet criteria in five of the following six domains:

  1. Commitment.The system formalized a centralized well-being department with dedicated leadership and staff, as well as regional well-being committees.
  2. Assessment.The well-being department conducted an organization-wide burnout assessment.
  3. Efficiency of the practice environment.The team measured time spent on “work outside of work” through audits of the electronic medical record. There are plans to use data to inform improvement efforts.
  4. Leadership.The system appointed a team to monitor and remove unnecessary administrative burdens.
  5. Teamwork.The well-being department made plans to measure teamwork and support implementation of team-based care models.
  6. Support.The department launched a peer support program to help clinicians deal with adverse events.

The Joy in Medicine program represents the AMA’s commitment to advancing the science of clinician burnout and empowering health systems to transform clinical practice so all healthcare workers and patients thrive.

Dr. Ferrand clarifies that, while recognition of Hartford HealthCare’s accomplishments is impressive, much work remains.

We consider the Bronze recognition to be the starting point of our journey, not the end, ”she says. “The Joy in Medicine program gives us a roadmap and benchmarks against which to measure our progress, and connects us to other organizations committed to the hard work of cultural transformation.”

Hartford HealthCare’s commitment to well-being is ongoing, and efforts this year will focus on improving the system of care, supporting the mental health of the workforce, and delivering resources and training to leaders, teams and individuals.

The Joy in Medicine recognition included a nod to the various forms of support being offered to Hartford HealthCare providers.

Ayer Specialist Named to SpineLine’s ‘20 Under 40’

By Robin Stanley

SpineLine, a publication of the North American Spine Association, named Ayer Neuroscience Institute neurosurgeon Vijay Yanamadala, MD, to its annual “20 under 40” list.

A showcase of the National Association of Spine Specialists’ (NASS) brightest young physicians, the group is selected by the SpineLine committee based on accomplishments, community service and philosophy of care.

The system medical director of spine quality,Dr. Yanamadala has published more than 70peer-reviewed publications, 25 book chapters and45 abstracts. He earned a 2017 NASS Resident andFellow Research Award, and, in 2021, performed thefirst awake spine surgery at Hartford HealthCare.He was also the first surgeon in New England toperform an awake spinal fusion.

Find the SpineLine story here:

Vijay Yanamadala, MD

Grant recognized at United Nations

By Kate Carey-Trull
Keith Grant poses with dignitaries after attending the United Nations General Assembly session.

Keith Grant, APRN, vice president of operations at Hartford Hospital, was invited to attend the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Grant met with a number of world leaders and other dignitaries, including the prime minister of Jamaica, who expressed his gratitude for the part that Hartford HealthCare played in helping Jamaicans recover from the pandemic.HHC signed an MOU formalizing this important relationship.

IOL Colleagues Author Pediatric Textbook Chapters

By Tim LeBouthillier

A group of colleagues from the Institute of Living were asked to provide chapters to the most recent edition of the textbook Behavioral Pediatrics I: Introduction, fifth edition.

The providers were contacted by an editor from Nova Science Publishers. Faculty and trainees in the IOL’s Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have developed national and international collaborations over the years with their joint work and presentations, and deemed a good fit to offer their expertise in the field.

The chapters and authors include:

  • Chapter 1. Integrated mental health in primary care offices. Salma Malik, MD; Sheena Joychan,MD; Julie Goslee, MD; Michael DiBianco, MD; and Lara Addesso, MD
  • Chapter 12. Autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Malik; Pragya Kalla, DO; and Ashley Sánchez-Ramos, MD
  • Chapter 17. Major depressive and dysthymic disorders. Khalid Elzamzamy, MD.
  • Chapter 19. Pediatric bipolar disorder. Sadiq Naveed, MD.

Legislature Recognizes Stroke Team

By Kate Carey-Trull

The tireless efforts of members of the Hartford HealthCare stroke team earned them recognition by the state legislature and the 2022 American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Community Conscience Award.

The team includes: Mark Alberts, MD, co-physician-in-chief of the Ayer Neuroscience Institute and chief of neurology at Hartford Hospital; and stroke coordinators Dawn Beland of Hartford Hospital, Kristen Hickey of the Central Region, and Robyn Hernandez of Charlotte Hungerford Hospital. Included in the recognition were members of CT Stroke Advisory Committee.

Together, these providers worked to refine and advance stroke systems of care across the state, culminating in the passage of an act establishing a state-wide stroke registry.

The Hartford HealthCare stroke team, from left to right, are: Karen Topalis; Robyn Hernandez; Kristin Hickey; Dawn Beland; Mark Alberts, MD; and state Rep. John Michael Parker; state Rep. William Petit. At right are Charles Wira, MD, and Karin Nystrom, of Yale New Haven Health System, who collaborate with the stroke team on the CT Stroke Advisory Committee.

Doctor Earns Community Service Award

By Kate Carey-Trull

The Hartford County Medical Association (HCMA) awarded its 2022 Community Service Award to Cunegundo Vergara, MD, director of the Hartford Hospital Community Health and Adult Primary Care Clinic.

The award was given in recognition of his work in the clinic and decades of advocacy fort he disadvantaged. HCMA donated $1,000 in Dr. Vergara’s name to the organization of his choice.

