Humans of Hennepin Healthcare

In recognition of the variety of humans that make it possible to perform our mission at Hennepin Healthcare, we have refreshed our Stories from the Field series to become Humans of Hennepin, sharing reflections not only from employees but also from volunteers, donors, patients, and community partners.

Marie Hillman

Marie Hillman – Social Work, Inpatient & ED Care Management

“Although patients come through our doors to address an acute medical issue, there are often broader issues affecting their health. These are issues that will persist after discharge. Social workers aid patients in locating resources that help manage their healthcare needs after discharge. Often doctors will call us when they need help sorting through family tensions. Especially in the ICU, medical emergencies will bring together family members who do not usually see each other and there are conflicts about who should have access to a patient. At other times we will have patients not connected with anybody and have no emergency contact or decision-maker. That’s when we try and track down a relative.

The most rewarding times in this job are where you can see very real immediate results where you are making a difference for a patient’s life situation – where if I don’t help this person, they have no one in their life and nowhere else to go. We are pulling at every thread to find a solution. Most of the time we cannot come up with something that is going to resolve all their problems, but if I can find a resource that addresses one little piece, then things can build on each other.”

Oscar Oranday Perez

Oscar Oranday Perez – Behavioral Health Research Counselor, Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute

“I work in the Behavioral Health Equity Research Group (BHERG) Lab and support our studies by talking to participants directly and administering the intervention, which is counseling or coaching. I also support the Health, Homelessness and Criminal Justice (HHCJ) Lab in one of their studies. Over the year, I’ve really enjoyed focusing on counseling skills to help participants trying to quit smoking. It has been very personally enriching and informative and has changed how I approach my daily life. I’ve been learning about motivational interviewing, which helps the participant see the possibility of changes within them. We work with participants to find out what’s important to them and find links between their goals and values. I’ve had very satisfying experiences with participants who have been positively affected by the studies. That’s the power of not just lending an ear, but also empathy. The work we do can really uplift people. If the participants experience a positive outcome, that comes from them. We were simply in the journey with them. Hearing the participants realize that is very rewarding.

What I’ve really liked about Hennepin Healthcare is that there is this clear effort for the staff to reflect the population that they serve – more diversity and representation in the workforce. I feel grateful every day for being a part of this supportive team. We aren’t afraid of giving each other constructive feedback. It’s a very nurturing environment where learning and growing is greatly promoted. Having trust in your team can make a such a difference in your work.”

Talee Vang

Talee Vang, MA, PSYD., LP – Vice President of Health Equity

“Research suggests that companies that are more racially diverse outperform their competition, and we know it’s important to have racial diversity at every level of Hennepin Healthcare. A common misconception about DEI and health equity is that it is all about racial diversity, but it is so much more than that. It’s also about ensuring systems, processes, and policies will lead to sustainable institutional changes that will benefit all historically marginalized groups for generations to come. In my time at Hennepin Healthcare, I have seen the organization’s commitment to equity grow, especially our commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution. Oftentimes, health equity departments are underfunded and consists of only one or two people. But when you come to Hennepin Healthcare, you can see the commitment we have made as an organization. Our health equity team consists of experts in the field. Our executive leadership team and other leaders actively take part in DEI and health equity training.

Healthcare systems everywhere are managing extreme exhaustion, acutely ill patients, and prolonged trauma because of COVID-19, racism, and xenophobia. Despite these challenges, our team members continue to believe that health equity is imperative. That is what inspires me. In moments when we are extremely tired or disheartened, we are most vulnerable to giving way to our biases. Behavior change can lead to systems change and a cultural shift. This is the time for us to make the changes necessary to eliminate disparities and to make sure the changes are sustainable.”

Abbie Knight 002

Abbie Knight – Revenue Cycle Analyst, Revenue Integrity Department

“I was hired in college as a casual employee in the operator department answering phone calls. It was a great fit for me to be able to continue my education and do something that felt meaningful. I wasn’t studying anything related to healthcare, and then I realized that my career path wasn’t what I wanted to do. Ten years ago, I would never have thought I would be working in healthcare, but I’m so happy to be here. That was an incredible opportunity to use my healthcare experience to start a career I wasn’t expecting.

I love the mission here at Hennepin Healthcare and the people I’ve gotten to work with along the way. I think there’s something so special about filling the healthcare gap and helping patients who don’t always have other options. And I feel grateful every day that I work with people who understand that I’m an employee and also a human.”

Melvin Henderson

Melvin Henderson – Engineer, Facilities Management

“I come from St. Louis, Missouri, born and raised in the projects. We were often told that we would become the product of our environment, our physical location and zip code. I might’ve lived in the projects, but where I really lived was in my mother’s home. She raised five kids, since our father had passed, in addition to her younger sister and niece. The home environment I was raised in is why I am strong and resilient today. Although racism is still prevalent and puts wear and tear on our community, I remain strong and hopeful for us. Together, we will mend. This is a place for healing. We are here for life for patients and each other.

I was one of the first people of color to be hired in my department. Although I’m proud of that, we cannot just stop there. It’s about equity across the board. I’m supporting the effort to make our department more inclusive. When people are hired at Hennepin Healthcare, the energy should be more welcoming throughout their entire careers. I think we can make this happen more consistently. Our leadership and teams have come a long way. It’s a little bit more inclusive, empathetic and considerate, but we still have some ways to go. I’m trying to make it better for the next group of people who decide to work at our hospital and clinics.”

Mick Belzer

Mick Belzer, MD – Chief of Physician Development, Foundation

“Working at Hennepin Healthcare was my first job, and it will be my last job as I retire this month. When I started in 1980, I was one of two members of the hematology/oncology section in the department of internal medicine. Later on, I was the medical director, now called chief medical officer, for 30 years. It’s a tough job. To do it well, you need to balance trusted relationships with hospital administration and providers. It’s a complicated line to walk.

