Pittsburgh is a city of health care titans and cutting-edge research. But what about the individuals driving these institutions and innovations?
Our tenth Who’s Next class is filled with them; from doctors to nurses to HIV preventionists, frontline responders to the opioid epidemic, policy makers and more, all working to make Pittsburgh safer, happier and healthier city.
The Incline’s editorial staff put together this list of 16 young health leaders from dozens of nominees. (You can nominate someone now for our next class: Who’s Next: Music.)
Meet and celebrate these Who’s Next honorees and those of previous classes at our annual bash, presented by S&T Bank and Thrival, at the Ace Hotel later this month.
In celebration of our one-year anniversary — which is today! — tickets for that party are buy one, get one until 11:59 tonight, so get your tickets here now.
Join us in celebrating The Incline's 1st birthday and meet more than 150 young Pittsburghers making the city better, as we honor a year of Who's Next classes and recognize our newest group: Who's Next: Health. Dance to the beats of JRod and DJ Bamboo, and enjoy local spirit samplings and a photo booth. Your ticket also includes beer, wine, cocktails and heavy hors d'oeuvres — and supports our local journalism. Your presence is worth a present, so the first 200 people to buy a ticket get a swag bag at the door. An after party with Thrival Innovation + Music Festival and cash bar start at 9 p.m. A huge thanks to The Incline’s bash sponsors S&T Bank and Thrival.
Where: Ace Hotel Pittsburgh at 120 S. Whitfield St. (East Liberty)
When: September 27, 2017 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
How much: $40
An opioid epidemic is contributing to growing rates of infection among IV users, and Aaron Arnold is at the nexus, working to buck that trend. After years spent as a volunteer with the harm reduction pioneer, Arnold was hired as Prevention Point Pittsburgh’s director of operations in June 2015 and became the executive director in March 2016. In these roles, Arnold told The Incline he has focused on “growing the organization’s impact in the community by expanding services, while also working to advance opportunities to implement harm reduction practices across Pennsylvania.” Arnold had previously worked for Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, where he coordinated a successful initiative to identify individuals living with HIV and experiencing challenges related to mental health, substance use, housing instability and/or incarceration and found “innovative ways to connect and retain them in HIV care and supportive service systems,” he added. Outside of work, Arnold is an avid vegetable gardener and helps to produce events in and around Pittsburgh. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and the university’s Graduate School of Public Health, he lives in Highland Park.
As critical communities initiatives manager for Mayor Bill Peduto's Office, Laura Drogowski has been charged with the herculean task of addressing the opiate epidemic and the overall wellness of Pittsburgh. But coworkers say if anyone’s up to the task, she is. Drogowski is both a long-time volunteer with Prevention Point Pittsburgh (PPP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing health empowerment services to injection drug users, and a member of the board of directors with The Open Door, Inc., another harm reduction agency, this one providing housing to individuals who use drugs and are living with HIV. In recent years, Drogowski has helped with policy work to abolish the 1,500-foot rule in Pittsburgh, which made it nearly impossible to operate syringe exchange programs. She has also helped to grow, expand and advocate for harm reduction services across the city. Drogowski said she wants to ensure that people who use drugs are able to do so safely and access the services they need without stigma.
Christina Farmartino has been working in public health since 2009. She’s conducted independent research on non-governmental organizations serving individuals living with HIV in Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil. She’s also served as the interim executive director of Prevention Point Pittsburgh and currently holds the title of executive director with The Open Door, Inc., a local nonprofit that is dedicated to serving chronically homeless, high-risk individuals living with HIV. Farmartino told The Incline she’s passionate about the harm reduction philosophy and is a regular speaker on the topic including at the National Harm Reduction Conference in 2014, the United States Conference on AIDS in 2015 and more. Farmartino, who lives in Shadyside, has a Masters of Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health and a Bachelor’s in Hispanic Languages and literature from The University of Pittsburgh.
As the director of government grants and policy for the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and its supporting organizations, Robert Ferguson is known as an idea man. With an ability to strategize and design programs and craft solutions to difficult problems, Ferguson’s work at JHF involves analyzing policy developments and managing projects around behavioral health, health activism, practice transformation, community health workers and fellowships. That work has been credited with improving behavioral health care in western Pennsylvania and beyond. Ferguson has also led efforts for greater access to behavioral care and for solutions to the crisis of access to those services for adolescents in need. He completed a master’s degree in public health at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Ferguson was also selected as one of the National Health and Aging Policy Fellows (Columbia University) and is also a Fellow at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Center for Clinical Standards & Quality (CCSQ). At JHF, he analyzes policy developments and manages projects around behavioral health, health activism, practice transformation, community health workers, and fellowships. Ferguson lives in Shadyside.
