Healthcare Heroes 2016
The Beehive State is known for its incredible healthcare, for its stellar treatment facilities, breakthrough research and healthcare professionals who go above and beyond the call of duty. Here, we’ve collected some of the standouts in Utah’s healthcare industry, from doctors nearing the end of long, impactful careers to professionals making strides to build the future of medical care, and from administrators finding ways to help their facilities run smoother to volunteers with an irrepressible passion for helping others. Join us in thanking them for their dogged efforts to make Utah a healthier place to live.
Being a physician, for Dr. John R. Hoidal, is not just his profession—it’s who he is. He has been with the University of Utah since 1987, where he was the chief of the division of respiratory, critical care & occupational (pulmonary) medicine for 20 years. He has held multiple positions, including the chief of the Division of Pediatric Pulmonary and chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine. As a clinician and researcher, Hoidal is tremendously respected, having been repeatedly recognized in the Best Doctors of America databases.
“You must have great desire to become a physician. The process is long and difficult,” says Hoidal. “However, the opportunity to work towards a better understanding of and improve the health in our society is unrivaled. Practicing medicine has great human significance. Embrace the challenge to help people, to be challenged and to learn throughout your life.”
Hoidal certainly practices what he preaches. He retired from the chairman’s position in March 2016 and now focuses on his patients and research, which centers on the molecular bases and the consequences of cigarette smoking, particularly emphysema and chronic bronchitis. By gaining insights into biochemical pathways of emphysema and bronchitis and ways to modify them, Hoidal hopes to find better ways to prevent and treat smoking-related diseases.
For more than 40 years—from the day he was hired as an intern onward—Dr. Mark MacKay has worked tirelessly to make sure babies born or brought for care at Primary Children’s Hospital are given the best start, nutritionally speaking, they can have.
MacKay’s early work started in the hospital’s pharmacy, untangling a problem with intravenous feeding and how amino acids affected the solubility of calcium and phosphate. MacKay proposed giving the maximum concentration of the nutrients, and results of the year-long research and eventual national publication of the findings earned MacKay a permanent place at the hospital—and changed how intravenous feeding was done across the country.
The last four decades have been busy, with more than 50 published articles about intravenous feeding and research, as well as 54 national presentations. More recent research has involved developing an intravenous zinc product for children with zinc deficiencies, as well as successfully petitioning for the import of a European product to help with calcium absorption in intravenous feeding, despite criticism from others in the industry.
MacKay says he views challenges as opportunities to find new solutions—and once he does, he says, he believes in sharing the outcome with others asking the same questions.
It takes five different job titles to keep Dr. Stephen Minton busy—and that’s after more than 40 years of helping transform the way Utah cares for babies.
More than 30,000 babies have been treated at the NICU at Utah Valley Hospital—the first non-university NICU in the country—since Minton opened it in 1979, and for which he was the lone neonatalologist for six years. Minton is medical director of the NICU at Utah Valley Hospital, as well as medical director of the Neonatal Life Flight and chief of neonatology there.
In addition, Minton is medical director of Newborn Services for Intermountain Healthcare’s Timpanogos Region, which includes seven facilities, and member of Intermountain Healthcare’s Women and Newborn Clinical Program. Minton is also a researcher for the Neonatal Research Network through the University of Utah.
Minton says the healthcare industry in Utah is facing a period of transformation in how it functions and how it is financed.
“Healthcare is at a crossroads. We have made tremendous improvements—cutting mortality and reducing morbidities. However, as currently delivered, it is very costly. In addition, people are just beginning to take ownership of their health,” he says. “Healthcare has been acute care, not preventative care.”
As a physician practicing in maternal-fetal medicine, Dr. Helen Feltovich helps women whose pregnancies, and their own health, are at risk. In addition to her private practice, she is a medical physics faculty member at the University of Wisconsin, where she is researching ways to prevent preterm labor. Her research involves measuring the softness of a woman’s cervix to determine which pregnant women are at risk for preterm labor, and compiling that information into a database that can be analyzed to find commonalities.
“Two of my previous patients have recently become research collaborators. They’re very motivated to change things for other women because of what they’ve been through,” says Dr. Feltovich.
She is committed to reducing pregnancy risks for women around the world, whether it’s in her own practice, through her research or in her work with the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS). Through that organization, Dr. Feltovich trains midwives in places like Bangladesh to use portable imaging equipment to detect gestational age and placement of the placenta. Because many of these midwives prefer a more hands-on approach and aren’t entirely comfortable with testing equipment, Dr. Feltovich and her colleagues designed a more intuitive system that requires no image interpretation.