The beauty of working as the chief medical officer is that I had a pulpit to speak for our uninsured and underinsured patients at the local, state and federal legislature. I really enjoyed making an influence on a wider audience than just the patient I’d be seeing for one hour in clinic. I love clinical medicine, but I thought the great part of my job was advocating for our patients. After I stepped down as the medical director, I stayed on staff because much of the administration was new. I focused on government affairs, advocacy, lobbying, and work with Hennepin Healthcare Foundation.

I’ve been so grateful to have this opportunity to be a physician and medical leader at a place that is recognized by our peers as a top-performing safety net hospital. We’ve grown from a small, low reimbursement, low-cost safety net hospital in 1980 to a well over billion-dollar hospital with over 7,000 employees. We’ve sustained employee and patient growth and preserved our values.”

Yosef Amrami

Yosef Amrami, Ph.D – Child Psychology

“Exceptional care without exception is something I live by. Hennepin Healthcare is exceptional because it’s a public hospital serving all, yet it doesn’t compromise the quality of care and in many ways, exceeds other hospitals in what it provides. Since it’s such a large hospital, our child psychology department has many opportunities to integrate with other teams like the pediatric intensive care unit or burn unit.

I really enjoy helping our young patients overcome phobias and anxieties. It doesn’t look like what people might think – from both extremes. We’re not just playing, but we’re also not just talking for 45 minutes. There’s a lot of movement in therapy. We work on relaxation skills, routine fun activities to boost their mood, or maybe exposure therapy. It’s all concrete and activity-based. When I can see a kid breezing through something that used to be difficult for them, that brings me joy, especially since what we do is more intangible.”

Chuck Putzer

Chuck Putzer - Volunteer

“For 16 years, I stayed home and took care of our kids. They are all grown up now and I miss interacting with children. My wife works for Hennepin Healthcare and shared that there’s always a need for volunteers in the pediatrics department. I applied and started four months ago. I help with a variety of efforts but most enjoyable is interacting with the young patients and holding the youngest of them. One child has been here for a while and had a rough night and was unresponsive. The team was really worried about him. I was able to spend a concentrated period of time with him, holding him, reading, rocking. Then suddenly, he opened his eyes, truly focused on me, and smiled. They tell me it was a groundbreaking moment. It was an amazing moment for me.

Everyone here has been so thankful, letting me know that I am helping them a lot. That is what is so rewarding. It’s a cool place.  My wife enjoys working here and has always praised Hennepin. Now being here and volunteering I can see why with my own eyes."

LeeAnn Heim

LeeAnn Heim – Patient Access Director, Connection Center

“The Connection Center, the operators, nurse telehealth, and telemedicine are all like a front door to Hennepin Healthcare. They might help a patient schedule an appointment, explain where to park, assist in a patient transfer, or connect a patient to a provider. I love that we can give patients options for how they receive care. Leveraging technology is something I really enjoy – how can we use technology to empower our patients? I really enjoy helping patients learn how to use tools to communicate and connect with their care teams, like through online scheduling options or MyChart.

I adore Minneapolis, so an opportunity to support the city and Hennepin County was a huge draw for me to work for Hennepin Healthcare. I think what keeps me here is the diversity, equity and inclusion work that everyone is going through. I’ve never worked anywhere that has taken DEI work so seriously.”

Sally Gorski

Sally Gorski, MA, CCC – Speech Pathology

“What keeps me at Hennepin Healthcare is the opportunity to listen to patient stories and struggles. It’s trying to help them as much as I can. Sometimes I only have a one-hour evaluation with a patient, but even in that time I try to give them the best opportunity so they can swallow safely and live comfortably. Our diversity with our patients and colleagues is something I really value. We have our challenges and frustrations, but in the end, it’s the dynamic nature of what we do and who we work with that keeps me here.

Not many people know we help patients experiencing brain fog, typically from traumatic brain injuries or more recently, long COVID-19 patients with cognitive issues. They’re not experiencing breathing problems as much as they were in 2020 and 2021, but I think we’ll be working with long COVID-19 patients for an unpredictable amount of time. It’s unbelievable what they’re going through and what they must overcome. I give credit to my colleagues for adapting to give our patients the best care possible.”

Dylan Boyer at Red Undie Run event

Dylan Boyer (he/him) – Aliveness Project

“This year, we are excited to have Hennepin Healthcare as a sponsor and participant team in our third annual Red Undie Run, a one mile run across the Stone Arch Bridge on Saturday, December 3. The event brings attention to World AIDS Day in fun, joyful atmosphere. People come out in all different types of outfits – a wig, a Santa hat – people get creative on what red undie means to them. There’s no right or wrong way, The Red Undie Run isn’t only about the Aliveness Project. The day is about all HIV/AIDS community partners, all people living with HIV, and all people taking steps to prevent HIV celebrating the biomedical advances we’ve achieved to someday end HIV. Together, we will also find space to honor the lives we’ve lost from HIV causes.

We are stronger together than apart. There are incredible organizations working to lead us to an HIV- and AIDS-free generation. Hennepin Healthcare’s Positive Care Clinic is one of the community partners. That’s an important thing to see and remember – it takes all of us to end HIV.”

Luis Barillas Schwank

Luis Barillas Schwank, MD – Family Medicine, Richfield & Whittier Clinics

“My introduction to the medical field was volunteering with international medical organizations as a Spanish-English interpreter in Guatemala City, where I was born and raised. Because of that experience, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in medicine.

I enjoy the variety that family medicine offers. My day can start with a well-child check, followed by a procedure or a prenatal care visit, then an appointment to manage a chronic condition. I’m grateful for my patients and appreciate when they bring a loved one to see me for their care too. This year, a patient invited me to their high school graduation. That’s been the most rewarding experience.”

Jennette Turner

Jennette Turner – Social Determinants of Health Program Liaison

“There are many medical consequences to food insecurity in addition to malnutrition. Four of the leading causes of death in the U.S. are diet-related – stroke, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. People who are food insecure have a much higher risk for poor health outcomes. And it’s not only physical health – mental health is affected too. Depression and anxiety increase with food insecurity.

