Connect. Inspire. Lead.
The nation’s only essential conference

June 22-25


Our Programming

Virtual VITAL2021 offers an unparalleled program with multiple daily education sessions focused on policy and finance, innovations in health care, executive leadership lessons, and improving population health. Read more about each track and full session descriptions below.


American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)

Continuing Education

America’s Essential Hospitals is authorized to award preapproved ACHE Qualified Education credit (non-ACHE) for VITAL2021 toward advancement or recertification in the American College of Healthcare Executives. To apply continuing education hours toward ACHE Qualified Education credit, attendees should indicate their participation in VITAL2021 when applying to the American College of Healthcare Executives. A uniform certificate of attendance will be available within our online conference platform and can also be obtained by contacting We encourage you to use the uniform certificate of attendance to calculate your total number of earned continuing education units (CEUs) and submit to ACHE.


Session Descriptions

Expand each session below to see the full descriptions. Specific dates and times of each session are to be determined, check back soon for a full detailed schedule.

Policy and Finance

  • Foundations of Essential Hospital Financing
  • Medicare Funding of Residency Training: New GME Rules in 2021
Foundations of Essential Hospital Financing

Sarah Mutinsky, JD, MPH
Deputy Washington Council, America’s Essential Hospitals
Founding Senior Advisor, Eyman Associates PC

Medicaid provides critical funding for essential hospitals. The joint role of the federal government and states in defining how Medicaid pays providers, and the source of those payments, creates both opportunities and tremendous complexity. This session will describe the fundamentals of the federal, state, and local roles in Medicaid funding and payments.

Medicare Funding of Residency Training: New GME Rules in 2021

Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD
Dentons US

Jim Anderson, MD
Assistant Dean of Graduate Medical Education
Oregon Health & Science University

Impending physician shortages, particularly in underserved communities, make the growth of medical residency programs critical to the future health of our country. Several significant legal developments in the world of Medicare graduate medical education funding occurred in 2020 that affect existing teaching hospitals, as well as hospitals that wish to become teaching hospitals.

This session will cover everything from regulatory changes related to COVID-19 and funded positions awarded from the closed Hahnemann University Hospital to the yearend legislation that added new funded slots, corrected the so-called “resident rotator” problem, and reduced administrative burden for rural training track programs.

Innovations in Health Care

  • Implementing a Behavioral Health Open-Access Intake Phone Line
  • Maternal Medical Home: Innovating to Reduce Maternal Mortality
  • Optimizing Flow and Capacity During the COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Reaching High-Risk Populations During Epidemics
  • The Diabetes Epidemic: A Comprehensive Patient-Care Model
Implementing a Behavioral Health Open-Access Intake Phone Line

Evonne Yang, MPH, MSW
Director, Integrated Behavioral Health, Population Health Services
Boston Medical Center Health System

Cara Fuchs, PhD, MPH
Vice Chair of Psychology; Director of Integrated Behavioral Health, Department of Psychiatry
Boston Medical Center

Improved access is one of the many benefits of integrating behavioral health into primary care. However, reliance on traditional scheduling models can limit that potential. Open access can help to overcome this limitation.

In this session, learn about implementation of an open-access behavioral health intake line staffed by clinicians in primary care during the pandemic. Speakers will provide implementation and process outcomes and discuss lessons learned.

Maternal Medical Home: Innovating to Reduce Maternal Mortality

Wendy Wilcox, MD
Clinical Service Line Lead, Maternal Mortality Reduction and Women’s Health
NYC Health + Hospitals

The concept of a maternal medical home (MMH) is new to the care of pregnant people. An MMH provides enhanced, wraparound services for individuals with increased risk of an undesired pregnancy outcome due to medical health, behavioral health, or social risk factors. The MMH team builds trust and lasting relationships between patients and providers, as well as between facility-based care teams and community organizations. Ultimately, the MMH aims to facilitate patient autonomy and enhance the birth experience.

Optimizing Flow and Capacity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Carmen Liang, DO, MPH
Associate Clinical Professor, Associate Medical Director
Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center

Merjo Roca, RN
Nurse Manager
Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center

Optimizing patient flow and capacity has been critical for our health system to meet the needs of vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Adult Urgent Care Center (UCC) at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center implemented several initiatives to expand existing practices and collaborate with key stakeholders. These initiatives increased exam room availability and, subsequently, capacity to off-load lower acuity patients from our emergency department.

