Nov. 14, 2008

Fred Sanfilippo
Fred Sanfilippo,
Mission, collegiality sustain WHSC

There's no escaping the fact that 2008 has been an incredibly turbulent year. From one of the most exciting and engaging presidential elections in recent memory, to a historic energy crisis, to our current economic situation—this has certainly been a year for the record books. But one thing I've come to learn about Emory in my first year here is that, no matter what the situation, there are always two things we can count on—each other and the inherent strength of our important mission.

Clearly, the current external environment will pose very real challenges for our foreseeable future. And of course, this will cause us, like all other individuals and organizations, to face some tough choices in the months ahead.

The good news is that we're already hard at work developing a comprehensive action plan to most effectively—and efficiently—use our resources. At a half-day meeting of more than 100 senior leaders last month, we continued to develop an objective, strategic approach to achieve our goals and set priorities. And just last week our Agenda Committee convened its third meeting since February to discuss criteria for prioritizing the use of our resources. Both groups had lengthy discussions about the factors that are critical to our ability to use our resources well: a focused strategy—as seen in our continued efforts around setting priorities, a constructive culture—being assessed currently through an independent organizational culture inventory, and an aligned organizational structure—which will be aided by the appointment of Dr. Dennis Choi as our new vice president for academic health affairs (see next article).

We also have identified opportunities to be better stewards of WHSC resources—such as reviewing our Health Sciences Program and Facilities Plan to find more flexibility in phasing construction to match the changing financial environment. And we're thinking of ways to save resources on lower cost items as well, such as reducing meeting and travel frequency and expenses, reviewing vendor contracts to ensure necessity and best possible rates, and consolidating and reducing the scale and cost of holiday greetings and celebrations. These small steps already are anticipated to yield savings of several hundreds of thousands of dollars in the near term, which is especially important considering that saving $50,000 is the equivalent of saving an average job.

We'll keep exploring additional ways to be the best possible stewards of our resources—always keeping in mind the need to continue making progress toward our research, education, and patient care missions. After all, our missions improve many thousands of lives in Atlanta, the region, and the world each year, so there's more at stake here than our own bottom line. That's why we'll balance the need to conserve resources with the need to continue our outstanding service to the many people we serve—faculty and staff, students, patients, and supporters. In the next issue of Health Sciences Update, you'll learn more about the extraordinary difference we're making for individuals and society when we highlight our 2008 community benefits report.

As we stand together to face these challenging times, I have faith in our ability to pull together to get the most value for our resources; in our ability to advance our research, education, and patient care missions no matter what; and in our ability to continue transforming health and healing … together.

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in this issue  

Mission, collegiality sustain WHSC

Choi named VP of academic health affairs

Clinical research team helps devise best practice

Turning a hospital stay into a guest experience

First-quarter new research funding exceeds $69 million

Code MET adds eyes and ears for patient care

Emergency drill tests response/readiness


Past issues

Email Forward

Contact us


dennis_choiDennis Choi

Choi named VP of academic health affairs

Dennis Choi, MD, PhD, a neuroscientist known for his groundbreaking research on brain and spinal cord injury, has been appointed to serve as vice president of academic health affairs.

Choi currently directs the Comprehensive Neurosciences Center in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and is executive director of the Neuroscience, Human Nature, and Society Initiative within the university strategic plan. He will continue with these responsibilities.

Choi succeeds Jeffrey Koplan, MD, MPH, who held the position of vice president of academic health affairs since 2002 and now serves as vice president for global health.

Among his many responsibilities, Choi will lead the comprehensive organizational function and structure planning process for WHSC and Emory Healthcare in attaining the goal of becoming a 21st century model for an academic health sciences and health services center. He will also oversee and help develop appropriate charter centers and comprehensive centers—the cornerstone strategy for the future of the WHSC and all of Emory’s health affairs.

"We could not be more pleased to have Dennis Choi accept this key position for Emory and help carry the Woodruff Health Sciences Center plans forward," says Fred Sanfilippo, EVPHA and chairman of Emory Healthcare. "Dr. Choi has a great track record as an academic leader and will be a terrific addition to our leadership team."

A key area of responsibility for this position includes assisting biomedical informatics leadership across Emory Healthcare, the WHSC, and the university in developing clinical, translational, and research applications in support of transdisciplinary care and academic programs.

Choi will also work with WHSC deans and directors to drive collaboration across the university and with external academic partners to enhance existing relationships and create new ones.