Dr. Brandon Fisher says that, outside of religion and family, there are three things make him tick: being a physician, philanthropy and climbing. He also says he believes that life is “one big fluid interaction with obstacles and viewpoints along the way.” As such, he lets the major drivers of his life feed into one another: just as he trains his body for climbing, he strives every day to be a better physician; he has started the nonprofit Radiating Hope to update and advance cancer care in developing countries; as a mountain climber, he brings Tibetan prayer flags dedicated to his patients to place at the summits of his climbs.
“I would say to have courage and follow the path that interests you and speaks to you. Whatever course you decide, go forward with determination and never look back. Find ways to use your talents to benefit your neighborhood, your city, and then extend it to the world. Be of some use!” says Fisher. “We should constantly try to build our character and each piece of our character should be used to fit into the cog of this society. With each new talent I attempt to learn I find a way to use it to benefit others.”
As medical director of The Breast Care Center at Jordan Valley Medical Center, Dr. Anne Kieryn is a fierce advocate for her patients. Breast cancer is a terrifying diagnosis to receive, and Dr. Kieryn’s empathetic approach allows her to take that journey alongside her patients.
She says one of her most rewarding experiences was when she visited one of her patients in hospice care. “I was wearing scrubs from the workday,” she says. “When I entered her room, her young son stopped me at the door and said, ‘Wait, you’re a doctor? I thought you were just one of mom’s good friends.’ In that moment, I knew that’s how he saw me—a good friend to his mother. That kind of stuff means you’re doing the job right.”
A few years ago, Dr. Kieryn faced her own medical crisis when she was hit by a drunken driver while out for a morning run. The accident left her in critical condition, but she continued to worry about the wellbeing of her own patients while she underwent the long recovery process. “It was both mentally and physically challenging to stay away from my job because I knew I had patients waiting on me. I needed to pull through for them,” she says.
When Blair Kent was tapped to open the new Riverton Hospital, he had already proven his ability as a member of the administrative team that opened Intermountain Medical Center. As the administrator of Riverton Hospital, Kent oversaw construction of the hospital, hired its staff, assembled a leadership team and brought the medical staff onboard.
Kent took a very hands-on approach to developing the Riverton team. Chris Rhodes, food services manager at the hospital, recalls interviewing for his position with Kent. “As I sat there in his office, I could tell in his voice that he truly wanted the best, and his whole goal was to make Riverton Hospital number one in the state of Utah,” Rhodes recalls. “[Kent] is really an inspiration for me and my entire crew to strive to give 110 percent to our patients and customers.”
Since the hospital opened in 2009, it has added a new 120,000-square-foot outpatient wing, as well as a 30-bed Primary Children’s pediatric unit—the first satellite inpatient unit for the pediatric hospital. Riverton Hospital has become an integral part of the local community, hosting an annual community health fair and a “movie in the park” series on the hospital campus.
Ever since high school, Dr. Wendy Hobson-Rohrer knew she wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. And for her, the best and most effective way to do so is through her work as a physician. Hobson-Rohrer is a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah, as well as the medical director for the South Main Clinic.
Her work at the South Main Clinic allows Hobson-Rohrer to care for members of the underserved community, including refugees, immigrants and uninsured patients, with over 80 percent of her patient families living below the poverty line. Hobson-Rohrer also obtained funding and created a program called Niños Especiales/Familias Fuertes (Special Children/Strong Families), the first support group for Spanish-speaking parents with children with special healthcare needs. The program allows these high-risk families access to medical specialists, community member support and attorneys.
“I most enjoy being able to work with families to improve the well-being of their children,” says Hobson-Rohrer. “The hugs from families and children make my day. I rejoice when one of my patients goes to college. I enjoy seeing the relief on the face of a young mother when I reassure her about her baby.”
Since 1998, Paula Strasburg has served as the director of quality and risk management at Timpanogos Regional Hospital. Under her leadership, the hospital has grown from a small facility with 46 beds to a larger institution with 124 beds and more healthcare options for patients and their families, such as a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Strasburg’s coworkers compare her to Florence Nightingale for her diligence in problem-solving, record-keeping and data analysis. Strasburg displayed her tenacity immediately upon beginning her career in healthcare—she decided to begin her healthcare education as a mother of four, and graduated nursing school two years later as a mother of five. While it had been her dream to work in Labor and Delivery, she eventually returned to school for a BSN degree and a master’s degree in nursing administration in order to further her career.