The Population Health team is working to narrow the gap between how many of our patients are in need and how many we are reaching. I manage our partnerships with Second Harvest Heartland and Every Meal. Second Harvest Heartland connects patients with ongoing food resources. Every Meal provides a variety of culturally congruent bags of food that we distribute to our clinics and specialty departments. Any of our staff can use these resources to help our patients.”

Amanda Noska

Amanda Noska, MD, MPH – Medical Director, Positive Care Center

“I feel an obligation and have an opportunity to use the privilege I’ve been given to advocate for our patients. I can be someone who helps manage their care without judgement. There’s a lot of social determinants of health and barriers to healthcare among vulnerable populations. I want to be a part of the solution.

I’ve heard assumptions about persons who inject drugs that are wildly inaccurate, one of them being that they don’t care about their health or want treatment. To understand a substance abuse disorder is to understand that it’s a chronic relapsing disease. People do care about their health, but they have other challenges. At the Positive Care Center, we have the opportunity to help people try to turn their lives around against all odds. It’s important for us to make a warm, safe space for patients to seek care.”

Damilola Adebiyi Pic

Lola Adebiyi – Patient

“I entered the emergency department scared and alone. With my limited mobility and even more limited ability to communicate verbally, I was terrified about how effectively my care would be managed. Fortunately, I found a compassionate ally and competent advocate in nurse Trish. Trish was extremely knowledgeable about my medical condition and went above and beyond to anticipate my needs and make sure they were met.

Knowing that talking was difficult for me, Trish communicated with all the members of my care team to ensure that everything was well coordinated, and my discharge was seamless. When my mom arrived, she was pleasantly surprised to see me so comfortable, cheerful and well cared for. Nurse Trish will forever be a hero in my and my family’s lives.”

Joe Skinner

Joe Skinner – Surgical Aide

“I enjoy the challenge of serving the mission of Hennepin Healthcare every day. No two days are alike. We do tons more with fewer resources than other hospitals. It’s rewarding when I see a patient a year or two after a surgery at an event like a festival or the fair. Sometimes they walk up to you and thank you for helping them walk or get well again. At your neediest time, we can put you back together.”

Todd Mitchell

Todd Mitchell, RN – Clincal Care Supervisor, Emergency Department

“You can’t make up or predict the cases that come through the emergency department doors. Every day is different. Often times, we care for patients and family members who are in crisis and experiencing the worst moments of their lives. Whether it’s a traumatic car accident, gunshot wound, or a loved one having a stroke, ED and EMS staff are ready at the first stages of care. Prior to working in the ED, all my experience was in the intensive care unit and surgical intensive care unit. The change has been eye-opening for me. It has broadened my appreciation for the work we do across the continuum. I find the work intense and meaningful.

We have a strong, world-class emergency department. I believe that to truly understand or appreciate what happens down here requires seeing it for yourself. The past few years have been challenging for all of us. The pandemic and critical staffing shortages have had a direct effect on the department – extended patient stays, higher patient census and increased violence. Despite these challenges, I am grateful to be part of a team that has worked tirelessly with perseverance and resolve.”

Ellen Otto

Ellen Otto – Job Coach, Merrick Inc.

“I’m a job coach for a team of four cognitively disabled folks who take care of all the recycling for Hennepin Healthcare. When I looked around the hospital and saw how diverse and inclusive it was here, I knew my team was going to be accepted. I’m a teacher and a supervisor to them, but I’m also opening people’s eyes around here to the disabled. It’s been a teaching moment for employees and the public.

My team loves coming to work because they’ve made friends here. The best thing is when I see my team interacting with other departments. It brings me joy. If I’m having a bad day, all I need to do is look at my team. It’s the little things that matter. It’s rewarding for me to see them gain independence every day. I can back off and they can do their thing. That means something to them too.”

Lynette Santos

Lynette Santos – Patient Services Coordinator, East Lake Clinic

“In the late 80s, my mom had an injury – 83 percent of her body was burned. She stayed in the burn unit at Hennepin Healthcare for about three months. I was 3 years old. I can vividly describe everything that happened that day. Knowing that my mom was at Hennepin Healthcare and receiving amazing treatment was a comfort. We’re originally from Cuba, so having an interpreter always there to explain what was happening to me and my siblings is something I’ll always remember. As I got older and learned more about the medical field, it became my passion. When I had the opportunity to work at Hennepin Healthcare, I immediately took it on – I wanted to give back to the place that saved my mother’s life. That’s something special I hold.

It's rewarding to me to get to know staff and patients as individuals. My team has seen me go through major life changes. Outside of work, they’ll check on me and I do the same for them. It’s a blessing to support each other.”

Margaret Sweeney

Margaret Sweeney – Interpreter

“It’s a privilege to accompany people in their most vulnerable times. We bear witness to births, deaths, and everything in between. It's a cost and a gift to experience what other people are going through. We celebrate with the family when a patient starts breathing on their own, and we mourn with them if they die.

Interpreting is not as simple as translating. We listen for the intent behind the words and pinpoint any lack of understanding between the patient and provider. We serve as a cultural liaison. It’s a lot of advocating for patients. We’re a bridge between them and the hospital. Because we’re in the appointments with patients, we can take their point of view back to Hennepin Healthcare. It’s an opportunity to speak out and improve the care we provide.”

Tony Tuttle

Tony Tuttle – Welcome Services

“Welcome Services isn’t a department many people think of when going to the hospital. We’re not providing healthcare, but providing a ride home is a big deal to our patients. It’s rewarding when we can leave them with a warm hand off.

With so many different people coming into the hospital, you need to take everything with a grain of salt. There’s a bigger cause behind someone’s frustration or impatience. It’s not personal. They could be sick or trying to visit a loved one who is. That’s a high stress situation to be in, and they might take it out on you. We show kindness and understanding and focus on problem solving. We can make our interactions an enjoyable experience within someone’s bad circumstances.”

