Keeping Residents and Employees Safe During a Crisis; Dr. Kimberly Townsend President, CEO, Loretto Management Corporation

By Sarah Hall

As of this writing, there are more than 1.8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and more than 100,000 confirmed deaths. According to a state-by-state analysis of reported COVID-19 fatalities compiled for the Freedom for Research on Equal Opportunity, some 42 percent occurred in nursing homes and residential care facilities, even though patients in such facilities only make up 0.6 percent of the American population.

“The tragedy,” said study co-author Avik Roy, “is that it didn’t have to be this way.”

Thanks to good planning, good people and strong leadership, the largest elder care agency in Central New York was able to avoid that tragedy. To date, Loretto has managed to keep positive cases down to roughly 1 percent overall out of 10,000 residents and 2,500 employees.

“We have 19 sites across Onondaga and Cayuga counties,” said Loretto CEO Dr. Kimberly Townsend. “With 10,000 vulnerable people in our care, it makes it a challenge to keep people safe. All you need is somebody to go to Target in Fayetteville at the wrong time.”

So how did Loretto manage to protect its vulnerable population? Townsend said the organization’s senior leadership took on planning for the pandemic as a long-term effort.

“COVID is not a spring 2020 problem,” she said. “It will be with us for months to come. Pace yourself—it’s a marathon, not a sprint… What we are looking at from an organizational perspective is just continued vigilance and keeping people safe.”


Longtime leader

Townsend came on as CEO at Loretto in January of 2014. She said her longevity at the company has been a blessing in this trying time.

“By now, I know all the players. I know all of our ins and outs,” she said. “It has a been a huge mobilization of every single member of Loretto to keep people safe. I’m really grateful that I’ve been here for a while and really know the organization inside and out, because it’s hard.”

Even before joining Loretto, Townsend was a well-respected leader in the healthcare field. She spent 14 years at Welch Allyn, first as an attorney, then as Associate General Counsel. When she left the medical devices firm for the job at Loretto, she was the Senior Director of Government Affairs. 


“Welch Allyn really was a seedbed of leadership greatness,” Townsend said. “Welch Allyn… was wholly focused on community engagement, and really heavily focused on providing opportunities for their employees to excel in many different ways to build their education and experience.”

Townsend benefitted directly from that generosity. Though she had several impressive qualifications going into the job—a law degree, a CPA and an MBA—Welch Allyn supported her as she got a Master’s in Public Administration from the Maxwell School in Health Economics and Policy. She has also earned a Doctorate in Executive Leadership from St. John Fisher College.

“All of those things, plus the experiences that I had at Welch Allyn, interacting with large customers, the senior leadership team, who’s just a really fine group of leaders, really enabled me to do the job that I’m doing today,” she said.

Top priorities

Right now, that job looks different than Townsend could ever have imagined.

“The word unprecedented really has been overused at this point, but it is unprecedented,” she said. “At the end of the day, the most important thing is that we care for the people who work for us and that we care for the people whose lives are entrusted to us. We are planning just how we continue to do that, but it’s a challenge.”

Once news of the pandemic hit, Townsend and her executive staff knew they had to act quickly to protect their residents. What wasn’t as clear was what actions were necessary.

“I think as we looked at it and really understood how enormous the tasks were, when you’re looking at a global pandemic, that we came down as a senior leadership team to three critical things that we had the ability to control,” she said.

Those three things involved focusing on basic needs first: personal protection equipment (PPE) for the staff, restricting visitors and early and aggressive screening.

“We could have focused on a hundred different things, because certainly there were a hundred different facets to the crisis,” she said. “But those are all the three focus areas, the priority areas that I think has helped us have very good outcomes today.”

Once tests were available, Loretto performed widespread testing, which became a critical priority for the organization. Loretto coordinated mandatory testing of all nursing home residents with the State Department of Health, supported the executive order to conduct mandatory testing of staff twice a week, and offered testing for certain other residents throughout the organization. This put additional strain on staffing access to PPE, developing a process to conduct testing safely for employees, and a major cost impact to the bottom line.

“But we never hesitated, not even for a single minute, because it’s the right thing to do for the safety and security of our staff and residents,” Townsend said.

‘One has to be somewhat comfortable with uncertainty’

Because the COVID-19 pandemic is a constantly evolving situation, additional planning is difficult, to say the least.

“There is so much we don’t know,” Townsend said. “I think one has to be somewhat comfortable with uncertainty, right?”

That said, Townsend and her staff are hardly flying blind. The team did extensive scenario planning and financial modeling to best prepare themselves and made sure everything was flexible enough to respond to rapid changes in circumstance.