In this presentation, we will review our strategies and outcomes for improving flow and capacity. We will also share plans to expand these efforts to continue supporting our community’s health beyond the pandemic.

Reaching High-Risk Populations During Epidemics

Michael Do, MD
Director, Pediatric Refugee Clinic
Valleywise Health

Donna Persaud, MD, MBA
Medical Director Homeless Outreach Medical Services
Parkland Health & Hospital System

Juana Acosta, LPC
Mental Health Counselor
Parkland Health & Hospital System

COVID-19 challenged essential hospitals to use their resources in unique and innovative ways to reach those most affected by the pandemic. In Phoenix, Valleywise Health partnered with the Arizona Refugee Resettlement program to create informational videos about the coronavirus in 10 languages to reach refugees at high risk. These informational videos have been viewed more than 180,000 times, helping refugee populations understand the virus and how it spreads, as well as COVID-19 symptoms.

Similarly, Parkland Health & Hospital System, in Dallas, in 2020 launched a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program for people experiencing homelessness amid a substance use disorder epidemic. The Health Resources and Services Administration­–funded program is embedded in the systems’ 25-year primary care program for the homeless population. Participants reported gains in employment, housing, interpersonal relationships, and income; nearly 80 percent reported maintaining sobriety from opioids and a quarter experienced reduced hospitalizations.

The Diabetes Epidemic: A Comprehensive Patient-Care Model

Karen Tseng, JD
Chief Integration Officer
Harris Health System

Jamie Hughes, MSN, RN
Associate Administrator for Population Health
Harris Health System

This session will outline the growing prevalence of diabetes in vulnerable communities and serve as a forum for health systems tackling chronic diseases to share best practices and learn from promising efforts. Harris Health System, in Houston, has more than 40,000 diabetes patients in its accountable care organization; the high prevalence of this disease has strained resources and increased morbidity and mortality for COVID-19 and other conditions. Speakers also will discuss an integrated chronic disease management model recently implemented at Harris Health, which includes universal risk stratification, a single point of navigation across a continuum of services, and integration of patient activation as an outcome measure and a risk factor.

Executive Leadership Lessons

  • Building a Foundation for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
  • It Takes A Village: Partnering to Provide Pandemic Child Care for Staff
  • Honoring the Most Trusted Profession: Registered Nurses
  • A Few Minutes with Us—A CEO’s COVID-19 Communications Journey
  • Ingraining Equity Into Quality and Safety: A Systemwide Strategy
  • Staff Wellness and Resiliency
  • Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Building a Foundation for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Mini Swift, MD
Vice President, Population Health
Alameda Health System

Ishwari Venkataraman
Adira Management Consulting

The intersectional nature of systemic and structural racism impacts every health system, perpetrating constant threats to the well-being, and in some cases the very survival, of patients, providers, and communities of color. To successfully serve all, we must focus targeted efforts on communities that have suffered the longest and deepest wounds from systemic racism.

In this session, speakers from Alameda Health System, in California, and Adira Management Consulting will discuss how to develop sustainable, systemic approaches to evaluating the state of health equity, diversity, and inclusion in your organization. Learn best practices for establishing a robust, ground-up initiative to advance these goals.

Attendees also will hear about a yearlong effort at Alameda involving more than 100 employees, physicians, and community members to establish a firm foundation to sustain and build on inclusivity strategies.

It Takes A Village: Partnering to Provide Pandemic Child Care for Staff

Sarah Heck, MBA
Assistant Operations Executive
UK HealthCare

Erika Chambers
Employee Engagement and Work Life Director
University of Kentucky

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Kentucky, UK HealthCare quickly pivoted to support staff by providing options for emergency child care through June. Care was again offered at an on-site center beginning in August to support virtual learning.