“I enjoy trying to figure out how to make improvements that make a difference in healthcare that impact others’ lives and families. I enjoy working with other professionals who work in healthcare with the goal to improve patient outcomes,” says Strasburg. “We cannot rely on regulations to make healthcare better. We need to be informed consumers and healthcare providers.”
Before getting into the healthcare industry, Janet Brooks was a worried mom with a sick kid in the very hospital where she would later work. Several years and a meandering set of events later, the former schoolteacher became the first—and, so far, only—community outreach manager. Her mission over the last 20 years? Finding better ways to keep kids safe and increase awareness of potential household dangers.
“I’ve been most passionate about preventing unintentional injury to children,” she says. “My team and I have been fortunate to receive many opportunities to share this passion with the community.”
The projects within the Hold On To Dear Life campaign include a car seat inspection station, drowning prevention, ATV safety and helmet use, pedestrian safety, and Navajo Nation-specific on-site training and injury-prevention interventions. After 10 children were killed after being accidentally run over by vehicles backing up, Brooks and her team crafted the Spot the Tot program, designed to increase awareness of children potentially playing behind parked vehicles. That program has become a beacon campaign for the hospital and has been embraced nationally and internationally, and the rate of driveway backovers has dropped in Utah and abroad as a result.
Over the last 27 years, Traci Heiner, cardiac rehab supervisor at Utah Valley Hospital, has been in the business of helping people change their lives.
Heiner works with patients recovering from a heart event, oversees training for the hospital’s 100-day heart challenge, and educates patients and community members about heart health. Heiner says she feels this kind of education and training is critical now more than ever because of rapidly rising cases of obesity and diabetes.
For some, improving their health comes slowly and without the expected noticeable results—Heiner recalls one woman who was disheartened after diligently taking part in a program to improve her heart health because she saw no change on the scale, only to find her cholesterol, triglyceride and glucose levels had plummeted—but helping them live their healthiest lives is rewarding.
“Over and over I’ve had the opportunity to play a small role in helping many of our community members regain their desired health,” she says. “How fun it is to witness the transformation which occurs when individuals take small, yet meaningful steps toward a healthy lifestyle.”
Dr. Julie Aiken knew that she wanted to be in healthcare by eight years old. “I wanted to take care of people and I instinctively felt that I could ‘fix’ things, including people. I began by using my dolls, stuffed animals and sometimes my friends as patients. Helping people access their innate healing abilities has become my passion,” she says.
Aiken graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and practiced in women’s healthcare services for close to 20 years. She decided to switch paths at that time and become an educator, teaching nursing students and passing along her passion for the profession. At Ameritech College of Healthcare, she became the nursing program director and led the program through its initial accreditation. Under her leadership, the associate nursing degree first-attempt pass rate on boards was a staggering 95.3 percent, compared to 85.5 percent statewide and 84.5 percent nationally. Today, Aiken is the CEO of Ameritech.
“Nurses are the backbone of most healthcare teams and can be necessary change-agents in the healthcare arena,” says Aiken. “Having the opportunity to help educate and shape the future generation of nurses is a privilege and an opportunity that has rewarded me far more than I could ever imagine.”
As director of the Diabetes Care Center at Davis Hopsital, Cindy Johnston coordinates the inpatient diabetes education program and manages the outpatient clinic for Davis Hospital, Jordan Valley Medical Center and Jordan Valley’s West Valley campus. She is also an instructor for the Weber State University nursing program.
In her diabetes education classes, Johnston teaches people how to manage Type 1, Type 2, pre-diabetes and gestational diabetes. “As a diabetes educator and RN, my greatest accomplishment is seeing my patients do well,” she says. “I love to watch as their blood glucose levels decrease, seeing them feel much better and hearing comments such as ‘this has changed my life for the better’ and ‘I did not know I could feel this good.'”
In 2014 Johnston began volunteering at the Seager Memorial Clinic at the Ogden Rescue Mission. Once a month, she works with homeless and uninsured patients, helping them find ways to manage their diabetes despite their unusual circumstances. As an advocate for these patients, she also works to secure donations of supplies like glucometers, strips and insulin.