Caitlyn Fitzsimmons is at the intersection of politics and health care, quite literally. Fitzsimmons works in the Intensive Care Unit at Allegheny General Hospital as a CICU RN, caring for residents of Pittsburgh when they are at their most vulnerable and working round-the-clock to help them get healthy again. She has also led or participated in local, regional and statewide efforts to press politicians on the health care initiatives and policy decisions she sees as damaging to those same residents and patients. Fitzsimmons has rallied co-workers, friends and neighbors to join her outside of legislators’ offices to share their stories and show their elected representatives exactly why access to healthcare is so important — even camping at an all-night vigil outside of Sen. Pat Toomey’s office last month. “Through and through, I am a patient advocate,” Fitzsimmons told The Incline, “at work, in the polls and in my community. I strive to bring about the most good in my current position and aspire to public service in the future."
A lifelong resident of the Pittsburgh area, Rob Hartman now works at UPMC Enterprises as the program manager of the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance — a collaborative effort between Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC that helps develop and fund medical researchers’ and technologists’ ideas for commercial companies. This work is primarily focused on the potential of “big data” in health care, an epicenter of innovation in the field today. In layman’s terms, Hartman works to transform academic research into actual digital health companies. He’s also an advocate for the researchers and clinicians funded through the program. “He represents the future of digital health, in a way that’s unique to Pittsburgh: it’s ‘meds and eds’ with an entrepreneurial twist,” his Who’s Next: Health nominator said. “From the solutions to hidden medical problems like bedsores and intestinal trouble, to the socially conscious problems like premature births and cancer, Hartman makes sure all the PHDA projects get the support and guidance they need to bring life-saving solutions to market.” Hartman, who lives in Scott, has his PhD in bioengineering from the University of Pittsburgh.
Blayre Holmes Davis wears a lot of hats. As the director of community partnerships at Adagio Health, she is in charge of developing and managing strategic partnerships to ensure that some of the most vulnerable populations have access to reproductive healthcare, education and nutrition. Prior to Adagio Health, she was the program manager at the Women and Girls Foundation, training more than 200 high school girls to be the next generation of civic leaders and launching a youth organizing campaign to implement comprehensive sex education in high school across Southwest Pennsylvania. Holmes Davis was born and raised in Donora and graduated from California University of Pennsylvania with a degree in communication. In September 2010, she joined AmeriCorps through the Center for Civic Engagement at Cal U. She served two years as a community service leader creating community partnerships and planning community events. She currently serves as the vice president of the YWCA Young Leaders Board of the Greater Pittsburgh area and is a board member of Emerge PA, an organization dedicated to transforming the face of Pennsylvania politics by identifying, training and encouraging Democratic women to run for office, get elected and to seek higher office. Holmes Davis is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, and she is an honoree of the inaugural Who’s Who in Black Pittsburgh and Young Black Pittsburgh. She lives in McKeesport.
Postpartum depression affects up to 20 percent of new mothers, yet experts believe it is both underdiagnosed and undertreated. As medical director with Women's Behavioral Health at Allegheny Health Network’s West Penn Hospital, Sarah Homitsky hopes to change that through the introduction of new and more effective treatments for perinatal depression (pregnancy-related depression, including postpartum depression). In less than a year since Homitsky joined West Penn, nearly 800 women have been referred to perinatal psychiatry. Her program averages 90 referrals a month, 70 of whom schedule an intake appointment and 50 of whom engage in treatment. Homitsky is triple-boarded in adult psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry and pediatrics and a graduate of Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in East Lansing, Mich. She completed her postgraduate training at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where she served as chief resident. During her residency she gained extensive clinical experience with adolescent perinatal and postpartum psychiatry, providing psychiatric services for medically complex children, and women with opioid use disorder. Homitsky told The Incline she takes seriously her responsibility to speak publicly about pregnancy-related mental health issues. She lives in Gibsonia.
Jill Jayne is jumping for joy — and for the kids. Billed as the “Rockstar Nutritionist,” Jayne is the creator of the rock & roll nutrition experience, Jump with Jill, where she serves as writer and executive producer. Now in its tenth year, the show has been performed for nearly a million kids across the United States, Canada, and Europe, earning Jayne multiple Emmy Award nominations, two Telly Awards in the Education and Children categories, two Grammy nomination considerations for Best Children’s Album, and an invitation to the White House to meet Michelle Obama. Jump with Jill is a Woman Owned Small Business with ten employees and a 9,000 square foot production studio in Pittsburgh. In addition to being an accomplished musician, Jayne is a registered dietitian with an MS in nutrition education from Teachers College Columbia University and a BS in nutritional sciences and theater from Penn State University. Jayne’s professional awards include the Emerging Dietetics Leader by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Alumni Achievement Award from Penn State University, both awarded for distinctive early career professional contributions. Jayne said she lives an otherwise normal life with her husband and daughter in New Kensington.