In this session, speakers will explore multiple strategies and options to support staff during the pandemic and beyond, including child care and care for school-age children. This presentation will discuss:

  • demand forecasting;
  • alternatives UK HealthCare considered, such as onsite or owned centers versus community partnerships and in-home or nanny services;
  • challenges overcome, including staffing needs, personal protective equipment, state guidance and exemptions, city planning and zoning, employment verifications, and food support;
  • financial model and price sensitivity; and
  • lessons learned related to operating hours, flex schedules, special needs and medications, excess demand and prioritization, and cleaning procedures.
Honoring the Most Trusted Profession: Registered Nurses

Karen Ziemianski, MS, RN
Senior Vice President, Nursing
Erie County Medical Center

Mary Rhinehart, MS, RN
Director, Critical Care Nursing Education
Erie County Medical Center

Nurses at Erie County Medical Center (ECMC), Western New York’s only level I adult trauma center, are no strangers to the rigors of high-acuity patients. But even the most seasoned nurses could not have envisioned themselves on the front lines of a pandemic. As COVID-19 cases spiked last year, so did the question of how to best support the whole nurse. When querying ECMC’s nurses, leadership discovered many challenges and opportunities to support front-line staff in a holistic manner. In this session, learn how ECMC used a variety of creative solutions to support the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of our caregivers.

A Few Minutes with Us—A CEO’s COVID-19 Communications Journey

Leon Haley Jr., MD, MHSA
CEO, Dean and Vice President of Health Affairs
UF Health Jacksonville

Learn how UF Health Jacksonville developed, filmed, and distributed more than 130 video segments in nine months to communicate across the hospital system about the COVID-19 pandemic, care delivery changes, and staff safety and morale. Led by the CEO, media relations team, and a videographer, this biweekly update quickly developed into daily updates because they were so effective. Staff received the most current information directly from the highest levels of leadership. As the pandemic progressed, this internal communication tool moved to external communication platforms so patients and families could better understand the work happening across the health care system, including care updates, patient resources, research, education, and community-sponsored events.

Ingraining Equity Into Quality and Safety: A Systemwide Strategy

Lou Hart III, MD
Director of Equity, Quality, and Safety
NYC Health + Hospitals

Komal Bajaj, MD, MS-HPEd
Chief Quality Officer
NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi Medical Center

Eric Wei, MD, MBA
Senior Vice President and Chief Quality Officer
NYC Health + Hospitals

Linelle Campbell, MD, MS
Director of Equity within Quality and Safety
NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi Medical Center

The COVID-19 pandemic made clear and exacerbated long-studied and documented health care disparities, which have disproportionately devastated low-income and Black, Latino, and indigenous communities across the United States. The subsequent national tragedies involving police brutality further highlighted the need to address these inequities within the essential hospital framework.

Because equity and quality are fundamentally linked, a health system first must focus on advancing equity within its workforce and mitigating health care disparities in the communities it serves to deliver on its promise of improving health care quality for all. By leveraging existing health care infrastructure, all can participate in institutional equity improvement work at multiple levels.

During this panel discussion, speakers will highlight a purposeful, iterative strategy deployed across NYC Health + Hospitals, the largest municipal health system in the United States. Using existing quality and safety structures and applying an equity lens to performance improvement and safety systems, we can proactively confront health disparities upstream. The session will include polling, small-group work, and other techniques to engage attendees in the conversation.

Staff Wellness and Resiliency

Geralda Xavier, MD, MPH, MBA
Chief Quality Officer
NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County Hospital Center

“Second victims” are health care providers involved in an unanticipated adverse patient event, in a

medical error, or a patient-related injury who become traumatized by the event. The Helping Healers Heal (H3) program was implemented at Kings County Hospital Center, in Brooklyn, N.Y., to support staff left vulnerable after an unanticipated event or adverse patient outcome occurs.

With the spread of COVID-19 and subsequent state of emergency in New York, the H3 wellness team, with support from senior leadership, sought to expand program support into emergency operations to establish respite options, wellness events, nourishment and debrief/wellness rounds for staff.

Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Cynthia Bass, BS, MBA
Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Erie County Medical Center

Natalie Sleap, MA
Program Coordinator, Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Erie County Medical Center

Stacey Lawson, MS
Vice President, Human Resources
Premier Health

Adrian Taylor
Director, Diversity
Premier Health

Essential hospitals share a mission of ensuring health care for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. From patients to staff, essential hospitals recognize the importance of training, hospital culture, and accountability in achieving this goal.

