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Zika Forum Addresses Research, Clinical Care, Public Health Challenges

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Zika Forum Addresses Research, Clinical Care, Public Health Challenges

By Richard Westlund
Special to UM News

zikaUniversity of Miami President Julio Frenk called on Congress to approve emergency federal funding for Zika research, treatment, and monitoring at a Zika forum hosted by UM Thursday. “We need to weigh the cost of inaction with the modest price tag of this proposal,” Frenk said, referring to a deadlock in Washington over allocating $1.1 billion to $1.9 billion to address this immediate public health threat.

“The cost of caring for children born with serious health challenges, as well as the failure to develop new treatments and the loss of our collective sense of security from government inaction, is many times higher than the dollars being discussed in Congress,” Frenk said at the panel discussion presented by the Miller School of Medicine and UHealth – the University of Miami Health System at the Lois Pope LIFE Center.

Laurence B. Gardner, interim dean of the Miller School, welcomed faculty, staff, students, public officials and many members of the media to the Zika forum, which included presentations by Miller School experts on the front lines of research, infectious disease, obstetrics and pediatric care, prevention, and the spread of vector-borne disease.

Questions from attendees ranged from the University’s leading-edge laboratory research on potential Zika vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tools to the latest clinical advice for pregnant women and the importance of aerial spraying in Miami Beach to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the virus.

‘’We take this threat very seriously,” Frenk said, noting growth of the University of Miami Zika Global Network, which focuses on research, discovery, education, and care. “We are collaborating locally, nationally, and internationally to deal with this global threat.”

Research priorities

From a research perspective, the most pressing priority is development of a simple, inexpensive diagnostic tool for the Zika virus, followed by development of a vaccine and treatment both pre- and post-infection, said David Watkins, vice chair of research in the Department of Pathology. “There is a DNA-based vaccine that has protected monkeys against Zika that should be going into human trials in November,” he said. “Other vaccines are also being developed, and there is great hope on this front.”

Mario Stevenson, professor of medicine, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, and director of the Institute of AIDS and Emerging Infectious Diseases, said the Miller School’s longstanding collaboration with infectious disease researchers in Brazil provided a “heads up” on the serious nature of Zika. “That has helped us respond more quickly to this threat and leverage the research infrastructure in place here,” he said.

Frenk also emphasized that point, noting the importance of being ready for the next pandemic. “From AIDS to Zika, we face an entire alphabet of viruses,” he said. “Investing in our capacity for fundamental scientific research lets us retool our capabilities to meet new threats.”

Clinical care

Currently there are 80 pregnant women in Florida with confirmed exposure to the Zika virus, said Christine L. Curry, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, who consults with the state Department of Health. “While Gov. Rick Scott has said all pregnant women have the right to be tested, the lack of resources has affected our ability to conduct tests and provide timely results,” she said.

As a clinician, Curry says her patients have a long series of questions about Zika, including the risks of microcephaly, a birth defect in which the infant’s head is smaller than normal, as well as vision, hearing and potential developmental delays. “It is very difficult to quantify those risks, because new data keeps emerging,” she said. “As we learn more about Zika, we are finding that some infants may look normal at birth, but fail to meet developmental milestones in their first year.”

Later in the forum, when asked about exposure to insecticides to repel or kill mosquitoes, Curry came down firmly on the side of protection.  Staying indoors, wearing long sleeved tops and pants and using repellents are important steps in reducing the risk of mosquito bites, she said.

In pediatrics, one of the clinical challenges is early diagnosis of children carrying the Zika virus, according to Ivan A. Gonzalez, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and specialist in pediatric infectious diseases. “Knowing an infant or child has been exposed to Zika could help physicians develop clinical protocols,” he said. “We also need to monitor these children closely to learn more about the long-term outcomes.”

The public health challenge

As Florida faces the Zika threat, there is much that can be learned from other countries where tropical diseases are endemic, said several panelists.  Mosquito control has been shown to be effective in many regions, and should be a priority for Wynwood, Miami Beach and all of Miami-Dade County, said John Beier, professor of public health sciences and chief of the Division of Environment and Public Health.

“We are all at risk in South Florida, especially with so many visitors moving through our neighborhoods,” Beier said. “We need to invest in mosquito control, because it’s essential to our quality of life here.”

Paola N. Lichtenberger, assistant professor of clinical medicine and director of the Tropical Disease Program, noted that there are significant differences between Zika and dengue, Ebola, and yellow fever. “This is the first time we have seen a tropical virus associated with microcephaly, and the first time we have seen sexual transmission of the virus,” she said. “In some ways, we are starting from zero. But we need to know how this virus behaves in order to develop vaccines and treatments.”

Alina Hudak, deputy mayor of Miami-Dade County, also addressed the Zika public health challenge facing the region. “We need to educate the community about the importance of taking individual precautions, controlling mosquitoes, and breaking the cycle of transmission,” she said. “Our efforts in Wynwood have dramatically reduced mosquito counts, and we are hopeful that aerial and truck spraying in Miami Beach will have the same results.”