Have you ever wondered who’s in charge of making sure that health care organizations are living up to their own standards? Anthony G. Lucas is that person. In his role with AHCI, Lucas works to make sure that various behavioral health organizations are meeting their targeted standards. He also works with behavioral health providers and community representatives on assorted projects designed to improve their impact in the field through mechanisms, such as report writing and interviewing people with behavioral health conditions in the community. Lucas came to AHCI in 2012 from The Ohio State University where he was finishing his graduate studies and working as a Graduate Research Associate. He has a bachelor’s degree in business economics from Duquesne University and a master’s in public health from The Ohio State University. A native yinzer, who currently resides in South Park, Lucas said he’s “excited for the future of Pittsburgh!”
Working as a journalist in NYC in the mid-to-late aughts, Laura Poskin would take the Amtrak to Altoona, Pa., as often as she could to visit her grandfather in Ebensburg. But Poskin said she grew increasingly frustrated by how hard it was for him to participate in and get around the community he loved. Spurred on by this realization, Poskin started volunteering in New York and writing about it (a blog that was later picked up by AARP). She also went back to school for her Master's in Population and Social Gerontology and eventually pivoted from big city journalism and glossy magazines to managing initiatives for older adults. This includes her continued work with the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and its initiatives helping older adults — like her grandfather — live healthy and safe with dignity at home. Poskin is also on the project team leading Age-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh, which is all about rethinking how our neighborhoods are built and taking action to make them more inclusive and respectful of every generation. Poskin lives in Bloomfield.
Simply put, Ashley Potts' story is remarkable. A former drug user, she is now a key member of the Allegheny Health Network's Center for Inclusion Health and Center of Excellence Team, an Opioid Use Disorder Program that is funded through the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and which targets facilities or agencies, including physical health providers, to treat Pennsylvania’s growing opiate epidemic. Her first-hand testimony on addiction has been heard by lawmakers considering solutions to the opioid epidemic, and Potts' role as part of the CoE Care team has been to connect individuals to recovery-related services. Since the program started in April, Potts and her team have coordinated linkages to care for over 160 individuals. That’s included referrals to outpatient and inpatient programs, behavioral health services and housing and food access, just to name a few. Many of these individuals would still be on the “streets” actively using if not for the work of Potts and the team, her nominator said. “I am proof that treatment works. I am proof of being a good person with much to offer beyond my history of addiction, and finally, I am proof that recovery does happen,” Potts told The Incline. She lives in Ross Township.
Shivdev Rao’s path to health care was less conventional than most. He majored in history at CMU, experimented with all things digital and sound and then pivoted to med school just before the mobile consumer tech explosion. That progression now has the self-professed “cardiologist and technology geek” experimenting with all things digital and health instead. At UPMC Enterprises, he leads a team of business analysts, engineers and designers in identifying and developing new technologies that will drive technology-enabled, data driven, patient centered healthcare. He’s also a key member of a new partnership that UPMC has formed with Microsoft Research, with the goal of applying artificial intelligence, machine learning and other technologies to some of the toughest problems in healthcare. One of the first projects in this partnership will be to create a solution that “liberates” clinicians from electronic medical record systems and helps physicians more easily put patients at the center of care. Rao lives in Squirrel Hill.
In addition to working as an interventional pulmonologist, covering patients with lung diseases and cancers, Roy Semaan is also on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. There, he teaches medical trainees at all levels, including medical students, interns, residents and fellows at UPMC Presbyterian, Montefiore and Shadyside Hospitals where he also serves as the director of IP. Semaan, who lives in the Strip District, also spends one day a week at the VA Pittsburgh Hospital. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech and the Medical College of Virginia and was an Interventional Pulmonary Fellow at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore before coming to Pittsburgh. Semaan told The Incline, “I love what I do because I get to help patients with lung cancer which used to have such a poor prognosis, and although we are not where we want to be, we have so many other treatment options and are diagnosing patients at an earlier stage for which we have more curative options and success.”
The fact is that Americans don’t see the doctor as often — or as early — as they should, and those numbers are even worse for the homeless. In an effort to bridge that gap, Mary Sligh, a nurse coordinator with Health Care for the Homeless Pittsburgh, works to provide medical services to homeless individuals throughout Allegheny County. She also helps to run the wound care program at Prevention Point Pittsburgh, offering “compassionate, honest, helpful medical advice and education to people who use injection drugs.” Sligh, who lives in Millvale, told The Incline that she has dedicated her life to social justice and the health care needs of marginalized and vulnerable people.
Dora Walmsley’s work is the embodiment of her belief that food is the foundation of good health and healthy communities. Walmsley is outreach & communications manager with the greater Pittsburgh Food Policy Council. She is also co-owner of the 52nd Street Market, a community-based corner grocer in Upper Lawrenceville. Walmsley told The Incline the market is committed to providing “affordable food options for our neighborhood, supporting local food and maintaining community through a welcoming and inclusive space,” adding, “We also pride ourselves as advocates and amplifiers for the efforts of so many that work to make Pittsburgh, and the U.S., more just and equitable for all." Walmsley received her bachelor’s degree from Duquesne University and also studied at Chatham University. She currently lives in Lawrenceville’s 10th Ward.