Eight programs to benefit Galveston area and beyond

Eight innovative community health programs at the University of Texas Medical Branch have earned President’s Cabinet awards totaling more than $200,000. The programs include pediatric care kits that provide items like toys and electronic devices to distract children during medical procedures, lifelong learning opportunities for older adults in Brazoria County and a fitness program for Galveston students.

The President’s Cabinet was established 26 years ago at UTMB to provide seed funding for programs that further the university’s mission. The more than 300 members include faculty, staff, community members, alumni and others. Annual contributions from President’s Cabinet members—$500 for junior members (age 40 and under), at least $1,000 for individuals and $5,000 for corporations, foundations and other organizations—are pooled to create the awards. President’s Cabinet members have contributed more than $6 million since 1993, with awards given to more than 150 programs. For more information about the President’s Cabinet, visit https://development.utmb.edu/cabinet-intro.

The 2019 awards are:

“The Gift of Life: Building and Sustaining Capacity for Eye Care at St. Vincent’s House”

This program builds on the success of a 2011 President’s Cabinet award that provided hundreds of Galveston-area patients with sight-saving diabetic retinopathy treatment and follow-up examinations. The new award will expand vision services to the economically disadvantaged in Galveston who rely on St. Vincent’s Eye Clinic for care. St. Vincent’s House is a community health clinic staffed by volunteer health professionals and UTMB students. The program will upgrade and purchase new equipment, supply eyeglass prescriptions, offer testing and treatment for glaucoma patients and develop cataract surgery services. Awarded to Drs. Lance Lyons and Jed Assam, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences residents; Mary Schmitz-Brown, assistant director of the Ophthalmology Research Laboratory; Dr. Misha Syed, associate professor in Ophthalmology; and Dr. Malkit Singh, a contractor in Ophthalmology.

“Pain, Pain Go Away: Reducing the Perception of Pain in Children with Comfort for Kids”

Pain related to medical procedures can cause stress and anxiety for children and their families. Studies show that distractions are considered safe, effective and low-cost methods to lower pain and anxiety. This President’s Cabinet award will support the creation of 25 portable pediatric care kits that include age-appropriate toys, an iPad equipped with specialized comfort applications and an external vibratory buzzing device. The kits will be distributed to UTMB outpatient pediatric clinics based on the severity of medical procedures, including immunizations and biopsies. Awarded to Stephanie Kemmerling, a nurse practitioner in the Department of Dermatology.

“Lifelong Learning for Angleton Danbury”

Since 2002, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UTMB has provided engaging learning environments to adults aged 55 and older. OLLI’s enormous success and UTMB’s growing presence in Brazoria County have sparked the establishment of a similar lifelong learning program for residents in Angleton, Danbury and the surrounding area. OLLI will be created with a basic classroom infrastructure at an Angleton location and will provide free one-year memberships for underserved community members. College-level courses, age-appropriate fitness activities and various health-related workshops will be modeled after the OLLI program in Galveston. Awarded to Michael Washburn, program manager of UTMB’s Angleton Danbury Campus Community Resources, Wellness and Volunteer Services; and Dr. Michelle Sierpina, founding OLLI director.

“Transitional Care Management Program for St. Vincent’s Nurse-Managed Clinic”

Transitional Care Management (TCM) programs are effective at bridging gaps across health care settings, particularly for patients at high risk for poor medical outcomes. With an estimated 3,000 patients seeking medical treatment at the St. Vincent’s House nurse-managed clinic annually, more than 17% are considered at-risk. This President’s Cabinet award will cover the services of a nurse transition care manager to facilitate a TCM program at St. Vincent’s House. The program objectives include building rapport with patients, providing disease-specific education for self-management, confirming follow-up appointments and providing care management to support effective treatment. Awarded to Dr. J. Michael Leger, associate professor in the School of Nursing Master’s Program; and Dr. Maureen Biggs, nurse practitioner in the School of Nursing’s Community Engagement.

“Cancer Connection: From Diagnosis to Treatment”

This program will provide Chemo Care bags to patients beginning chemotherapy or radiation therapy at UTMB. The bags will contain educational and treatment materials as well as lip balm, lotion, blankets, socks, journals and ginger candies. Each bag will be packed by people who have experienced similar treatments and know which items will be most valuable. This President’s Cabinet award will fund 600 bags over two years. Awarded to Cheron Hillmon, a social worker with the Community Health Network.

“Building Long-Term Academic Success through Ongoing Fun Fitness (BLASTOFF) Program”

Studies show that physical activity during school can increase students’ attention and memory and reduce inappropriate behavior to improve academic performance. To help academically low-performing students at Odyssey Academy in Galveston, the UTMB Occupational Therapy Department will create a motor laboratory program called BLASTOFF, working with students in the school’s reading intervention program five days per week for 20 minutes per session. The BLASTOFF lab will include dance software, gross motor skills equipment and motor coordination and fitness games. Awarded to Dr. Karen Ratcliff, assistant professor in Occupational Therapy; and Dr. Claudia Hilton, associate professor in Occupational Therapy.

“St. Vincent’s PUSH for Prevention: Partnership with UTMB to Screen for HIV”

St. Vincent’s House clinic does not have the infrastructure or resources to screen patients for HIV or AIDS, according to guidelines of the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The development of a pilot HIV screening program will improve adherence to USPSTF guidelines and provide a link to care for vulnerable populations at risk for HIV transmission. The program also will be a platform for incorporating comprehensive preventive medical care and establish population health monitoring. Awarded to Dr. Premal Patel, an associate professor in Internal Medicine; John Davis, a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences; and Manasa Kanukurthy, Naim Mekdessi and Zhihao Zhu, School of Medicine students.

“Inspiring Girls to Help Meet Our Future STEM Workforce Needs”

There is a vital need for qualified workers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers. As women continue to remain underrepresented in STEM fields, strategies are needed to inform and inspire more pre-college level girls to seek these careers. This project will create an annual STEM Career Conference for Galveston County girls in grades 5 through 8. Participants will learn about STEM careers by attending hands-on workshops presented by women from businesses, universities and government agencies. The conference workshops will include aerospace, accounting, engineering, the petrochemical industry, maritime technology, biomedical sciences, health care and zoology. Awarded to Dr. Marguerite Sognier, director of the Office of Educational Outreach.