Concluding the session, Frenk and several panelists emphasized the importance of a collaborative approach to combating Zika. “It’s not just what the city, county, or state can do to fight mosquitoes,” Lichtenberger said. “It is everyone’s responsibility to prevent a generation of children growing up with birth defects from this virus. Learn about Zika, pay attention to what’s happening here, and take action to protect our community.”

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Not All Superheroes Wear Capes


Not All Superheroes Wear Capes

By Charisse Lopez-Mason
Special to UM News

SuperheroesLisandra Afanador walked into the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute more than 11 years ago gripping her small son’s hand as tightly as she would at the edge of a cliff. Her head was spinning, and her heart was heavy with emotion. She was sad, hopeful, anxious, and afraid.

“My son suffered from everything,” she said. Then 9, Adriel Afanador was visiting Bascom Palmer to treat glaucoma and cataracts, among other diseases. He was small for his age, and hyperactive. “I was so afraid of how he would handle this,” Afanador recalled.

Soon after her first visit, Afanador met Vanessa Bello, manager of patient access at Bascom Palmer. “I knew she was special; she is someone you don’t forget.”

Twice a week for many years, Bello became Afanador’s confidant—putting her mind at ease during visits to Bascom Palmer with her son, helping them navigate through a very difficult situation, every step along the way. More than 1,100 visits, hand-holdings, and hide-and-seek games later for her son, Afanador speaks fondly about her experience at Bascom. “Vanessa was so warm and nice to my son throughout the years,” she said.

The Afanadors are one of countless families who have stories about their experiences at UHealth—the University of Miami Health System, and many involve one of the more than 500 on-site patient access representatives who serve thousands of patients each day.

Day in and day out, these representatives serve patients on the front lines, before they receive specialized care, and create a first impression that leaves a long-lasting impact.

On-site patient access representatives are hard to miss. Along with their bright smiles, they wear bright orange scarves or neckties dotted with the U.

“I can’t believe how popular the scarves have become,” says Enery Samlut, executive director of health system access. “We knew we wanted something that represented that we are all part of the U team.”

John Perez, senior patient access representative at Bascom Palmer for the past 18 years, knows the stories of each of his patients, who know him by name, or by his voice. “One of my patients was badly scarred in a fire,” he says of the woman he’s been greeting and helping several days a week for the past six years. “She knows I’m here by the sound of my voice,” Perez says.

But visiting a physician is not all smiles and friendly conversation. Wait times can be a challenge for both patients and staff, but patient access teams still strive to make sure the patient comes first. According to Perez, a lot of his job is ensuring that the patients are always kept informed and comfortable. “I try to make a connection with them to ensure that they have a good experience,” he says.

An integral part of providing that positive experience is integrating programs to help teams provide the best service they can despite roadblocks.

“The patient experience is the sum of all interactions but it all begins with a good first impression,” says Armando Carvajal, manager of IT and training operations, who subsequently implemented a new-hire orientation program for the on-site patient access team called Impressions. The five-hour course has one simple objective: to inspire and equip all front line, on-site patient access associates with the necessary skills to effectively and efficiently handle all types of customer interactions while providing a memorable and exceptional patient experience.

Patient Access Representatives make up one of the largest enrollments in the University’s Essentials of Leadership program, which provides foundational training and coaching for University leaders, and are active in the University’s culture transformation, being trained on the new leadership traits, behaviors, and service standards.

“We train and track metrics around service and performance,” said Salmut. “But it takes special people to do this work. It comes from the heart.”

Now 20, Adriel Afanador still visits Bascom Palmer, though not as frequently. Life hasn’t been easy for the Afanadors, but they are still grateful for the people at UM who helped ease their long journey. “Everyone, all the people there, are awesome,” Afanador said.


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UHealth Wireless Network to Be Restricted on December 21; Users May Switch to SecureCanes

SecureCanes1As part of the University of Miami’s effort to improve wireless connectivity, the UHealth wireless network at the Miller School of Medicine campus will be restricted to those with an account on the medical domain starting Monday, December 21. Faculty, staff, and students who cannot access the UHealth wireless network after this change are kindly asked to use the SecureCanes wireless network. SecureCanes provides encryption for wireless communications, making it safer to use wireless devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

To access the SecureCanes network, you are required to enter your CaneID and password. You will be asked only once to join this network and enter your credentials, but if you change or reset your password you will need to reconnect with your updated credentials.

For instructions on how to connect to the SecureCanes wireless network see SecureCanes Documentation.

Once you have successfully connected to the SecureCanes wireless network, please follow the instructions on how to remove the UHealth profile from your device(s). By removing the UHealth profile from you device(s), you will prevent your computer and/or device(s) from attempting to connect to both wireless networks.