Read more about Choi.



robin_ginnRobin Ginn

missy_douglasMissy Douglas

Clinical research team helps devise best practice for others to follow

As any clinical researcher will tell you, their greatest reward comes from working with patients to improve their health and well-being. In the process, clinical researchers must also ensure compliance with an ever-increasing number of federal regulations as they seek to advance science and protect patients at the same time.

In recognition of the challenges confronting researchers and academic health centers in administering the infrastructure for clinical research, the Association of Academic Health Centers (AAHC) recently produced a clinical trials administration toolkit, available to AAHC member institutions. The toolkit is designed to help academic health centers and their researchers build and manage clinical research functions and processes from study design to study close-out, including complex areas of clinical trial billing.

Before the AAHC developed the toolkit, its leaders sought input from Emory and other member institutions that already had systems in place. Missy Douglas, associate executive director of post award in Emory’s Office for Clinical Research, worked with the AAHC’s Forum on Regulation work group, as did Robin Ginn, who joined Emory last year as executive director of Emory’s clinical research team.

"Emory staff were involved in every step of development of the AAHC toolkit," says Elaine Rubin, AAHC's vice president for policy and program. "They shared their experiences and contributed their knowledge, skills, and untold hours of time, along with colleagues from across the country."

The request that Emory share its experiences was a confirmation that the Emory team was ahead of the curve in responding to increased federal regulation of clinical trials, says Ronnie Jowers, vice president for health affairs and a strong supporter of recent growth in the clinical research office.

Over the past three years, Emory has centralized many of the administrative and budgetary services related to clinical research. That includes "pre-award" work, such as development of budgets to cover services performed during clinical trials and negotiation of these budgets with non-governmental sponsors like pharmaceutical and medical device companies. The expanded office also has more resources to handle "post-award" work, including ensuring that clinical trial billing is compliant and correct.

Of particular help to Emory—and of particular interest to the AAHC—was a comprehensive, 310-page document (available on CD) called "Conducting Clinical Trials within Emory University School of Medicine," compiled by program director Joni Roberts, with support from Jowers.

Ginn says, "All of us recognize the tremendous additional administrative burden compliance places on researchers, and we want to do everything we can to help them. Emory researchers are dealing successfully with federal regulations. But compliance is a national issue, not just an Emory one, so we were happy to be able to share Emory’s experiences and successes with our colleagues elsewhere."



tracy_russell_gonzalezTracy Russell-Gonzalez

Bio stats:
• 1998-present: Guest and Volunteer Services, Emory Healthcare
• 1994-present: Guest Services, EUH
• 1990-1991: Manager, Swissotel
• 1987-1990: Manager, Ritz-Carlton
• BS, Clark Atlanta Univ


Turning a hospital stay into a guest experience

One in a series of profiles of people in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center

Tracy Russell-Gonzales worked as a manager at the Ritz-Carlton for three years. She was part of the management team that opened the elegant Swissotel on Peachtree. Today, she sees more similarities than differences between her work for ritzy hotels and her current position as director of guest and volunteer services for the four facilities that comprise Emory Hospitals.

The differences are obvious for the "guests"—sightseeing versus surgery, cocktails versus infusion drips, excitement versus worry—but the guest services staff have the same responsibilities. Russell-Gonzales sees the hospitals' guest services staff and volunteers as mini-concierges: helpful, smiling, ever-accessible, go-to people for patients and families. These visitors' lives are disrupted, they may arrive with little idea about what to expect, and they need help with things that were simple back home, like getting a haircut, finding the way out of the building, or arranging a place where a concerned family member can stay for a few nights.

Or who may just need to see a familiar, smiling face. "We have many repeat visitors," says Russell-Gonzales, "and it means a lot to patients and family members to see staff and volunteers who were kind and helpful to them when they were here before. It gives the hospitals more of a family feeling." In fact, some of the volunteers who work under Russell-Gonzales' directors are former patients who learned firsthand how important small, personal connections could be.

The 19 staff members in guest services are located at Emory University Hospital, Emory Crawford Long Hospital, and the recently opened 120-bed Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital, but security guards at Wesley Woods Hospital are trained to welcome arriving guests and provide directions. Russell-Gonzales’ staff also organize two annual blood drives at Wesley Woods and another four each year at EUH.

In addition, Russell-Gonzales is responsible for some 300 volunteers who work in more than 20 service areas, from surgery waiting rooms and emergency rooms in all four hospitals, to the horticultural therapy program at Wesley Woods or the neonatal intensive care unit at ECLH. Volunteers and staff also operate the hospital gift shops.

