Find Out What’s Happening… News Briefs from Around VNSNY!

Welcome to the latest edition of “News Briefs from Around VNSNY”— featuring quick updates on recent news and virtual events across the organization.

If you have a news brief you’d like to be considered for an upcoming edition, please click here to submit your idea.

VNSNY Launches Oncology Hospice Program

As part of its ongoing effort to provide our hospice patients with the best possible quality of life, VNSNY Hospice has launched a specialized support program for complex cancer patients and their loved ones. The program, which was piloted with a major New York City academic medical center, builds on VNSNY Hospice’s experience implementing similar programs for patients with congestive heart failure and COPD. Because people with terminal cancer and their families deal with high levels of fear, stress and complex needs, the program’s aim is to provide these patients and families with an extra layer of support. To help in the often-difficult adjustment from curative treatments to palliative care, the oncology Hospice program develops a customized, holistic plan of care for each patient in coordination with the oncologists who were treating the patient before they entered hospice. Following the pilot, VNSNY Hospice has now expanded its oncology hospice program to all five boroughs. “The program’s goals include reducing the rate of hospitalizations for these patients and achieving an associated rise in hospice lengths of stay,” says Dana Tarcatu, MD, Regional Medical Director for VNSNY Hospice and one of the program’s clinical leads. “We also hope it will lead to an increase in hospice access for oncology patients from our community partners. But ultimately, this is really about improving each cancer patient’s experience at the end of life.”

Andria Castellanos Honored by Crain’s

Congratulations to Andria Castellanos, Executive Vice President and Chief of Provider Services, who has been named by Crain’s New York Business as a Crain’s Notable in Healthcare 2021. “I’m truly honored to be selected as one of Crain’s Notables,” says Andria. “It has been an honor and a real privilege to work alongside my 13,000 VNSNY colleagues, and I truly share this honor with them. The last 18 months have been an incredible journey which we have all traveled together. The dedication, bravery and heroism of our staff is a testament to the amazing work that the VNSNY family does every day.”

Kudos to Ann Mary Ferrie!

Congratulations also to Ann Mary Ferrie, Director of Public Policy & Strategy for VNSNY’s Department of Government Affairs, for being chosen as one of 12 Emerging Industry Leaders by Managed Healthcare Executive magazine! Ann Mary was nominated by Meg Murray, CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, and winners were chosen by the magazine’s editorial team and editorial advisory board. Ann Mary and the other winners will be featured in the magazine’s October issue.

Research Center News: Awards, a Prestigious Journal Article, and Federally Funded Grants

And congrats to Dr. Kathy Bowles, Vice President and Director of VNSNY’s Center for Home Care Policy & Research, who was recently named by the Gerontological Society of America—the country’s largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to the field of aging—as one of three University of Pennsylvania nursing professors with awards for outstanding research, distinguished leadership in teaching and service, and for fostering new ideas in gerontological science. Dr. Bowles will receive the Doris Schwartz Gerontological Nursing Research Award in November in Phoenix.

The Research Center has also just had an important paper accepted for publication by Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. The study, led by new Research Scientist Dr. Julia Burgdorf and co-authored by Kathy, provides critical evidence of the importance of home healthcare for patients with cognitive impairment—which might be threatened by recent Medicare payment changes. In addition, a second Research Center article is slated for publication in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

Last, but certainly not least, we’re excited to report two multimillion-dollar grants awarded to teams in the Research Center! One of the grants, led by Dr. Bowles, was awarded by the NIH’s National Institute of Nursing Research to the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. This study will implement evidence on timely nursing and outpatient care for sepsis survivors across the nation. The VNSNY Research Center will lead the data analytics and partner with NYU Langone on the implementation. The second grant, led by Dr. Miriam Ryvicker, was also awarded to the Research Center by the National Institute of Nursing Research. The study will follow 300 VNSNY patients who have undergone gender-affirming surgery to understand their long-term healthcare needs, quality of life, physical and emotional well-being, and their relationships with healthcare providers.

Mask (and Then Some!) Giveaway in Sunset Park

VNSNY CHOICE co-hosted a fun event with Excelsior Integrated Medical Group for Brooklyn’s Chinese American community on Wednesday, June 9th. More than 500 people attended the event, where they received free masks, reusable CHOICE tote bags, hand sanitizers and sculptured balloons, along with health education materials and information about VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans. “It was a great way for us to partner with our community physicians and local elected officials in order to give back to the community,” says Teresa Lin, Director of Cultural Market Development Initiatives. Teresa gives special thanks to VNSNY’s President and CEO Dan Savitt for joining the event, and to Carrie Ng, Christine Chan, Christy Chan, Cindy Zanca, Diane DeFerrari, Igor Kebadze, Lisa Kvilesz, Orlando Tsang, and Tania Sochurek “for making the event a great success!” Click below to watch a video recap of the event.

