Health Day 2019

William Nicholson,

LGS Health Day 2019 Design Team

The Leadership Greater Syracuse Class of 2019 gathered on June 12th for “Health Day” at the new CNY Biotech Accelerator on East Fayette Street. We were introduced to this state of the art research and development incubator by Director of Operations Kathi Durden. Our class day sponsors from SOS, Nicole Chidsey and Diana Jones, greeted us with an uplifting message about the importance of LGS and the mission of the day. Following some class announcements with LGS Director Pam Brunet, Class of 2019 member Ishrat Ahmed (Oswego Inn) set the agenda for us, and pronounced the goal of the day:

“To inform, inspire, and empower ourselves to create better health outcomes in our communities”

To kick off the day’s agenda, Marcus Smith (Helios Health) introduced the first segment, where we were taught essential conscious breathing practices by Bonnie Shoultz of the Syracuse Zen Center and Joanne Cook of Hendricks Chapel. The importance of this type of centering seemed an obvious choice to get ourselves on the right path to a full day of learning. Importantly, they both emphasized that the active, conscious breathing practices are simple enough to integrate for anyone, anywhere. They also explained that this easy meditative practice is independent of any specific spiritual or religious practice. One need not be a practicing Buddhist to benefit from the addition of a few moments of conscious breathing every day!

Quote:  “Humans are pre-programmed with Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive”

In an interesting twist for an LGS class day, the design team decided that a brunch hour would make an excellent and healthy alternative to a traditional mid-day lunch break. With several nutritious and delicious options provided by Leigh and Steigerwald (thank you Joni!) and ample caffeine from Recess Coffee, the class was fortified to then dig into the next segment. But first, Liane DeSantis (Anchor QEA) had the class up and active for some fun survey questions, and opportunities to look at modifying our daily routines, and how we might make simple healthy choices. Each exercise included a chance to gain raffle tickets for prizes at the end of our day together.

After some lively movement and brunch, we were ready to get back to class, and dive into some serious health policy with a panel discussion on how the Federal Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” has actually impacted the health care system locally and regionally. William Nicholson (AccessCNY) presented the goal of the discussion, and introduced the distinguished panel, which included Onondaga County Commissioner of Social Services Sarah Merrick (LGS grad!), Steven Wood, Director of Insurance Programs from ACR Health, and Mark Muthumbi, Regional VP of Sales for Excellus (LGS grad, and a sponsor of the day!). Facilitated by BJ Adigun from the CNY Care Collaborative, the class was engaged in a deep dive into the implications of the Affordable Care Act, and the ways that it has increased access to care, reduced disparities in outcomes and changed the landscape of health care in our region. Although the topics broached were detailed and complex, the friendly rapport of the panelists and the expert facilitation by BJ Adigun combined made all of the content accessible and relevant for all. The class had some interesting questions which reflected exactly how important political change can be for anyone engaged with the health care system at any level.

Liane DeSantis (Anchor QEA) then took the class for another round of break time activities, including a trip through a healthy snack bar, full of nutritious goodies to keep the energy levels up for the second half of our day.

Joe Vetere (Empower FCU) brought the class back together to introduce “Chocolate for the Mind, Body and Soul” with Dr. Kaushal Nanavati, Medical Director of Integrative Therapy at SUNY Upstate. This fun and engaging presentation focused on work-wellness, balance and self-care. Dr. Nanavati has presented this segment previously for LGS, and this year it was also warmly received.

Quote:  “No pill can do that” (describing how eating cruciferous vegetables reduces arterial plaque)

The design team had also set as a priority discussion of the growing opioid crisis and its impact locally. Carl Thomas (SUNY Upstate) introduced Dr. Ross Sullivan, founder of the Upstate Emergency Opioid Bridge Clinic and Theresa Baxter, Opioid Use/IV Drug Nurse Practitioner at SUNY Upstate. Their presentation provided a serious examination of the physiology of opioid addiction, and how treatment modalities are updated with growing knowledge of how these compounds work on the nervous system. They also presented a chronological history of opioid use in the US, myths and facts about heroin, and how stigmas about users have developed and changed over time. The urgency of the crisis locally was highlighted with mortality data, with sharp peaks corresponding with the recent introduction of fentanyl compounds into the local community.

For a more direct and personal testimony, Lee Guillame (Onondaga County Sherriff’s Department) and Andrew Lunetta (A Tiny Home for Good) introduced us to two local community members whose lives have been transformed by opioid addictions. Amy Dejohn and Kirk Butler both held the class spellbound with their heartfelt messages of despair, recovery and resilience. One clear message from both of these brave individuals was:  “we are not our addiction, we are people” with the plea to the class, “you just have to care” if you want to truly help.

For another break, the Sassy Taco truck provided us with fresh guacamole, salsa and chips, as we all enjoyed a remarkably beautiful summer day outside at the outdoor picnic tables of the SUNY Biotech Accelerator.

After a healthy snack, and many of our class taking stairs to get in and out of the facility, we reconvened for a session on mental health needs and services in our region. Dave Marobella (Excellus) introduced us to Lisa Loar, Outpatient Services Director at Helio Health. Her excellent presentation talked about dealing with stigmas and narratives about mental health by “re-language” strategies, using person-first vocabulary to replace judgment-laden labels and stereotypes. She espoused a systemic view of mental health, keeping crises, struggles and disorders in the context of an illness-wellness continuum. Her brilliant reframing of mental health treatment was informative and helpful to anyone, not just mental health professionals.

At the request of the design team, Helio Health provided Narcan training to the class, with two members of their crisis intervention outreach team. The class was provided with necessary background and preparation to identify a likely overdose, and how to administer the potentially life-saving antidote. Those interested were provided with a two-dose Narcan kit to take away with them for future incidents.

Quote:  “Judgement and empathy cannot coexist”

The last segment of our class day program was introduced by Bill Bass (Environmental Consulting) which brought us an uplifting glimpse into how Provisions Bakery in Armory Square has been providing employment supports for individuals living with mental illness. Ken Mack, Associate Director of Mental Health Services and Supported Employment and Russ Gentile, Associate Director of Mental Health Community Based Services (both from AccessCNY, the parent agency of Provisions) described the goals and mission of Provisions, as part of the larger range of community based supports. Provisions offers work readiness skill development and training that is applicable to any future employment, beyond restaurant work. The benefits of employment have a direct impact upon symptoms, like reduced depression and isolation.

An interesting fact that came from their discussion is that only 15% of individuals with mental health diagnoses are employed, highlighting the importance of programs like Provisions. An LGS class member also shared her appreciation of Provisions, having had a direct positive experience with a family member who had been employed there in the past. Ken and Russ shared some wonderful Provisions baked goods with us, and then… with a brief closing word from Tim Macko (Excellus) another challenging yet enlightening class day was over.


As part of the LGS Class day tradition, a call to action was initiated, with the class collecting roughly $250 in donations to support the important work of “Friends of Dorothy House” which provides lodging and critical support to individuals living and dying with AIDS in Syracuse.