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Sylvester’s Stars Program Celebrates Nine Exemplary Employees

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Stars employee recognition program, led by Sylvester’s board of governors, has announced nine “star” employees for the third quarter of fiscal year 2023. The nine were nominated, selected and celebrated for exemplifying Sylvester’s mission and the University of Miami’s DIRECCT Values.

Doral CTU team
Doral CTU team

“Last year, together with the board of governors, we launched the Employee Recognition Pilot Program to recognize our incredible Sylvester employees and the extraordinary impacts they make on our patients, our facilities, our research and our community,” said Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D. “We established the Sylvester Stars program, to honor the team members who make Sylvester a place of tremendous cancer care and a place of hope. Each quarter, I am humbled by the number of stories we receive highlighting dedication and excellence.”

Each Sylvester Star received a personalized video featuring Sylvester Board of Governors thanking the employees for their hard work and dedication. Managers rounded on their Star team members to congratulate them and presented each with a personalized certificate and swag.

“It’s a celebration of people who care enough to make others stand up and take notice,” said Adam Carlin, chair of the Sylvester Board of Governors.

Sylvester’s third quarter 2023 Stars are:

Monica Valdivia, B.S.N., R.N., OCN

Many cancer patients in the Doral comprehensive treatment unit (CTU) cannot wait for treatment or care. However, accommodating patients’ needs might mean jumping over seemingly impossible hurdles, from insurance issues to scheduling changes and more.

That’s where Monica Valdivia, B.S.N., R.N., OCN, nurse manager of the Doral CTU, shines. Valdivia never hesitates to take matters into her own hands.

“From the moment of diagnosis, our patients are going through so much — emotionally and physically,” Valdivia said. “We can only imagine how hard it is. So, for me, they come first. No matter what, these patients are family and sometimes we need to step out of our norm to make the impossible happen. I jump through all those hurdles because as a leader, I intend to show my team and motivate them to do the same.”

Karleen Bien-Aime, M.S.N., R.N., OCN

Sylvester Star Karleen Bien-Aime
Sylvester Star Karleen Bien-Aime

On November 8, as Hurricane Nicole approached Broward and Palm Beach counties, Karleen Bien-Aime, M.S.N., R.N., OCN, sprang into action.

The storm’s uncertain path threatened to cause disruptions in care for Sylvester’s patients. But Bien-Aime, director of nursing at Sylvester’s CTUs in the north satellite locations, worked tirelessly the night before the hurricane’s landfall to ensure that all patients received their treatments. Bien-Aime engaged the nursing staff to find creative scheduling solutions for patients and helped to ensure float nurse coverage for the sites that needed it.

Expressing her gratitude for being recognized as a Sylvester Star, Bien-Aime wrote, “I am truly proud and honored to work as a nurse in the oncology field at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. I love what I do and feel the most accomplished by helping and caring for others.”

Juliette Cardenas, M.S.N., A.P.R.N., FNP-BC, AGACNP-BC, and Sharleene Josep, R.N.

In February, Juliette Cardenas, M.S.N., A.P.R.N., FNP-BC, AGACNP-BC, and Sharleene Josep, R.N., personified patient advocacy when a patient receiving the last chemotherapy treatment of her regimen complained of pain at the port site. CTU nurse Josep listened to the patient and asked Cardenas, a Sylvester CTU advanced practice provider, to evaluate the patient. Cardenas recommended a port study before the patient completed the rest of the treatment.

Sylvester Star Sharleene Josep
(Center) Sylvester Star Sharleene Josep

The team was able to expedite the port study which showed that the port was defective, and get a replacement port placed quickly so as to not delay patient care.

As it was in this case, teamwork is an important attribute in providing excellent care.

“We have a great team at CTU, and I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of the amazing UM family. Thanks to the great support I have every day from everyone in CTU, I am able to deliver the best care and attention possible to our patients,” Josep said.

Edward Chris McHugh

On Friday, January 6, Sylvester’s Director of Business Operations Chris McHugh got word that unacceptable linens were being delivered to the Deerfield Satellite. McHugh acted immediately to locate a different vendor and set up a delivery for linen for the following Monday.