“Your hours of volunteer work and leadership throughout the COVID-19 epidemic and your advocacy of the most vulnerable patients deserves recognition. In addition, you’ve mentored physicians throughout the years and lead by example. We are honored to have you as part of Hartford County,” says Frank Santoro, MD, president-elect of the association.

The work, Dr.Vergara says, would not be possible without the team in place at the clinic.

“The entire staff and providers are all trying to do the right thing for their patients. Moreover, I think we have a self-selected group who are caring individuals and what they do is inherently who they are. I am lucky to work with them on daily basis and to feed off that energy,” Dr. Vergara says. “If there is any credit that I can take, I hope what I do and say resonates with as many of the personnel as possible.”

Cunegundo Vergara, MD

Champ Turns Basket of Odd Ingredients into a Winning Dish

By Danielle Swift

Excitement — not to mention delicious aromas— filled the air during the St. Vincent’s “Chopped” competition in which food and nutrition colleagues contended for one hour to become Chopped Champion.

The participants had to quickly develop a tasty dish with some interesting ingredients and were judged for creativity, originality, presentation and taste. In the basket were: chicken thighs, mango, Brussels sprouts, pineapple Fanta soda, pre-cooked rice and jalapeno potato chips. They had one hour to prepare an entrée to serve four judges.

After taste testing by the judges, Samantha Crossman, who is not a cook, by the way, was dubbed Chopped Champion and her jerk chicken dish was featured in Our Daily Bread Café.

Samantha Crossman earned the status of St. Vincent’s Medical Center Chopped Champion with a savory jerk chicken dish.

Jerk Chicken Stir Fry with Sautéed Vegetables Over Rice Pilaf (Serves four)

1 ¼ cup chicken thighs, cut into pieces
1 cup precooked white rice
½ cup Brussels sprouts, sliced
¼ cup mango chopped
1 cup pineapple Fanta soda
¼ cup jalapeno potato chips
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
Pinch allspice
½ cup carrots, sliced
Olive oil – enough to coat pan twice
¼ cup bell peppers, chopped
1 Tbsp. ketchup
Jamaican spice paste (Samantha makes her own by mixing Grace fish and meat sauce, Grace browning sauce, Maggie chicken seasoning and Goya Adobo all-purpose seasoning; You can also use jerk seasoning)
½ cup onion, chopped
¼ cup corn
Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Combine soy sauce, brown sugar, allspice, salt, pepper and soda in a bowl. Add chicken to marinate for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Boil 4 cups of water in pot and add carrots and Brussel sprouts. Boil until soft and flexible.
  3. Heat half olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and add marinated chicken and bell peppers.
  4. When chicken is almost cooked through, add carrots and Brussels sprouts. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add ketchup, rest of soda, soy sauce and Jamaican spice paste to pan, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Stir fry hot and fast just until sauce thickens.
  6. Add rest of olive oil to another pan and, over medium heat, sauté mango, onion, crushed potato chips and corn until onions start to brown. Add rice and mix together.
  7. Put serving of rice mixture on plate and top with chicken mixture.

It’s the Shimers’ Time to Shine

By Elissa Bass
James and Maria Shimer were both named to the Hartford Business Journal’s annual 40 Under Forty list.

After Maria and James Shimer became the first married couple named simultaneously to Hartford Business Journal’s annual 40 Under Forty list, President and CEO Jeff Flaks dubbed them Hartford HealthCare’s “Power Couple.”

Let the ribbing commence.

“My family likes to poke fun at each other,” says James, 36. “They’ve enjoyed referring to us as Mr. and Mrs. Power Couple at any opportunity.”

Maria, 33, director of Ayer Neuroscience Institute’s specialty programs, and James, vice president for strategy and system integration, met in graduate school at George Washington University, where they were both studying health-care administration. He then completed an administrative fellowship at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, and she earned a fellowship at Hartford Hospital in 2014. After completing their fellowships, James joined Maria in Connecticut. They live in West Hartford with their 2-year-old daughter, Alessa, and Sheltie, Fern.

She oversees program development of the centers treating Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. He helps develop and cascade HHC’s strategic direction, while overseeing strategic planning for the regions, networks, institutes and service lines.

And yes, they talk about work at home.

“All the time,” Maria says.“We have such a unique advantage, being in the same field, in the same system, and we both love what we do. We help each other be better.”

“It’s great to be able to spot check each other,” James adds.“If I need a second opinion on something, it’s great to have someone who knows the industry and the complexities of our organization.”

It also makes going to work events fun. “We don’t have to bother with introductions. We already know the same people,” they say.

Both look forward to growing in their careers and becoming more involved in HHC’s expanding administrative fellowship program, since their experiences had such a deep impact on their professional journeys.

“We both are where we are today because of our mentors,” Maria notes “Now, we give back. We both serve as preceptors, and will continue to support the program that provided a foundation to our careers.”

They were honored to be named, out of 130 nominations, to the list of statewide movers and shakers, but “doing it as a couple has made it really special,” James admits. “We’ve been on this journey together, so this is equally a celebration of our individual achievements, as well as what we have accomplished together.”

“We have a running joke,” Maria says. “I told him that I was probably the spot ahead of him at 38th and he was probably 39th.”