When Tyler M. Rose was growing up in St. George, his father was a math and chemistry professor at Dixie State University. Because of this, says Rose, he “was able from a very young age to see demonstrations of chemistry that seemed (and still seem) almost magical.” Rose went on to get a PhD in Medicinal Chemistry from the University of Utah, and ever since 2006 he has worked as an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Roseman University of Health Sciences.
“For me, the most rewarding aspect [of working in healthcare education] is being able to develop relationships with the individuals who make their way through our program, watch them develop greater competence and confidence as practitioners, and help them accomplish their educational and career goals, even if that help sometimes only involves being a cheerleader on the sidelines,” says Rose.
Rose is known for his non-traditional teaching style, where he incorporates games to help students learn and retain information. He was recently awarded the inaugural Teacher of the Year award from the College of Pharmacy students. Rose is also a researcher, focusing on designing drugs that affect the lipid signaling associated with pathological pain, anxiety and metabolic disorders.
Being a good medical professional depends on having a firm grasp on three things, says Viet Le, a physician’s assistant at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute: science, medicine and human interaction. Of those, he says, science can be taught and medicine can be learned, but human interaction must be experienced.
“Enjoy and partake of the art, music, sociology, literature, etc. of your patient population. Caring improves as you understand the patient as much as their disease,” he says.
Le’s interest in medicine was first piqued when he saw his older brother going through medical school. He put himself through school working as a medical assistant and physical therapy aide, and then a phlebotomist. After earning his master’s degree, Le began his career as a physician’s assistant in cardiology.
While he loved the field, his family obligations at the time clashed with the rigid schedule of cardiology, so Le turned instead to occupational medicine. Though the move was unexpected, Le says the experience helped make him a better professional when he returned to cardiology four years ago.
“The six years of experience gained during that time trained me to look at patient care, medical research and the practice of medicine in ways I would not have arrived at had I stayed in my first path,” he says. “It was transformational.”
For the last six years, Intermountain Medical Center has hosted an Advance Practice Clinician post-graduate residency program, bringing in one new APC grad per year to get hands-on experience at the hospital. At the helm of this program is Aaron Pugh, who mentors the resident as he or she rotates through different clinical services in the hospital and coordinates training for the resident, with an emphasis on critical care and trauma patients.
Past residents have gone on to work in major metro area trauma centers, giving a nod to the strength of Pugh and the hospital’s training and mentorship.
APC residency programs are relatively scarce across the country, and Intermountain’s is the only one in Utah. The program was initially funded with grant money, but is now fully funded by the hospital. While the program has no immediate benefit to the hospital, Pugh has demonstrated there are long-term benefits in the form of being able to recruit APCs more easily in general because of its demonstrated valuation of physicians assistants and nurse practitioners.
Since the program started in 2010, it has grown in renown, and Pugh now chooses the next year’s APC resident from dozens of applications. He is currently looking for funding to open up a second residency position.
Gordon Johnson has spent decades volunteering with Intermountain Healthcare. He’s served as an Intermountain Healthcare trustee since 1979, served on Intermountain’s executive committee and chaired its building committee. He also served as chairman of Intermountain Healthcare’s Central Region, overseeing the five adult hospitals in the Salt Lake Valley. Today, Johnson serves as the chairman for Alta View Hospital’s Community Advisory Council.
Johnson, now in his 80s, is known for advocating a healthy lifestyle, and he’s learned the importance of that from experience. In 1999, his wife contracted strep A and was hospitalized as a septic patient. One of her critical care physicians credited her peak physical condition as being a major factor in her survival and recovery, Johnson recounts. Between that experience and his work volunteering, Johnson has remained passionate about maintaining a healthy lifestyle—and sharing that passion with others.
“The best way I know to achieve happiness is to become engaged in selfless service to others and one of the many ways to do that is to help people live the healthiest lives possible,” he says.
While Mark Miller’s primary business is his family-run auto dealerships, Miller and his wife, Kathie, are passionate about philanthropy. Miller has served on the board of the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics since 2010, chairing the board for three of those years. He has advocated expanding Medicaid in the state, and he and his wife’s foundation raised enough funds to purchase a $1 million AirMed Helicopter for the hospital, as well as raising over $700,000 for the University of Utah’s NICU last year.
When he first joined the University of Utah board, Miller felt as though he and his colleagues could be doing more for the hospitals and clinics. To begin effecting change, he started a program called Board Connect, wherein board members each adopt units. The goal, says Miller, is to learn about the unit, get to know its team, and spend time visiting with patients once a month. From that experience, the board can provide better feedback to hospital administrators.