Russell-Gonzales says that it's gratifying to know that every day you and the people who work with you are helping the patients and families who come to Emory for care.



paul_doetschPaul Doetsch


First-quarter new research funding exceeds $69 million

In this time of general economic woes, it's important to remember the bright spots too, including the fact that WHSC researchers and their collaborators attracted almost $70 million in new research grants in the first 10 weeks of the new fiscal year, which began Sept. 1. Examples of individual awards include the following:

• $28.5 million from the NIH for the landmark Child Health Study (consortium headed by Emory)

• $13 million from the NIH for study of a key protein in chronic infectious diseases, such as AIDS and hepatitis (shared with six other institutional collaborators)

• $7.5 million from the NCI for research on cancer imaging

• $7.4 million from the NIH for studies of oxidative stress and colon cancer (Paul Doetsch, at left, is principal investigator.)

• $6 million from the NIH to study environmental causes of Parkinson's

• $2.8 million from the NIH to search for genes related to bipolar 1 disorder

• $1.5 million from the CDC for research in preparedness and emergency response

• $1.2 million from the NIH for glycomics research

Congratulations to all those involved for securing these investments on behalf of patients who stand to benefit from this important work.



mildred_montfortMildred Montfort

marie_emetuluMarie Emetulu

Code MET adds eyes and ears for patient care

Recently, Marie Emetulu and Mildred Montfort were cleaning up after a patient who had been discharged from a semi-private room at Wesley Woods Hospital. Housekeeping is their job, after all, as environmental service aides. But under a new Code MET plan rolled out by Emory Healthcare this year, the two women knew it is not their only job. Code MET gives all employees, not just clinical ones, the ability to mobilize clinical resources on behalf of any patient they think might need immediate attention.

On that day, something about the remaining patient in the room caught the attention of the two women as they worked. Something was not right. It just wasn't. Emetulu and Montfort looked at each other, then stepped outside the room to see if they could find help before dialing Wesley Wood's Code MET phone number. A passing doctor instantly responded to their concern. The patient's blood sugar had fallen precipitously to less than a third of normal, a life-threatening drop. The doctor called the code that sent clinicians scrambling to the patient's bedside, where they were able to reverse his decline before permanent damage was done.

Code MET, a plan to get a medical emergency team quickly to a patient's bedside, is now active at all Emory Hospitals as well as at Budd Terrace (the skilled nursing care facility at Wesley Woods Center). A description of how to use Code MET, including a list of warning signs of instability or deterioration, is given to all employees and also to patients, families, and visitors. A patient's wife used it recently at Emory University Hospital when, despite a lack of change in her husband's vital signs, she could tell from years of living at his side that something had changed. She called Code MET, the medical emergency team responded quickly, and clinicians were able to intervene in the earliest moments of an unforeseen stroke.

At a recent hospital leadership meeting, Wesley Woods COO Al Blackwelder presented certificates of recognition and appreciation to Emetulu and Montfort, praising them for their perception and quick action. What they did was impressive, says Wesley Woods medical director Frank Brown. It also is a good measure of the value of adding a level of attention and security to the traditional Doctor 99 code, in which clinical staff call for help with a cardiac arrest or other life-threatening conditions.

Ollie Penn, manager of environmental services at Wesley Woods for more than 36 years, believes that Code MET makes a lot of sense for her team: housekeeping staff are often around patients when doctors and nurses are not. "So many of our team are family-oriented people like Marie, almost a five-year employee, and Mildred, here for more than 12 years," says Penn. "They feel as if our patients could be members of their own families. They pay attention to them, and they want to do anything they can to help."

The Code MET guidelines are essential, adds Penn. Per their training, environmental service aides don't even give patients water without being sure it won't interfere with their medical treatment, so the new guidelines give them a feeling of comfort that their input about changes in a patient's condition is wanted and appreciated by the clinical team.



alex_isakovAlex Isakov

curtis_echolsCurtis Echols

Emergency drill tests response/readiness in campus crisis scenario

Twice annually, Emory University Hospital develops and participates in full-scale readiness drills for an emergency that could impact the Atlanta community and the hospital or Emory Healthcare as a whole. On Nov. 11, EUH participated in a joint exercise with Emory University. The drill was coordinated by the Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Emergency Response (CEPAR), which is led by emergency medicine physician Alex Isakov.

The scenario involved a large fire in a residential dorm, resulting in more than 50 "mock" patients arriving at the hospital's emergency department. The exercise tested readiness in areas all throughout the hospital, including medical and nursing response and triage, bed management, food and nutrition, finance, public relations, safety and security, and pastoral services.