In Case You Missed Our Spectacular Drag Pageant of Superheroes…

You can catch it on video! Click here for all the fun, the pageantry, the competitions, and the myriad talents of VNSNY’s LGBTQ Heroes of 2020.




City & State New York Honors Arthur Fitting & Shannon Whittington

Every year, City & State New York recognizes the region’s top 100 LGBTQ leaders and allies in their Pride Power 100 listing. Congratulations to Arthur Fitting, LGBTQ+ Program Director, and Shannon Whittington, Gender Affirmation Program Director, for making the list this year. “I am honored to share this award with my amazing colleague, Arthur,” says Shannon. “It is a true honor to be included in the Power 100 list. I am very fortunate to work for an organization like VNSNY, which gives such tremendous support for our LGBTQ+ efforts!”

Jim Rolla Speaks at “Better Care, Better Jobs Act” Rally

On July 13th, VNSNY Partners in Care Senior Vice President Jim Rolla addressed a huge gathering of home-care workers at a rally in support of the Better Care, Better Jobs Act, a $400 billion investment in Medicaid Home & Community Based Services. One goal of the proposed legislation is to improve wages for home health aides and other care workers. “The Better Care, Better Jobs Act in Congress will give New York a lot of money for home- and community-based care, and will also make sure it gets spent on raising the wages of the workers who are taking care of our elderly and disabled brothers and sisters in their homes and communities,” said Jim, who was the only home-care organization leader invited to speak at the rally. “We’re glad to be aligned with the 1199 union and supporting them in this important effort,” he added. “VNSNY and Partners in Care are with you for the long run, making sure our friends in Washington know how important the Better Care, Better Jobs Act is to home-care workers and to the people we care for every day.” Click here for more details about the rally.

Make Your Own Voice Heard: Help Support the Better Care, Better Jobs Act

On a related note to the preceding item, Dan Lowenstein, VNSNY’s VP of Government Affairs, recently called on all VNSNY employees to contact New York State’s U.S. Senators and request their support for the Better Care Better Jobs Act, which (among other things) would fund wage increases for VNSNY’s essential home-care workers. As Dan noted, we really need your help getting this bill passed. Thanks to the more than 600 VNSNY employees who contacted the two Senators more than 1,470 times! If you haven’t done so yet, you can access the campaign by looking for Dan’s original email, or by going to Government Affairs’ SharePoint site and clicking the Action Center tile.

Culture Days Kick Off at VNSNY

Our first-ever Culture Day took place on Wednesday, July 21st, and was an extremely successful session all around. Starting with breakfast and ending on some very productive breakout sessions during a working lunch, some 75 senior leaders gathered at 220 East 42nd Street to discuss best practices for encouraging a growth mindset at VNSNY. The focus was on VNSNY’s Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) goal-setting system, and on lessons learned from the OKR rollout. On our second Culture Day, scheduled for August 18th, participants will explore trust and its relationship to effective problem-solving. These summer events are for Vice Presidents and above, but the plan is to roll out Culture Days to all office-based staff going forward. Watch this space for further updates! Also, see below for some photos from the day.


ARC Book Club Updates

After a successful launch, in which its members read and discussed How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, the Anti-Racism Council (ARC) Book Club has voted on its second read: Dominicana by Angie Cruz, a lively and entertaining novel inspired by the author’s mother’s story of arriving in the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. “For our second book, we wanted to step away from something that was specifically about race—which can get a little heavy—to something that highlights everyday life and culture,” says Melissa Henry, Community Relations Manager and ARC member. “Our next meeting will be on October 12th at 4:00 p.m., so we selected a book that correlates with Hispanic Heritage Month, which takes place from September 15th to October 15th.” For readers seeking additional recommendations, the ARC Book Club has also compiled a reading list of suggested titles. Click here to sign up for the Book Club, and click here for the club’s reading list.

July Partners in Care Home Health Aide Hiring Events

To meet the rising demand for personal care in the home, Partners in Care held Open House hiring events in July in Manhattan, Nassau, Yonkers, and Staten Island, to recruit additional HHAs. Despite a challenging hiring climate, we’re happy to report that Partners in Care has brought 70 new HHAs on board as a result of the events, If you know of anybody who might be interested in working as an HHA for Partners in Care, click here for information on how they can apply.

Heroes Parade Recap: Photos & Videos!