“Healthcare touches all of our lives from birth to death. I have met so many amazing people who have dedicated their lives to making our lives better. Healthcare continues to evolve at an ever-increasing rate,” says Miller. “It has been amazing to watch this organization grow.”
G&A Partners wanted to go beyond a focus on diet and exercise with its wellness program. Realizing that every person has unique needs and challenges, the company expanded its program to encompass several dimensions of wellness: physical, social, environmental, intellectual, occupational and emotional.
The company put some real skin in the game to make the program effective, bringing on Oliva Curtis, a certified personal trainer and fitness nutritionist, to oversee the program. G&A Partners’ wellness program includes monthly challenges that focus on a targeted goal, with the hope of instilling new habits. Additionally, G&A Partners provides one-on-one health coaching to all employees.
The company also ensures employees are invested in the wellness program by tying it to their insurance premiums—employees earn points that are combined with the results of biometric screenings and health assessments to determine each employee’s premium.
“As a whole, we found that the comprehensive wellness program transformed our culture as employees began encouraging one another to make healthy choices while maintaining a healthy level of competition and support,” says Aaron Call, vice president, sales and operations.
To promote health among its employees, Merit Medical Systems established an onsite healthcare clinic for employees, their spouses and dependents. The clinic makes it easy for employees to access healthcare with same- or next-day appointments, says Fred P. Lampropoulos, chairman and CEO of Merit Medical Systems. The clinic also helps employees stay up to date on important physical check-ups and health screenings.
In addition to the clinic, Merit Medical has a certified nutritionist who collaborates with an onsite chef to provide healthy and nutritious meals. And the best part? The chef can draw from an onsite garden for fresh vegetables and herbs.
In the Merit Garden, employees are given complimentary planting boxes, seeds, supplied and education to grow their own fresh produce in their free time. “Employees love growing healthy produce they can take home, the feeling of accomplishment they get when they work in the garden, and spending time outdoors,” says Lampropoulos.
Merit Medical’s campus is encircled by a walking path, giving employees another reason to spent time outdoors and be physically active.
“We believe healthy and happy employees are an investment in our company and our community,” says Lampropoulos. “We are committed to making decisions that positively affect our employees’ mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.”
Most businesses that boast onsite fitness facilities are large companies—but not Sunwarrior. With only 40 employees, the St. George-based company not only has a fully equipped gym, but also a personal trainer who visits regularly to meet with employees one on one. To further encourage fitness, Sunwarrior will sponsor one race or athletic event each month for each employee.
Last year, the health food company launched a new program to incentivize fitness—the Ambassador Challenge. Sunwarrior usually turns to outside fitness gurus to promote the brand, but with the Ambassador Challenge, employees competed to become the next brand ambassadors (one male and one female). Each employee set personal health or fitness goals, with the help of a coach, and received personalized nutrition and workout plans. After the nine-month challenge ended, Sunwarrior’s 40 employees had collectively lost more than 500 pounds.
“The weight loss certainly was incredible, but what was more incredible was the camaraderie and teamwork that we cultivated in our office (particularly our in-office gym and kitchen) as employees all worked toward the same large goal: to be healthier,” says Russ Crosby, CEO of Sunwarrior. “We want every single one of our employees to feel empowered to take control of their wellness.”
For USANA Health Sciences, encouraging wellness is a simple matter of practicing what you preach. “Wellness isn’t viewed here at USANA as just another program to keep employees engaged and a perk of the job, it really is something that employees have come to love because of the environment that USANA has created,” says Chad Myler, USANA’s wellness coordinator.
That environment includes a café that serves up affordable, convenient alternatives to fast food in the form of a full salad bar, healthy entrees and freshly made soups.
An onsite fitness facility features an indoor basketball court, cardio and strength-training areas, a rock-climbing wall, two accredited professional fitness trainers (at no cost to employees) and group fitness classes like yoga, bootcamp and CrossFit.
On top of that, fitness is incentivized with cash and prizes. For example, last year employees received awards for reaching 50, 150 and 250 workouts. Prizes included an iPod, a Wii gaming system or cold hard cash. The CEO fitness award, an honor that comes with $100 in cash, is given out quarterly to employees who have achieved large personal health goals.
“USANA believes more in happy and healthy employees than employees who can just get the job done,” says Myler. “Fostering an environment of wellness helps bring about the best in employees physically, mentally and financially.”