The CEPAR drill was the first of two created as part of a federal grant aimed at testing emergency preparedness and developing response improvements. Throughout the 18-month grant period, CEPAR will use mini-drills and small-scale tabletop exercises to educate and familiarize university leadership with aspects of Emory's emergency management plan.

"We work diligently to develop scenarios that we feel will most likely impact how we respond and operate as a health care provider, whether it be a natural or man-made disaster. If it can happen, we prepare for it," says Curtis Echols, director of safety management and emergency preparedness for Emory Healthcare.

"This type of event is absolutely necessary, given the hospital's proximity to the campus and how we work together day in and day out. I was very pleased with the hospital's critical event response—from how we handled the influx of patients arriving in our emergency room and management of the event by our incident-command staff to how we communicated to the media, external resource providers, patients, and staff. But as any good drill will prove, there is always room to improve."



john_seffrinJohn Seffrin


• Future Makers features ACS's Seffrin

John Seffrin, national CEO of the American Cancer Society, will present the next Future Makers lecture, "Cancer: Where we are and where we must go," on Tuesday, Dec. 2, in Cox Hall Ballroom at 5:30.



brenda_seitonBrenda Seiton

• Seiton heads new university COI office

Brenda Seiton, former associate dean for administration in the medical school, has been appointed assistant VP for research administration in Emory's new conflict-of-interest office, established to oversee administration and enforcement of COI policies across the entire university. Read more about this office and about a new president's advisory commission to review management of potential conflicts of interest by faculty and staff in research or other professional activities. A new website aggregates recent COI-related news releases and statements and contains a link to the website of the new COI office headed by Seiton.



michael_youngMichael Young


• Emory honors new Grady CEO

Last month, the WHSC hosted a reception in the medical school atrium to welcome new Grady Hospital CEO Michael Young to the Emory family. Young began his tenure at Grady in early September. In addition to various Emory leaders, the gathering included a who's who of long-term Emory-Grady physicians, members of Grady's new board, other Grady supporters and fans, and Young's wife, Karen.

The program featured remarks by President Wagner, EVPHA Fred Sanfilippo, Grady emergency care medical director Leon Haley, and medical dean Tom Lawley, who noted that patient length of stay at Grady already has decreased by one day since Young's arrival. Young responded by expressing his appreciation for the spirit of collegiality he has encountered since his arrival.

Sanfilippo presented Young with a small "Phoenix Rising" sculpture as a symbol of Young's new home city and of hopes for Grady's own future as well as a continued strong relationship with Emory.



sheryl_heronGrady ER physician Sheryl Heron


• Grady receives gold seal from Joint Commission

Grady Hospital has been awarded a Joint Commission gold seal of approval for quality and safety. The full accreditation merit was affirmed after a visit from surveyors from the national health care accrediting agency on Nov. 4. In 2007, Grady earned conditional accreditation, with Joint Commission recommendations for improvements. Full accreditation status allows Grady to participate in critical government health insurance programs and highlights the exceptional services provided at the 953-bed teaching hospital.


  tim_olsenTimothy Olsen, ophthalmology chair  

• Eye Center ranks in top 10

The Emory Eye Center ranked in the top 10 slots of all ranked categories in an annual survey conducted by Ophthalmology Times, a news publications written by and for physicians. The center has ranked in the top 10 in several categories over the past decade, but this is the first year it has ranked in all categories. The ranking is a result of surveys of U.S. ophthalmology chairs and directors of residency programs. Categories and rankings include the following:

• Best overall program (tied at 8th)
• Best research program (9th)
• Best residency program (10th)
• Best clinical program (6th)

Read more.



• Fourth annual predictive health symposium

The fourth annual Emory/Georgia Tech Symposium on Predictive Health takes place at the Emory Conference Center, Dec. 15-16, 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. The theme is "Human Health: Molecules to Mankind." In addition to speakers from Emory and Georgia Tech, the roster includes presenters from Vanderbilt, Ohio State, deCODE Genetics, Genetic Alliance, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and Duke. For details about the agenda or to register, go to website.



emory_johns_creekEmory Johns Creek Hospital


• EVPHA addresses EJCH medical staff

EVPHA Fred Sanfilippo was the guest speaker at Emory Johns Creek Hospital's annual medical staff meeting on Nov. 10. EJCH is a 110-bed facility that opened in February 2007 as a joint venture between Emory Healthcare and Hospital Corporation of America. The hospital's medical staff of 600 is made up of 85% community physicians and 15% Emory physicians, including Emory hospitalist Alan Wang, who is chief medical officer.