Tamara Shewmaker

Tamara Shewmaker, RN – Clinic Supervisor, Richfield Clinic

“I love that people here have so many different backgrounds. You meet people from all over with different life experiences and perspectives that have broadened my world view. I like sharing stories with each other. You get to know what’s going on with your colleagues and their families, or how they are handling different things going on in their life. In addition to being a co-worker and friend, you can also be a mentor for people.

I really think that our work is super important in this community. They really depend on us to be here and show up. We do so much more than provide medical care. We provide social care, mental healthcare, spiritual care. I feel proud to work here.”

Sam Pace

Samantha Pace, MD – OBGYN

“I’ve always had a strong interest in global medicine, and there’s nothing more locally global than Hennepin Healthcare. Lately, I’ve been caring for a lot of Afghani refugees, many of whom are pregnant or post-partum. Knowing the circumstances in which they fled Afghanistan and escaped the Taliban – so many of them have lost everything and came here with nothing. I did work in Afghanistan in 2014 in an area where some of the refugees are coming from, so I have a little bit of cultural understanding. I took care of this woman who stayed on the Kabul airstrip for three days with her five kids, waiting to escape. She had to leave all of her family members behind. And she’s pregnant. I’ve had patients who want to tell me what they’ve been through and don’t hesitate to launch into their stories. Sometimes, the interpreters come from the same area and pitch in their stories. It almost becomes a storytelling session, which I hope is therapeutic.

It takes a huge amount of humility to gain patient trust. I try to make our appointments a safe environment to ask questions and I’m open to the answers. It’s all about providing safe space, time and compassionate listening.”

Mike Connolly

Mike Connolly – IT Manager

“My team is awesome. They’re understanding inside and outside of our circle about the emotional, and at times physical, toll that we’ve all been dealing with for the past couple of years. That approach has created more understanding and gratitude within the IS&T team and Hennepin Healthcare overall. They’re engaged, open and honest. They’re willing to have frank discussions about any topic from technical to some of the DEI race and relationship work IS&T has been doing. They’re not employees, they are people I work with and admire.

The relationship development in our team is much more important to me than our set of tasks to complete. What’s important to me is the people, the development, the growth, the inclusion, and the sense of belonging. My focus for work, my home life, and my friends is to help and support people wherever I can.”

Shanika James Humans Of Hennepin

Shanika James – Medical Student Coordinator

"I love my job. I take pride that I'm a part of medical students' accomplishments. I see them grow from coming to Hennepin Healthcare to observe, completing their medical rotations, applying for residency, and some becoming a physician here. Knowing that I had a place in their journey by coordinating their rotations is extremely rewarding to me.

I think it's important to gain the trust of my medical students. That helps them feel comfortable opening up, venting and expressing their true feelings to me. Since I've taken on this role, I've encountered medical students dealing with anxiety, fear, panic and stress. Some have given up practicing medicine and a few have even taken their lives. That's why I encourage them to contact me at any time. I tell all the students that I am a phone call away and will be there for them under any circumstance.
My biggest advice for those who interact with medical students is to become a listener. Be patient with them. Sympathize with them. Give them encouraging words because life is not always easy."

Danielle Becker

Danielle Becker – Library Supervisor

“We are redesigning the library right now. It’ll provide more seating space and independent study spots. We’re hoping that once things open a little more, we can have author readings and events. The library a great place to sit down, read, and catch your breath. We can help you with your research and help you find articles or books – and not necessarily medical, we do a lot of other research too.

Almost every single day, I get a thank you from someone, whether it’s a patient or a physician. It’s great when someone appreciates our work. We live for helping people – that’s why we’re here.”

Mike Ramos

Mike Ramos – Security Supervisor

“We have a very diverse clientele from every race, sexuality, orientation, lifestyle, everything. Being from small town Minnesota, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of that growing up. I enjoy learning about everything that anyone has to offer. It’s great to talk to a man who has lived here his whole life and then two minutes later, a woman who just moved here from Africa and has a different outlook on life. It’s experiencing everyone else’s culture without having to travel around the world.

The first people you see when you walk into the ED door is the security officers. We have to start that human connection at the door because chances are, the person walking through the door isn’t having the best day. We can’t heal their loved ones, but we can make it easier for the rest of the team to make their day better. It can be as simple as getting them a glass of water and helping figure out where their loved one is. Everyone that walks through Hennepin Healthcare has emotions and a broad set of different cultural beliefs and ethnic beliefs, so it’s crucial for us to make that human connection.”

Tiffany Begin

Tiffany Begin – Accounting Associate Principal

“I support the point-of-sale locations throughout Hennepin Healthcare. That includes the onsite and offsite pharmacies, cafeteria, parking and the clinics. I collect, count, verify, deposit, and reconcile. It can be challenging to move financial transactions in and out of the hospital and keep everything flowing smoothly for patients and staff.

Even though my teammates and I aren’t medical staff, we’re needed so that the providers can serve our community. A hospital can’t function without a team managing funds. I’m grateful for the people we help – from the clinics, to the cafeteria, to the Foundation.”

Saed Yusuf

Saed Yusuf, RN, BSN – Clinical Care Supervisor, STNU

“Hennepin Healthcare gave me so many opportunities. From my first day, I could see my future here. Before I started, I was the assistant manager of the Purple parking garage. Then I did some training and worked with EMS and then phlebotomy. I felt called to nursing and took classes while I had full-time work and a full-time family. Everybody along the way was motivating me and telling me ‘You belong here. You can do this.’ They lifted me up. That’s why I’m here. It takes a team to lead this unit and give exceptional care without exception.

The way I grew up also helped me. I’m from the Middle East and lived in Somalia. My family left Somalia when I was 7 because of the civil war. We fled to Yemen and lived in a refugee camp for 10 years. Throughout the years in the camp, I volunteered in the refugee clinic to help the medical team who provided care to all refugee patients. I helped with interpreting, assisted in the lab and in the surgery unit, and worked closely with tuberculosis patients. I learned so much in that time. Imagine being a 7-year-old boy with hardships coming into a refugee camp in a different country. That experience gave me resiliency and determination to overcome obstacles and barriers, and it also shaped my future as a healthcare provider.”