Learn how leaders at Erie County Medical Center, in New York, worked with the hospital’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to better understand what is necessary to secure equitable and inclusive care for LGBTQ patients and their families. Their work earned them designation as an LGBTQ Equality Top Performer by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

Also in this session, speakers from Premier Health, in Ohio, will explore how retention, engagement, and employee experience are inextricably linked to culture. They will share practical tips and discuss strategy formulation and meaningful practices to ensure that diversity, inclusion, and equity are hardwired in your organization.

Improving Population Health

  • Using Civic Engagement to Improve Health
  • Training and Supporting Community Health Workers
  • Closing the Loop: Electronic Referrals to Address SDOH
Using Civic Engagement to Improve Health

Elizabeth Datner, MD
Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine
Einstein Healthcare Network

Merle Carter, MD
Vice Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine
Einstein Healthcare Network

Health-related social needs are rooted the structural determinants of health—the socioeconomic, political, and environmental context at regional and national levels. To create change, more than 500 hospitals promoted voting through Vot-ERs, Patient Voting, Med Out The Vote, VoteHealth2020, and similar hospital-based voter access resources.

This session presents the rationale behind hospitals as centers of civic engagement and how voting improves health outcomes through self-advocacy. Speakers will highlight their experience of hospital-based voter registration efforts and share Vot-ERs resources.

Training and Supporting Community Health Workers

Stacy Ignoffo, MSW
Director of Community Health Innovations
Sinai Urban Health Institute

Vidya Ayyr, MPH
Director of Community Social Impact
Parkland Health & Hospital System

Community health workers (CHWs) are on the front lines of care, serving as critical liaisons between patients and health care providers. They assist with access to care, health literacy, and delivery of services that address the social determinants of health, bridging gaps among communities, individuals, and providers through grassroots outreach and education.

In this session, learn about an innovative CHW program at Sinai Urban Health Institute, in Chicago, to address patient needs related to COVID-19. This innovative partnership integrates CHWs into pandemic response to link patients to community resources, help patients understand discharge paperwork and instructions, and set up virtual health appointments.

Participants also will review a Parkland Health & Hospital System framework for developing a successful CHW training program, combining clinical and nonclinical education. Developing such a program requires system investment, a coordinated approach to internal stakeholder engagement, and CHW involvement.

Closing the Loop: Electronic Referrals to Address SDOH

Susan Fuehrer, MBA
President, Institute for H.O.P.E.
The MetroHealth System

James Misak, MD
Medical Director
The MetroHealth System

In 2019, the Institute for H.O.P.E. at The MetroHealth System, in Cleveland, implemented a social determinants of health (SDOH) screening and referral strategy to identify and mitigate barriers to optimal health for underserved people. This session will examine predominant, urgent social needs and the importance and process of building partnerships between health care and social service organizations. Additionally, the presenters will discuss implementation, outcomes, and ongoing evaluation of the SDOH screening and partnerships, as well as next steps.

About Our Tracks


Sessions will focus on solutions to current public policy and financial issues unique to essential hospitals. Past topics have included Medicaid supplemental payments, waiver initiatives, telehealth policy, graduate medical education, and state-level 340B Drug Pricing Program policies.  


Sessions will showcase new and promising programs that demonstrate groundbreaking initiatives in caring for vulnerable populations and ensuring equitable access to high-value care. Sessions may focus on innovative programs that integrate clinical practice into the health system’s overarching mission and goals, quality improvement, managing operations during a pandemic or other public health threat, and patient-centered care. 


Sessions will target the hard and soft skills necessary to lead complex and evolving hospitals and health systems dedicated to serving their communities. Sessions may focus on lessons learned from leadership experiences and the importance of strategic partnerships, combating structural racism, culture change, reducing employee burnout, and climate resilience. 


Sessions will offer expertise on improving the health outcomes for a group of individuals by engaging internal and external stakeholders to serve community needs. Sessions may focus on leveraging policies and procedures at the hospital, local, state, and federal levels to support community well-being; innovative financing models; cross-sector partnerships; and aligning community benefit investment with population health efforts. Programs and practices that address social determinants of health and ultimately aim to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care will be highlighted. 

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Contact us at

America’s Essential Hospitals
401 Ninth St. NW, Suite 900,
Washington, DC 20004