“Our screening tool was a living document,” Townsend said. “As you know more, you have to evolve your processes.”

But she said the most important task at hand is to keep all stakeholders informed at all times.

“Communicate, communicate, communicate,” Townsend said. “You cannot communicate too much with our families, with our residents, with our staff with our managers, even with the media. It’s important that we are honest with people in terms of what we know and honest with them about what we don’t know.”

She said it’s also important to acknowledge moves the team has made that could have been handled better. For example, Townsend said they could have been more efficient in procuring PPE.

“In late February, early March, we just went out into the market and we just started buying PPE from everywhere,” she said. “As it turned out we were able to get everything that we needed, but there were things that didn’t pan out. There was a lot of energy put into it that might have been put into other areas.”

Townsend said it’s important to highlight the failures along with the successes to maintain a good relationship with the people she serves.

“Just having that organizational honesty is important to continue to maintain trust, reach those expectations,” she said. “But you can’t just do it in a crisis. If you didn’t have people’s trust prior to COVID-19, you’re probably not going to get it now.”

Helping employees

Townsend said it’s also critical to maintain a culture of trust and integrity between Loretto’s leadership and its employees.

“Here at Loretto, it’s part of our leadership paradigm,” she said. “We try to be open, and good listeners, and good leaders. We try to listen to the needs of our staff and to meet those needs.”

The company distributed 400 emergency food bags, and its free diaper program, started two years ago, continues to give out 13,000 diapers every month.

“We heard from employees with their children home from school, employees had less than a day’s worth of food on hand. They’re working all day or working double shifts. They get to the grocery store, the shelves are empty,” Townsend said. “We try to do things that meet people’s needs.”

While the experience has been stressful, Townsend said it’s also shown her how many great people are associated with Loretto.

“It has really reinforced my faith in all the members of the Loretto family, in my organization—that’s our staff, that’s our leadership, that’s our residents and their families,” she said. “It just reinforces my faith in the lengths that people will go to, to show up and bring their best self to a situation for the care of someone other than themselves.”

While Loretto leadership is still closely monitoring the health and safety of employees and residents in each of its facilities, neither a specific date nor specific protocols have been finalized for when and how the facilities will reopen for visitors.

Oswego Health: Center for Orthopedic Care; Care Close to Home

Dr. Kamaljeet Banga, MD, DNB, FRCSC, practiced orthopedics for 18 years, coming to Oswego Health’s Center for Orthopedic Care from Auburn Community Hospital. Dr. Michael Diaz, DO, practiced orthopedic care for 20 years at Bassett Healthcare’s Oneonta Surgeons and Specialists office before joining the team. Now both doctors, who knew from childhood they wanted to be doctors, share space at Oswego Health’s Center for Orthopedic Care.

Banga has two uncles who are doctors, and Diaz said he knew at age 6 it was his path.

During his orthopedics rotation in Canada, Banga, who now specializes in sports medicine, decided he loves the field. About a year ago while looking for a change, he learned another surgeon in the same specialty was leaving Oswego Health.

“The people are so welcoming and accepting,” Banga said. “I work close to home, and I really like the hospital administration. The timing was perfect.”

Diaz said he also is impressed with the administration.

“They are good business people, but they are refreshingly not all about the money,” Diaz said. “They are so positive and supportive, make sure we have everything we need and hire good, qualified people. My wife – an interior designer – even helped with the design.”

A couple of years ago when the kids were out of school, Diaz decided to transition out of a healthcare system that had grown far bigger than he cared to be part of. A headhunter called: Dr. Ayres was looking for someone at Oswego Health, would Diaz be interested?

“I said, ‘As a matter of fact…,’” Diaz said. “This was an opportunity to build the ideal practice and facility from the ground up.”

Now, like Banga, he’s minutes from work.

“It’s on the Great Lakes,” Diaz said. “I get to enjoy sitting on a bench and watching the sunsets, and it’s still close to my parents in New Jersey.”

Jamie Leszczynski, senior director of communications for Oswego Health, said the Center for Orthopedic Care opened in April 2019. She said Oswego Health has two locations: the new facility in Fulton and a smaller Oswego facility staffed by Dr. John Ayres and his team.
Banga and Diaz agreed there’s a misconception that surgeons immediately opt for surgery.

“We try all non-surgical options first,” Banga said. “After we’ve exhausted those, we discuss surgery. If a patient is managing their symptoms, we send them on their way.”

Both men said trust is essential in making a patient comfortable.

“People fear complications,” Banga said. “Nobody likes surgery. If they haven’t tried everything non-surgical, we do that before talking through surgical options.”

Diaz agreed.