Liza Anderson Gonzalez

Liza Anderson-Gonzalez, NP – Comprehensive Weight Management Clinic

“Nursing is how I give back to my community. I act as different roles in my position – I’m a coach, advocate and teacher in order to help patients improve their health. I’ve also worked in many different positions for Hennepin Healthcare – a nursing assistant, a nurse, a supervisor, and now a medical provider, so I’ve been around the full circle of what the organization has to offer. I’ve enjoyed helping our community and my co-workers in different realms.

What’s most rewarding to me is to participate in people’s success. It’s not just weight loss on a scale – it’s feeling better, being able to move more, and having a positive outlook on life. That’s special. There’s confidence and camaraderie between the staff, and there’s respect between the patients and providers. I’m grateful for that.”

Dominic In The Patient Chair 2

Dominic Ciresi – Foundation Board Member

“Before COVID-19, Board members toured different departments. Every time we did a tour, I had an ‘aha’ moment. For example, when we toured the Delta Dental clinic, my ‘aha’ moment was that kids who are autistic have an immensely hard time finding a dentist. Hennepin Healthcare is one of the only places they can get dental care. It never occurred to me. I told my friends who have autistic children, and it changed the way they go to the dentist. Every time I visit, I’m amazed at the depth and breadth of everything that is done at Hennepin Healthcare.

I think our biggest challenge and opportunity is to spread the word of Hennepin Healthcare – what we do, how we do it, and how well we do it. For this year and years to come, my goal is to get the community philanthropically involved with Hennepin Healthcare, especially the business community.”

Mariela Ardemagni Tollin

Mariela Ardemagni-Tollin – Community Health, East Lake Clinic

“Being an immigrant, I have a soft spot for people who may not have all the benefits and resources that they need. For example, if someone has diabetes and doesn’t have a home, it’s difficult to keep insulin in the fridge. Or maybe they don’t have enough food on the table or transportation to go to their appointments. I try to ease that path for our patients. Five minutes of my time could be a world to them. The most satisfying feeling is helping our patients have one less worry. I’m grateful that I can find a resource for them. The East Lake Clinic is a special place because we have that willingness to go the extra mile.

Opening our new space was like a big check mark after what we went through when the other clinic was destroyed. It was so devastating to see. We couldn’t salvage anything. We are very grateful for Whittier opening their doors to us so we could continue providing services. The day we opened our doors for the first appointments was a steppingstone we’ll never forget. We went through so much, but we made it. We got to the finish line.”

Karin Vaccaro

Karin Vaccaro – Music Therapy

“Music therapy can support a patient’s journey toward health and well-being. The music creates and starting point and a connection between the patient and me that guides our time together. Music causes psychological responses in our bodies. There’s a concept in music therapy called entrainment. I first assess a patient’s rhythm by their speech, breath and movements. I match their rhythm by singing or playing a song they prefer at that rhythm, and then gradually adjust the tempo or character of the music to support a gentle lift of mood or relaxation, depending on the patient’s goals.

It's incredible how music can relieve pain and anxiety, and how it can create community across different cultures. I think many people who haven’t experienced music therapy assume it’s just someone singing. It’s more than that. Music therapy is a powerful tool to improve patient outcomes.”

Sean Tolefree

Sean Tolefree – Employee Labor Relations Director

“My team and I work with HHS management and the union partners to negotiate new contracts. If staff have difficulties understanding the language of the contract, our Employee Labor Relations team can help with that. The biggest thing I enjoy is that many times we’re faced with difficult issues that are not addressed in the contracts, but we work in a collaborative way to attempt to find a good resolution for all. That gives us a feeling of accomplishment.

I’m grateful that the landscape is changing as far as the diversity of leaders not just in Hennepin Healthcare, but other areas too. That makes me feel better because the greater the diversity means we have a wider lens and different voices to bring more experiences to the table. Then we can start shaping things that help the entire community. In the campus development plan, I see that we’re doing that. We’re talking with our management team, our leaders and different staff through forums, and HHS has been intentional in talking to the community to see what they want and need the hospital to be.”

Tyler Winkelman

Tyler Winkelman, MD, MSc – Acute care, Internal Medicine

“I have the best job. I get to provide patient care, have some leadership responsibilities, and do research that’s not possible anywhere else in the country. I can blend all of those things to make a meaningful difference for our community. I think it’s using these tools to change structures and systems to improve health that is one of the rewarding pieces about working here. We fill a critical need in the community by taking care of everyone and ensuring that the care we provide is excellent.

The work here can be tough, and there’s absolutely no way that it would be possible without such amazing people who work here. In both general internal medicine and the research lab, there is so much excellence to be proud of. The providers in our division are some of the most brilliant clinicians and educators in the country. They’re here to serve the mission of this organization. I think we sometimes take for granted the amazing people that we have here. The people that I get to work with every day are some of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever been around.”

Chanon Ridore

Chanon Ridore, NP – Pediatrics

“I think it’s important to gain trust with all of my patients by humanizing them. I want to eliminate the hierarchy that often exists between the patient and the provider by being relatable. I think that allows them to feel comfortable opening up to me and trusting that I’m not only coming from a place of medicine, but the place of a parent. Families appreciate when we can understand and empathize with their situations and challenges.

Working in pediatrics requires a special personality because it can be stressful. Not all of the patients can speak yet and tell you what’s wrong.  While that can be challenging, it’s truly rewarding. It takes a lot of grace. And I’m working with a great team that exemplifies that.”

Linda Collins

Linda Collins – Desktop Analyst, IT

“In IT Desktop, I’m the only woman. People usually recognize me by either my nails or hair – I like to change them up! I’ve been here since 1998, so I’ve seen major technology changes. We used to have big, clunky computers – they looked like box fans. Now our computers are about half the size of a standard piece of paper, and we have more wireless devices. When someone needed test results, they used to have to wait for a phone call. Now, providers can enter orders and check test results in Epic. Nurses have an easy way to document instead of walking around with pieces of paper in their pockets.