Sylvester Star Chris McHugh
(Center) Sylvester Star Chris McHugh

McHugh worked throughout the weekend to make sure patients would have quality, safe linens. He was at Deerfield at 6:30 a.m. to meet with the local administrative staff and the vendor to remove all the dirty linen and count and deliver new linens to all the units before 9:30 a.m.

McHugh rolled up his sleeves, literally, helping to haul more than 2,800 pieces of linen out of the facility and 2,800 pieces of clean linen back in.

“We felt the conditions of the patient linens… provided to Deerfield [were] unacceptable. We felt this was not up to par for our cancer patients,” McHugh said. “Having worked at Sylvester for over 30 years, and [being] a cancer survivor myself at Sylvester at Deerfield, I know that Sylvester needs to and does provide the best for all of their patients. Hence, I would not think twice to do anything to keep Sylvester exemplary.”

Susan B. Kesmodel, M.D.

Susan B. Kesmodel, M.D., director of Breast Surgical Oncology and co-leader of the Breast Site Disease Group at Sylvester, is an excellent, compassionate surgeon who tirelessly serves cancer patients. She is beloved by patients, and because she provides state-of-the-art, high-quality breast surgery, she saves lives daily.

Sylvester Star Susan B. Kesmodel, M.D.
Sylvester Star Susan B. Kesmodel, M.D.

“She bends over backwards every day to accommodate more and more cancer patients,” said the colleague who nominated her.

What drives her? According to Dr. Kesmodel, it’s knowing that her patients are getting the best care and support during their cancer treatment so that they can return to productive and fulfilling lives as cancer survivors.

Herminia Puodzius

As senior manager of satellite operations, Herminia Puodzius stands out for always being available to support patients, departments and satellites.

Puodzius is a certified translator who assists patients in their preferred languages. She makes excellent recommendations for patient and staff safety, recently helping to reduce clutter while maintaining unit necessities. Puodzius rounds on all areas, helping to escalate patient concerns when needed. She makes it easy for patients and staff to feel comfortable about talking openly. And she collaborates effectively with leadership.

“Being an attentive listener is my secret to collaborating with patients and staff,” Puodzius said. “I act as a non-judgmental ear to everyone. I approach every situation without bias or preconceptions respecting their point of view and ideas, and always provide feedback and follow through.”

George Velazquez, M.P.H., LMT

Sylvester Star George Velazquez and his manager, Karen Lipay
George Velazquez and his manager, Karen Lipay

George Velazquez, M.P.H., LMT, oncology massage therapist in Sylvester Cancer Support Services, recently volunteered his time to show his appreciation to another department, offering them complimentary massages for a job well done.

He took the time to reach out through the proper channels to find out what he could do to help the Sylvester team, then he proceeded to offer massage therapy services, which team members greatly appreciated.

The importance of teamwork drives Velazquez to pay it forward, he said.

“An unwavering belief that to ‘complete the mission,’ we must work together as a cohesive force. In our case at Sylvester, the mission is serving our patients,” Velazquez said.

Alina Cruz, Pharm.D., BCSCP, CPh

Last year, Sylvester Pharmacy Manager Alina Cruz, Pharm.D., BCSCP, CPh, was responsible for opening the new Sylvester Doral pharmacy — a job that requires a tremendous amount of hard work, dedication and planning.

Within three months of her hiring date, Cruz was tasked with making sure that all documents, protocols, and processes were in place before the pharmacy’s opening. She oversaw construction blueprints, the Board of Pharmacy documentation, the office supply list for her department and more.

“As a pharmacist, patient safety is of the utmost importance to me. I know that my staff and I are integral in the care of our patients and thus endeavor to always find the most efficient ways to deliver patient care while prioritizing patient safety,” Cruz said. “I strive to serve as a model for others and I hope to inspire all pharmacy staff to practice at the top of their profession. I may not be a face or name that patients remember, but knowing that my work makes a difference in their lives is worth more than any recognition.”

Managers and other colleagues and coworkers are invited each fiscal quarter to nominate Sylvester employees who they feel should be recognized for exceeding expectations.

Tags: Dr. Stephen Nimer, Dr. Susan Kesmodel, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center