“We have a calming staff and atmosphere,” he said. “People sigh in relief when we don’t jump right into surgery, that we don’t see them as dollar signs.”

“If someone gets relief with an injection, we see in five or six months if they are doing well,” Banga said. “I think a lot of people believe if they visit a surgeon, they’ll be booked for surgery.”

“The Center is ideal in many ways,” Diaz said. “People don’t want to drive or take time off from work. Some people even walk to the clinic. It’s care close to home. The quality can’t be beat. You are near family in private rooms with low infection rates. It’s got a much more home-like vibe, not a factory conveyor belt. The doctors and nurses employed here are your neighbors.”

Banga said he specializes in child and adult trauma, arthritis, sports injuries, hand injuries, rotator cuff and total shoulder repair. He said most patients can be seen within a day or two.

Diaz, who tackles adult trauma injuries and total knee and hip replacements at Oswego Health’s Center for Orthopedic Care, also brought with him his NAVIO robotics expertise.

“At Bassett, I was tasked with becoming a pro with robotics,” Diaz said. “I was reluctant at first, but it’s proven to be the best system.”

Like DaVinci for general surgeries, NAVIO-assisted surgery offers speedier recovery times, reduced pain, less scarring and other benefits for many; however, many fewer are trained in NAVIO, Diaz said.

Diaz said his definition of success is two-pronged.

“My wife and kids are everything to me, and I always dreamed of being my sons’ Little League coach,” Diaz said. “I wasn’t going to be that doctor-dad who was never there. Providing good care is the other measure. Others may be cavalier with diagnoses, but I believe in performing absolutely no unnecessary surgery. I always do my best for the patient. If I don’t get the results I want, I take it very personally.”

“Patients go out and talk about this experience with their family and friends,” Banga said. “It’s better than any advertisement. It’s also a state-of-the-art center. It’s spacious and accommodating; we have all the diagnostic tools you could need here.”

In addition to CT, x-ray and MRI technologies, an urgent care is co-located, as well as other specialties and several primary care physicians.

“They can refer patients, and we’re right here ready to deliver excellent service – as good as any place,” he said. “Among us, there’s nothing we can’t do. We are a great team; if I’m not here, Dr. Diaz can see my patients and vice-versa. We cover each other.”

Diaz said when you aim for perfect, you get excellent; when you aim for excellent you get good; when you aim for good, you get fair.

“We aim for perfect,” Diaz said, “and I won’t do anything to a patient I wouldn’t recommend for my own parents.”

Diaz earned his doctor of osteopathic medicine from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. While at Bassett, Diaz performed about 250 joint replacement surgeries yearly. He serves as clinical assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Upstate Medical University and Columbia University Medical Center.

Banga earned his medical degree from Punjab University in Chandigarh, India. He completed fellowships in upper extremity and sports medicine and serves as clinical assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Upstate Medical University.

For more information on the Center or its surgeons,
or call 315.349.5873

Focus on Indoor Air Quality and Safety

By: Pierre Morrisseau, CEO, OneGroup

As a chemical engineer with a background in indoor air quality, I am keenly aware of the invisible risks associated with indoor air pollution, which can be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. Add to this the new coronavirus and the need for effective air cleaning and sanitizing has never been more critical. We’re seeing a major shift in thinking from companies relative to the indoor air quality and how it is affecting their operations. They are adjusting to current circumstances with a renewed focus on employee and customer safety.

By now, we have all heard that New York State is requiring malls to install filters or other systems to remove the new coronavirus from indoor air, and may likely expand this to include many other types of business. Smart companies are getting ahead of the curve and we are sharing what we had already learned from our own research and practical applications.

At OneGroup, we have always included indoor air quality when considering our clients’ risk profiles, not only for potential risk to employees, but also in terms of employee productivity and engagement. We’ve seen the research that shows how indoor work conditions and circumstances affect a person’s mood and behavior resulting in employees feeling irritable, lethargic, or physically ill. Often, this silent and invisible risk is driving decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and higher healthcare costs to name a few of its impacts. According to studies, one’s ability to focus, concentrate, and abilities to reason can be hindered by inadequate ventilation, elevated levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), and indoor pollutants. In extreme conditions, life and health are threatened. This pandemic has brought this issue into clear focus.

Even prior to the new virus, the impact on business was staggering:

  • The American Lung Association estimates U.S. adults miss about 14.5 million work days due to asthma;
  • The CDC estimates that U.S. workers miss an average of four days each year due to sinus infections;
  • Studies show an average worker productivity loss of 7 percent or higher with individual productivity losses as high as 33%;
  • Total cost to the U.S. economy from poor IAQ range as high as $168 billion each year.