All of us are someone’s customer. Extending care and compassion for others the way we do here matters to me. I like knowing that what I do matters, whether it’s unlocking a password, installing software, or setting up a Zoom meeting for someone. I can help make some part of a provider’s day easy.”

Omer Iqbal

Omer Iqbal, MD, FHRS – Cardiology

“In the simplest terms, I’m an electrician of the heart. When people think of the heart, they typically think of heart attacks caused by blockages, but there’s a lot of people who don’t know about rhythm disorder. It can be life threatening. There are different types, and we treat all of them. I’ve worked at several other high-end institutions, and there is nothing in terms of equipment and technology that we don’t have in order to diagnose and treat those disorders. I’m proud to say that we can provide treatments that patients may not get otherwise.”

Barbara Lordi

Barbara Lordi – Volunteer, Redleaf Center

“I’ve worked with toddlers and infants and their families my whole career. Over the course of the mother’s program, I get to know them and their babies.  I support mothers during their day at the hospital by holding or playing with their babies when they need a break and settling or consoling their babies. It’s gratifying to point out a child’s new development milestones and skills. I love answering questions and helping moms learn about their babies in new ways. There are so many spontaneous teaching opportunities.

Because of the pandemic, I feel that volunteer work is even more important. The pandemic highlighted how important is it to be in community and support people. Everyone has a part. People are dealing with trauma but there’s joy, too, in working together for a common good. I’m really inspired when I see new moms support each other. Watching babies change and grow over a few weeks is fantastic. I’m grateful there’s a program like this supporting families during a difficult time, and I’m lucky to contribute.”

Eileen Kerr

Eileen Kerr, PA – East Lake Clinic

“When our clinic was destroyed in protests after George Floyd’s murder, Whittier Clinic was very kind in hosting us while we were reestablished. Our new space opened a few months ago. We all felt an opportunity for it to be the clinic we want it to be. It’s hard to address bias when you work in a caste system – and healthcare is a caste system. At East Lake Clinic, we are aware of this and work hard to combat that.

The biggest benefit of our new space is the incredible view we have of downtown Minneapolis. The clinic is so open and bright. We feel more connected to the community. We’re so grateful, especially for the beautiful rooms. We were gifted a number of precious pieces of art. It’s like walking through a museum. If I have a minute, I walk through the clinic to look at the art – the way it’s all arranged is incredible.”

Eduardo Colon

Eduardo Colón, MD – Adult Psychiatry Clinic

“Between my work in consultation service and the clinic, it’s clear that there’s increasing levels of distress with increasing need for services and care. We have seen a surge in relapses in people with substance abuse disorders and worsening depression and anxiety. This all comes at a time when access to services is limited. We’ve had to limit inpatient beds to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and caseloads in outpatient services are increasing. That results in backups, which creates stress for both patients and providers. We’ll be seeing the consequences of this for a while.

I work at Hennepin Healthcare because of our mission. Working with people struggling with so many social and medical stressors makes it challenging, and at times frustrating, but it also makes it gratifying. That’s why we’re here. The teaching mission is crucial to our community. There is a sense of belonging to a group with a common goal and a variety of skills. Everybody is truly invested in what they do here.”

Manji Osifeso

Manji Osifeso, MD – Internal Medicine, Geriatrics & Senior Care, Richfield Clinic

“I specialize in geriatric care because many of our patients are in that age range. I didn’t want them to be placed in the general adult patient category. By the time they get to an older age, they’ve faced many challenges and I want to make sure we give them excellent healthcare.

I’m thankful I’ve been able to work at HCMC and take care of a wide range of challenges cases. That’s what medicine is all about – managing both the simple and complex. You learn and grow from that.”

Melissa Labrosse

Melissa LaBrosse, PA-C, MPAS – Cardiology

“I get to see patients both in the hospital and when they’re in clinic. As a provider, it’s always satisfying to see how much better our patients look and hear how their quality of life has improved. Getting to know our patients and working with them to improve their daily life, whether that’s playing with their grandchildren or walking on the golf course, is really rewarding.

In the cardiology department, we educate our patients on their heart conditions and our recommendations. When patients understand their condition and why we want to do certain things, they trust us as their provider.”

Edward Thornton

Edward Thornton – Shred-It Vendor

“Shred-It collects and removes all confidential information for the entire hospital. That means I walk 25 miles a day going from department-to-department Monday through Thursday. Lots of peanut M&Ms give me the energy to walk that much!

I’ve been here going on 10 years now, so I’ve gotten to know a lot of the staff members. It’s a warm feeling – we share family stories. I see some of them outside of work when my kids play sports. Their kids are playing right by my kids. You really have to be a loving person to care for so many different patients on a daily basis. Watching the providers and nurses has been amazing for me.”

Bryan Nelson

Bryan Nelson, MD – Golden Valley Clinic

“Back in my college days, my grandfather in Missouri had several medical problems. Things didn’t go as well as they could have. That drove me to the medical field. I found that I enjoyed a wide variety of things, which is how I came to family practice. I have over time pivoted how I approach patient visits. I consider myself a healthcare advisor. That helps patients feel more comfortable and more involved in trying to achieve their health goals.”

Matt Munoz standing in front of Foundation banner

Matt Munoz – Development Officer, Foundation

“In Spanish, when you say ‘thank you,’ the return is not ‘you’re welcome.’ It’s ‘it was nothing.’ A lot of people here, and they might not be aware of it, are wired to say ‘it was nothing.’ I can feel gratitude when people stop and take the time to talk about their Hennepin experience and how the Foundation has enhanced their personal or professional experience. They’re expressing their gratitude through their story.

My job is to take our provider’s passion and mission and find how philanthropy can achieve their goals. That’s really what the Foundation is set up to do. We are helping Hennepin Healthcare play a role in change in the communities we serve.”