If you have any questions or have trouble connecting to the SecureCanes wireless network, please contact the UMIT Service Desk at 305-243-5999 or help@med.miami.edu.



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UHealth at Coral Gables Marks Milestone: ‘Topping Off’ The Lennar Foundation Medical Center

Special to UM News

Topping Off 2

Construction workers hoisted a small pine tree on the rooftop of the new Lennar Foundation Medical Center to mark the occasion of the last beam being placed atop the structure.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 23, 2015) — Eleven months after The Lennar Foundation Medical Center, home of UHealth at Coral Gables, broke ground on the University of Miami’s Gables campus, construction on the 200,000-square-foot facility came to a stop — but only briefly. The occasion was to observe the traditional “topping off” ceremony, held when the uppermost portion of a building is put into place.

On Friday, November 20, the large crane at the site of the five-story building hoisted a small pine tree and American flag to the rooftop, “topping off” what will be the first presence of UHealth – University of Miami Health System on the Coral Gables campus.

More than 155 construction workers were treated to a celebratory lunch and raffle of several gift cards. Over the past year, they have worked to build the state-of-the-art medical center that will offer specialty care by the renowned Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, ranked the No. 1 eye hospital in the nation for the past 12 years, along with outpatient surgery, men’s and women’s health, sports medicine, physical therapy, diagnostic imaging, radiation oncology, and other UHealth subspecialties.

Addressing the construction crew, Ben Riestra, chief administrative officer of The Lennar Foundation Medical Center, said they had set the building blocks for a health care destination. “You are creating an iconic building where we will deliver the most targeted therapies to UHealth patients. This facility allows us to do that to an entirely new group, including you and your families.”

Augustin R. Arellano, chairman of OHL-Arellano Construction, which is building the Coral Gables facility, remarked on the positive feedback he hears about the site and the work being done.

“So many people are talking about this great project and that is all because of you,” he said. “I congratulate and thank you for that.”

The luncheon took place on the third floor, which will be home to UHealth Sports Medicine and Bascom Palmer Eye Institute services. Framing on the second floor for the outpatient surgical suites is well underway, and rough plumbing and electrical systems are being put into place. Following the luncheon, guests and the construction crew were able to sign an interior wall, effectively marking the occasion.

The Coral Gables facility is scheduled to open late 2016.

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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute Celebrates Official Grand Opening of New Naples Campus

Special to UM News

From left: Mayor John Sorey, Stephen G. Schwartz, Eduardo C. Alfonso, Steven Falcone, and Michael Gittelman.

From left: Mayor John Sorey, Stephen G. Schwartz, Eduardo C. Alfonso, Steven Falcone, and Michael Gittelman.

NAPLES, Fla. (October 29, 2015) — More than 150 friends and supporters of Bascom Palmer Eye Institute attended the official grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Naples campus on October 26.

Eduardo C. Alfonso, M.D., chairman of Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, and Stephen G. Schwartz, M.D., M.B.A., associate professor of ophthalmology and medical director of the Naples Center, cut a huge orange ribbon officially opening the new facility. They were joined by Naples Mayor John Sorey, Steven Falcone, M.D., M.B.A., executive dean for clinical affairs and CEO of the UHealth Physician Practice, and Michael Gittelman, executive hospital administrator of Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.

“This is truly an exciting time for Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, the Naples community, and the entire region we serve,” said Alfonso. “With this new 20,000-square-foot cutting-edge eye care center, we will be able to deliver the highest level of ophthalmic care, research, and education to our patients in Collier County for decades to come.”

The new Naples Center opened for patient care earlier this summer. The new building, which is LEED certified, a building certification program that recognizes leadership in energy and environmental design, has 22 examination rooms. A 5,000-square-foot ambulatory surgery center located on the second floor of the building is scheduled to open in 2016.

“The new Bascom Palmer campus at Naples will allow our doctors to treat virtually all eye diseases, from the most common to the most rare,” said Schwartz. “The patient demand for our services in Naples has grown exponentially. Not only are we expanding the space and our faculty and staff, but the number of clinical research trials offered to patients will increase.”

The $25 million state-of-the-art eye care facility in Naples was made possible by a construction loan from Bascom Palmer’s Ophthalmology Research Foundation. A number of naming opportunities are available within the Institute, some of which have already been accounted for by generous philanthropists and families living in the Naples community, including the Ernie D. Semersky family and Dory Newell and Allyn J. Heath, along with Monty and Usha Ahuja, Don and Connie Smith, and Shelia Davis.

Also present at the ceremony were members of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and Bascom Palmer’s Naples Advisory Group, including Reg Buxton, Andrew Cummins, Stephanie Goforth, Jonathan Gopman, Colleen Murphy, Patrick Neale, William O’Meara, and Mayela Rosales, as well as many local politicians and community leaders.


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