Mother of Well-being at HHC? Just Call Her Catie

By Hilary Waldman

The year was 2019 and an epidemic of physician suicides shook the nation’s medical community, hitting home when a member of the Hartford HealthCare community took their own life.

Catie Santarsiero — a nurse practitioner with training in leadership and organizational development and head of HHC’s Provider Leadership Development Institute at the time — was tapped to “create something” to address physician burnout.

She dug into the research and best practices and interviewed scores of providers about what was taking the joy out of practicing medicine. She asked for suggestions to make it better.

With no funding or staff, she solicited interested colleagues to help and was overwhelmed when 70 volunteers answered the call.

They created the Physician and Provider Health & Wellness Initiative, recognized with that year’s Making a Difference Together team award for working across departments and disciplines to turn innovative thinking into measurable change.

The applause had barely faded when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the nation and challenged the healthcare community like never before.

Once again, Santarsiero was called on to help support the psychosocial needs of colleagues caring for the sickest patients imaginable while worrying about their and their family’s health and safety.

The stress could be crushing.

Working with Behavioral Health Network eaders and others, she helped launch the Colleague Support Center, a 24/7 hotline connecting distressed colleagues with the support they needed from counseling to childcare.

To meet the demand, HHC created the Wellbeing Department with an executive-level chief wellness officer and Santarsiero as director.

“It went from a concept, ‘Catie, can you create something?’ and that something became the Well-being Department,” she says, crediting Rocco Orlando, MD, senior vice president and chief academic officer; Gerry Lupacchino, senior vice president for human experience; and John Santopietro, MD, physician-in-chief of the Behavioral Health Network.

But, they will tell you the spark was all her. In May 2023 she was honored with a Nightingale Award in recognition of contributions to well-being here and accomplishments as a nurse.

“For several years, she worked as my partner educating the next generation of leaders of our organization,” Dr. Orlando recalled. “Realizing burnout was a major challenge, Catie immersed herself in an initiative to improve provider well-being.”

A nurse at heart, Santarsiero returned to her roots and is now director of nursing quality and safety in the Central Region It feels good to be back, she admits.

“Catie’s vision helped make the case for the organization’s commitment to well-being and informed the strategy for our wellbeing approach,’’ said Jennifer Ferrand, PsyD, who succeeded Santarsiero as well-being director. “Her impact is felt every day in the way she embodies our values and leadership behaviors and helps embed well-being into our culture.”

Catie Santarsiero