Tami Herrmann2 1

Tami Herrmann, NP – Emergency Department

“I had a young patient who overdosed. We see a lot of those cases. I checked on him multiple times throughout the night. When he was being discharged at the end of the night, he found me and thanked me for caring about him, for worrying about him. It really made me feel good. That was gratitude. Not everybody does that.”

masked male volunteer playing piano in front of window

Michael Wiggins – Volunteer, piano player

“Playing the piano in the Clinic and Specialty Center has been an amazing experience. Patients and their loved ones tell me that hearing the music helps, that it touches them. I’ve noticed one common thing with every reaction from people – they reflect on their childhood. To know that I have something to give to make people feel better, even if it’s just for a moment, is an honor.

I try to play music that’s a balance. People are in different types of moods, so I try to create a calm atmosphere. I had no idea the response I would get. I know music has an effect on people, but I didn’t realize my music could heal the mind until now.”

Dr Sonja Colianni with baby in clinic

Sonja Colianni, MD – Pediatrics

“Since second grade, I knew I wanted to be a pediatrician. Kids’ energy and enthusiasm was what drew me, and then seeing my own pediatrician’s ability to help and support families. I was the weird kid that always looked forward to going to the doctor!

I enjoy seeing families grow throughout the years and serving as their source of information about health issues. It’s an honor that people place that trust in me, that I can be involved in such formative years in a child’s life.”

Sue Hieb Stewart

Sue Hieb Stewart, OTR/L, C/NDT - Pediatric Occupational Therapist

“One of my favorite quotes is ‘We do not quit playing because we grow old. We grow old because we quit playing.’ It looks like I get to play all day, but everything I do with the kids has a purpose.

When my pediatric patients come to see me, they are coming to ‘boot camp.’ They will be asked to work hard to make developmental changes, and most will make amazing improvements. The rewards are incredible.”

Rosemarie Heron

Rosemarie Heron – Welcome Services

“In my Native American culture, we emphasize learning patience and respect. It’s important for me to remember that we are all equal and we’re all connected in some way. I’m also Buddhist and there’s similar teachings. With those two identities, it can be tough, but I remember that everyone has a good quality within them, even if it’s blinded for the day.

For my community, knowing that I’m here is important to them because there’s not many of my skin color or culture here. They might be a little hesitant about asking for help. I come from where they come from. I feel gratitude that I’m here and able to say ‘I hear you.’ That’s important to them.”

male volunteer stocking white towels

Jim Parkin – Volunteer, infusion room

“I missed the comradery of the patients and the nurses, and the feeling that I’m doing some good for everybody involved. It’s been wonderful to see some of the patients I knew from pre-pandemic.

I’m known as the malt man. Our repeat patients know that the cafeteria usually offers milkshakes at 11 a.m. Bringing milkshakes to the patients is one of the high points of my day.”

James Toliver using exercise machine

James Toliver – Patient

I had problems with my breathing, not knowing I was having a heart attack. I went to the ED and they found a blocked artery. Not once but twice, then I had bypass surgery. The whole process was scary. I was healthy before my heart attack, now I look at life differently. I am grateful to cardiac rehab, they got me back on my feet. They give you all the tools, you just have to bring the positive attitude. It doesn’t hurt to be kind.  I can walk longer now than I ever did before.  I’m back to doing normal things and being engaged with life.

stuffed animal called the Worry Monster

Worry Monster – Pediatrics

“I am not a human, but I help humans at Hennepin Healthcare. They call me a Worry Monster – my friends and I have been a welcome addition to Hennepin Healthcare since July, thanks to some creative sewers. We get to work with kids all day by helping them feel brave and overcome their fears. Sometimes, they’re nervous about an upcoming surgery, appointment, or anything else at home or school. These things can be scary, but we eat up their worries. Our kids write their worries on a piece of paper, zip us open, and stuff it inside us – delicious! Then, a trusted adult, maybe a family member or favorite nurse, will open us and take a worry out to talk about it.

Our favorite part about being a Worry Monster is seeing our kids go from anxious to confidently facing their worries. They are so brave – we love helping kids at Hennepin Healthcare!

P.S. We have been known to gobble up the worries of adults too, especially those struggling with mental health!”

Ashley Bjorklund

Ashley Bjorklund, MD – Pediatric Intensive Care Unit

“I enjoy partnering with families to improve whatever ailment has brought their child into the hospital. We’re there during a family’s toughest time – when their child is critically ill in the ICU. It is often heartbreaking, but also brings the opportunity to ease suffering as we help families understand what’s happening with their child and show them we are doing everything we can to get them through their illness. We fight together for those little lives.

My favorite moment is when we get to take out the breathing tube of a child who has been critically ill and on a ventilator, but no longer needs that support. It brings me so much joy to put them back in their family’s arms and to see them begin to interact with their family again.”

Connie Wang

Connie Wang, MD – Nephrology

“It’s rewarding to witness patients with kidney disease go through the steps of dialysis and then successful kidney transplantation. They go from feeling ill to energetic, from disappointment to rejuvenation. It’s never boring to watch this process over and over again.

In that process, language barriers are common. We have interpreters, but health literacy is another battle. In a health setting where most patients are covered by private insurance, patients have probably already researched their diagnosis and the conversation is how to improve management. However, we often encounter patients who are unaware of chronic conditions afflicting them. Our goals are to convince them of the severity of the condition and reduce the anxiety they have about the healthcare system before we can move to management. We are proud that we have improved so many patient lives.”

Mark Muex

Mark Muex – Patient, Community Advocate

You have heard the news around the surge of patient care in hospitals and the long waits in emergency departments. We recently visited our own ED and soon met a patient who was grateful, regardless of the delay. We spoke to Mark after he waited 15 hours in the ED for a room. He was seen for congestive heart failure and asthmatic COPD.

“This is the only hospital I use. I love the people here. I love to be where people I know are and I know nearly the whole staff from being here so much. Some of my family members have worked here too.