Sanfilippo shared perspectives about challenges common to all health care providers in the current economic climate, and he also noted points of encouragement, including Emory's fundamental strengths relative to many peer institutions. He stressed the importance of relationships with community doctors to achieving Emory's own vision and goals as well as maximizing benefit to patients. Finally, he listed examples of how community physicians benefit from ties with Emory, including special continuing education and adjunct faculty opportunities as well as access to specialized care for patients, including clinical trials.



helen maybergHelen Mayberg


• Mayberg elected to IOM

Helen Mayberg (psychiatry and neurology) was elected to the Institute of Medicine's 2008 class of 65 new members, chosen for their contributions to advancement of medical science, health care, or public health. Mayberg's research on neural network models of mood regulation has led to clinical studies testing deep brain stimulation for treatment-resistant depression and bipolar disorder. Read more. See the IOM website for an aggregated list of all Emory IOM members.



hal_jonesHal Jones


• Jones directs care transformation

Last month, Hal Jones transitioned from his role as director of quality support services to become director of care transformation in Emory Healthcare. In this newly created position, he supports EHC's program to solicit feedback and input from patients and families to ensure that care at Emory is centered on their needs. Other responsibilities include development of a disclosure policy to support transparency and a fair and just culture in efforts to provide optimal care. The policy will give staff and clinicians guidelines to do the right thing by disclosing information to patients, families, staff, and the organization when errors occur.



michael_watsonMichael Watson


• Watson heads Wesley Woods Foundation

Fund-raiser Michael Watson became president and CEO of the Wesley Woods Foundation in September. He comes to this position with 35 years of experience, most recently as co-chair of the Atlanta campaign for Auburn University. Prior to his role at Auburn, Watson was responsible for operations, management, and giving strategy at BellSouth's corporate foundation. Read more.



heart_walkLauren Brummett and Duriel Garner


• Walkers took heart

In the annual American Heart Association Heart Walk on Nov. 1, Emory raised more than $268,000 (total still being tallied) on behalf of the American Heart Association, more than any other organization in Atlanta. Emory Healthcare administrative fellow Lauren Brummett (at left with EHC fellow Duriel Garner) organized this effort, involving 2,005 walkers in 286 teams. The AHA recognized Emory's T-shirt as the best among all those seen on the day of the 3.1-mile route. This was Emory's 10th year of participation and the seventh as a major sponsor.








• Heart & vascular center expands outreach

The Emory Heart & Vascular Center of Middle Georgia opened last month in Dublin, with Emory's Martha Smith serving as chief cardiologist. In addition, Emory HealthConnection of Middle Georgia will offer a central location for patients and physicians to work directly with an Emory nurse (LPN) to schedule appointments, receive referrals, and provide or request patient charts and medical histories. Patients also will be able to sign up for Emory Healthcare educational seminars and learn about clinical trials. Read more.



• Blue Ridge report now online

The 2008 edition of the Blue Ridge Academic Health Group's report, Advancing Value in Health Care: The Emerging Transformational Role of Informatics, is available online. The Blue Ridge Group studies and reports on issues of fundamental importance to improving health care, with special focus on the role of the academic health center. Members from Emory include EVPHA Fred Sanfilippo, chancellor Michael Johns, and VP for global health Jeffrey Koplan. Richard Mendola, VP and CIO of information technologies, was an invited participant for this year's report.


  john_stoneJohn Stone  

• Remembering John Stone

John Stone, retired cardiology professor and medical admissions dean, poet, essayist, and beloved physician, died on Nov. 6 after a brief illness.

Stone is remembered for many things—for his humor, for his listening skills and ability to inspire listening in others, for his traditional Veteran's Day readings of WWI poems, for the poem he was asked to write for President Wagner's inauguration, for his teaching by example of the healing power of kindness.

Stone used to say that he wore a "double harness" of literature and medicine, an easy fit because both are centered on the human story. His own human story was filled with accomplishment, recognition, even celebrity. He was a perennial favorite as a speaker at medical graduation and other events, and his two-man show with Emory music professor William Ransom, "The Poet and the Pianist," performed at Emory alumni events all over the country, made it all the way to Carnegie Hall.

But his greatest gifts are those he left behind—his love, his perfect turns-of-phrase, his description, for example, of how death comes: sometimes "slowly as rust" and sometimes as unexpectedly as "finding the doorknob come loose in his hand."

A memorial service has been scheduled for Sat., Jan. 10, at 11:00 a.m., at Glenn Memorial Church, followed by a reception, 12:30-3:00 p.m.

Please watch for a longer tribute to Stone, including details of his career, in the Nov. 17 issue of Emory Report.