Field staff from across VNSNY played a central role in July’s Hometown Heroes Parade in downtown Manhattan, which honored New York City’s essential workers for their dedicated efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to revisit highlights from the parade. “I can honestly say that it was an amazing experience,” says Community Relations Manager Melissa Henry. “The energy of the VNSNY staff who participated was truly inspirational. When the pandemic hit, I was in the safety of my home, but they were out there on the front lines doing what they needed to do to take care of our patients. On the day of the parade, they were so happy and so proud of the work that they do, and so happy to represent. They felt appreciated and excited, and that just made the day.”

VNSNY Presents HELPS Tasking Tool to the NYS Department of Health

Five years ago, VNSNY rolled out the first version of HELPS (Hours Evaluation for Paraprofessional Support Tool), a tasking tool designed to help manage health-plan costs by reliably assigning home care service hours to patients based on empirical clinical evidence. “The tool—now in its latest HELPS 2.0 iteration—cuts a lot of time and gets great results,” says Elina Veksler, currently Director of Assessment for VNSNY CHOICE, whose team designed the tool. “Our nurses and other clinicians love its ease of use and accuracy. It’s really about using objective data to make a clinical decision.” HELPS 2.0 is a clear step up from the prior tool used, she adds. “The tool we leased in the past was expensive and offered, at best, a 30% alignment with the clinicians’ own assessments, so we went to the drawing board and designed this application. Since it’s much cheaper to use and almost 90 percent aligned with clinicians’ judgments, we thought, why not sell it to others?” One potential purchaser is New York State’s Department of Health (DOH), which recently announced that it’s looking to implement a uniform tasking tool for all state health plans, and has expressed an interest in HELPS. “We recently presented the tool to DOH and demonstrated all its great bells and whistles,” says Elina. “The presentation seemed to go very well, so we’re hopeful.” Stay tuned for DOH’s response!

VNSNY Impact Challenge Update

The first phase of the VNSNY Impact Challenge—our very own version of Shark Tank, in which participants submitted ideas for programs to address health disparities in the community—is now finished. The deadline for submissions was July 16th, and we received 34 proposals from staff from all levels across the organization. Fourteen of these were ideas for add-ons to existing programs, 15 were proposals for entirely new programs, and five were seed ideas. To see the eight proposals selected for advancement to the final round, click here. And to everybody who submitted proposals, great job!  “Every one of the 34 proposals was extremely impressive and well thought out,” says VNSNY President and CEO Dan Savitt, who was part of the review committee. “It was exciting and a true pleasure to review them all. I can tell you that selecting eight finalists was not easy!” As for the proposals that were not chosen as finalists, says Dan, “We’re collecting all the great ideas that have been submitted and sharing them with the leadership teams in the related business areas, No one’s hard work on this project will be in vain.”

A Great New Resource: Healthify

Exciting news! VNSNY has partnered with a company called Healthify, which has a software platform that tracks people’s access to vital goods and services such as food, housing, and social and financial support. These essential components—known as social determinants of health—have a huge impact on people’s overall well-being. Through our partnership with Healthify, we’ll be able to connect our patients, clients, and members with these essentials more effectively and more consistently. Click here to read more about the partnership.

Zoom Rooms Are a Hit at 220 East 42nd Street

Combining the best of the remote-working and in-office worlds, staff are now actively using our new Zoom Rooms for meetings at VNSNY’s 220 East 42nd Street office. These Zoom Rooms enable a group of people to meet in person in a conference room, while others can simultaneously join the meeting remotely via Zoom. The rooms have been quite a success so far, and are proving to be a practical (and innovative!) way of gathering together—no matter where we are.

A Bright Rebirth for the Bronx FRIENDS Office

The FRIENDS clinical headquarters in the South Bronx, home to a number of Community Mental Health Services (CMHS) programs, including the outpatient mental health clinic, Geriatric Outreach program and the Children’s Mobile Crisis teams, has undergone an exciting, not to mention much-needed, renovation, thanks to VNSNY’s Facilities team. The cleaner, brighter, more welcoming atmosphere is being widely praised by returning staff. “It’s been amazing to watch the transformation of the building, which started as kind of a home-grown, pieced-together safe space in the South Bronx for families to come for needed services, into the vibrant, welcoming space it is today,” says Jessica Fear, Senior Vice President, CMHS, who helped start the clinic years ago. “The staff always brought passion and dedication to their work, so it’s wonderful that they now have a space that’s truly a pleasure to be in.” The bright remodel has not only created a better flow for the clinic itself, but offers scalability for the staffing area—meaning that more staff (and hence more families in need) can be accommodated.