Some poor decisions I made in the past tore down my community. To make amends, I’m giving back. Now I’m involved with a group called Brothers EMpowered. Throughout the pandemic, we fed thousands of people. We give away gifts to our youth, like bikes and backpacks. We also have a clothing store in the Northtown Mall. I see and feel gratitude knowing that I’ve helped somebody.”

Arti Prasad

Arti Prasad, MD, FACP – Chair of Internal Medicine

“The most rewarding part of my job is to assist our providers and leaders succeed and to provide compassionate care to my patients. I like to mentor, support, and advance our faculty in their careers, clinical work, education, and research. My pleasure comes from other people’s success and patient outcomes. It’s an honor and privilege to be leading and supporting my team in all aspects of their work.

Not everyone sees the human side of me because they might only regard me as an administrator, the Chair of Internal Medicine. I too am a human who feels the same despair and frustration, especially given the situation we’re in as healthcare workers. But I’m grateful for my team every day, and that brings me joy.”

Becky Anderson

Becky Anderson, RN – Whittier Clinic

“We started vaccinating children ages 5-11 for COVID-19, so there’s a lot of excitement here. The parents are really happy – although the kids aren’t too happy about getting a shot. It’s a big deal for the parents to get their little ones vaccinated. It’s been a long time coming.

We’re serving and helping so many people with the vaccinations and preventing hospitalizations. Everyone seems really grateful for what we do here, and that’s nice to see.”

Clay Ahrens

Clay Ahrens – Patient, Father, Husband, Friend

“I’ve known about Hennepin Healthcare all my life since I worked as an executive with Allina Health, but I didn’t have any interaction until I was referred here with ALS in 2014. It’s patient-centered to the core, meaning that everyone on the team – a neurologist, PM&R doctor, pulmonary doctor, RN, PT, OT, nutritionist, speech pathologist, social worker, ALS chapter care coordinator, lab tech - visits me. It’s the best model I’ve seen.

The average life expectancy for ALS is 2-4 years, but I’m almost at eight years. I didn’t know if I’d see my kids graduate from high school. Seeing them both graduate and thrive in college has been a gratifying experience for me and my wife. I plan to be there for as many life events as I can. ALS teaches you not to take those for granted. I appreciate them that much more.”

Sam Maiser

Sam Maiser, MD – Neurology & Palliative Medicine

“The human brain is the most amazing thing I know, along with the love and compassion that we humans can give one another. I wanted to spend my time thinking about the brain and helping people affected by nervous system disorders. I specifically became interested in ALS because I found a lot of meaning being involved in people’s lives during the tender moments of their serious illness. I am grateful to be involved in many aspects of care – from the beginning to the end.

Sometimes people think palliative medicine means we only take care of patients who are dying. I like to help people with serious illness live their best life, so it’s not really a focus on them dying - it’s a focus on them living.”

Rebecca Anderson

Rebecca Anderson – Hennepin Healthcare Foundation Board Member

The path that led me to Hennepin Healthcare was serendipitous and like many good stories, started with a cup of coffee and an old friend. That friend happened to be Karin Vaccaro, Hennepin Healthcare’s music therapist. The conversation veered from pleasantries to the urgent task of raising money for the music therapy program.

Music therapy depends on the generosity of the community. When I saw the joy and healing that music therapy brought to its patients, I wanted to dig deeper into the patient experience at Hennepin Healthcare.”

Abby Khaleet

Abby Khaleet – Pharmacy Technician

“It’s so rewarding when we help patients and they come back and thank us for keeping them on top of their medications. Last week was pharmacy week and we had a couple patients pick up their medication and they took the time out of their day to thank us for what we do – for being so kind and caring. We are a constant for our patients and community. We help patients with many questions, whether it’s about medications, symptoms they have, or the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Anthony Gentile

Anthony Gentile, RN – Emergency Department

“The ER is like this great buffer zone for the hospital. If everything is functioning like it’s supposed to, you’ll only see emergencies here. With the surge, we are holding admits and handling inpatient care. We see increased social issues and low acuity when patients have difficulty accessing other care options. We’re always open.

We can also be a microcosm of society. You’ll know what’s happening in society by who is showing up in the ER and why. You feel you’re directly involved in the world’s issues because they spill in every day and you have to problem solve.”

Woubeshet Ayenew

Woubeshet Ayenew, MD – Cardiology

“I have two boys ages 9 and 12. We’re from Ethiopia and I wanted them to be raised bicultural and bilingual. Attractive bilingual children’s books were hard to find. That’s how I joined Ethiopia Reads - to help create picture books in both English and Amharic.

100 children storybooks later, I see great similarities in the skills I apply to create the children's stories and to be a cardiologist. The clarity you seek to engage a patient in managing a complex heart disease is the same skill that is needed when you are telling a child a story on bravery, empathy, or other lofty values. That connection helps achieve big ideas and goals.”

Bob Stiles

Bob Stiles – Dunn Brothers barista

“We have a constant influx of different people, whether it be patients, hospital staff, or visitors. Most stand-alone coffee shops get people from the neighborhood, but here, we see a mix of everybody from all over the city and I think that’s fascinating.

Some customers I know by name or drink. It’s good to talk to people and be compassionate. They’re here for all sorts of reasons. There are a couple ladies that come in and we talk about what books we’re reading. People appreciate a little bit of recognition like that.”

female volunteer smiling in front of board that says welcome

Mary Jorgensen – Volunteer, Simulation Center & Volunteer Office

“I started coming to Hennepin Healthcare in 1971 at the old general hospital when I had my son. The providers here have taken good care of me and all my medical needs. I wanted to return that favor.

Not being able to volunteer was an odd time. I felt like I was halfway here – laid off, but not unemployed. Returning has been busy because departments have been backed up, so I’m glad to come back and give any assistance they need. I missed doing something valuable for HCMC. The teams here did so much for me, so to pay that forward is beneficial for me.”