OneGroup has for some time tested and installed various air filtration systems in our own facilities to better understand how to help our clients. As a result, we have partnered with Healthway, another great Central New York Company, and an internationally recognized leader in indoor air purification and wellness.

I asked Vinny Lobdell, indoor air quality expert and Global President of Healthway family of brands to weigh in. 

“Pre COVID, the World Health Organization ranked air pollution the number one health epidemic of our time, contributing to more than 7 million premature deaths each year,” said Lobdell. “A silver lining in all of this may be that people will start taking air pollution and the impact it has on humans occupying the built environment more seriously. Two years ago IAQ was on OneGroup’s radar and a plan put in place to educate business owners on the risks associated with not properly managing IAQ. OneGroup’s client-first focus always puts them well ahead of the curve and the competition.”

Healthway’s technology is the only air purification system capable of eliminating all three indoor air contaminants: particles (dust, dust mites, pollen, dander, mold and more), volatiles organic compounds (paints, solvents, cleaning solutions, perfumes, etc.), and microorganisms (fungi, viruses and bacteria). More importantly, their systems are capable of removing dangerous ultra-fine particles down to .0007 micron in size, far smaller than the new coronavirus. In fact, we are so impressed with Healthway’s products, technology and processes, that we asked them to design a variety of their systems for our own various offices to ensure our employees were breathing the safest air possible.

We all can do better and now it is an imperative. We are happy to share any knowledge we have gained as we continue to research the topic of indoor air quality and its effect on businesses and their employees.

Pierre Morrisseau is the CEO of OneGroup and can be reached at 800-268-1830.

Targeting Tick-Borne Disease in Central New York

By: Katy Mena-Berkley

The Central New York Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Alliance is on a mission to eradicate increasingly prevalent tick-borne illnesses that have historically gone undetected in Central New York.

A year and a half ago, career strategist and coach Anne Messenger was experiencing unusual fatigue, a symptom her provider attributed to sleep apnea when she went in for a routine annual physical.

“I yawned all the way through that appointment,” Messenger says. “But Ialso had other symptoms that were affecting my quality of life.”



In addition to the debilitating exhaustion, Messenger had heart palpitations, pain in her left foot, a strange tickling sensation in the back of her neck and brain fog that interfered with her ability to remember something as simple as the current score during a game of tennis.

It would take the counsel of another medical professional whose children were devastatingly impacted by Lyme disease to finally offer a possible explanation — Messenger may have Lyme disease herself.

To get to a definitive diagnosis, Messenger consulted Kristopher Paolino, MD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at State University of New York Upstate Medical University.

“Dr. Paolino is Upstate’s Lyme person,” Messenger says. “He figured out my diagnosis and invited me to a research conference at Cornell University.”

At that conference, the Central New York Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Alliance began to take shape in the minds of people who could make a difference. Clinicians, researchers, scientists and higher education executives from Cornell University, Binghamton University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and Upstate Medical University were gathered together, investigating opportunities for translational research and collaboration.

“Multiple times in multiple ways, I heard scientists in the back of the room say they needed patients to observe,” Messenger says. “That happened again and again.”

Syracuse resident Royale Scuderi came to Messenger’s mind as she brainstormed about an organization that could effectively address the challenges of tick-borne disease.

Life with Lyme Disease

Diagnosed with late stage Lyme disease in March 2011 and with another tick-borne disease known as Babesia just four months later, Scuderi knew first-hand about the life-changing consequences of not having the right information at a critical time.

“I did not see a tick, nor did I have the bull’s eye rash,” Scuderi says. “Consequently, there is no way to discern how long I was infected with those diseases prior to my diagnosis. I do not remember when the symptoms started, but if I had the typical flu-like symptoms, we dismissed them as just that, flu or a virus. Lyme was not something that I or my doctors even considered.”

For months before her diagnosis, Scuderi experienced a widening range of debilitating symptoms, among them recurring headaches, nausea, joint pain, severe fatigue, and neck and back pain. She also began to develop fever, chills, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, stiff neck, insomnia, mental fogginess, difficulty concentrating and problems recalling words.

“As my health declined, I visited doctor after doctor,” she recalls. “I was tested for autoimmune diseases, cardiac conditions, pulmonary complications and allergies, along with an MRI to look for multiple sclerosis or neurological causes. I was misdiagnosed with arthritis and fibromyalgia. I was told repeatedly that the test results all looked normal and they could find nothing wrong with me.”

A local clinician finally tested Scuderi for Lyme and treated her with doxycycline. But relief of her symptoms was brief, as the Babesia co-infection further compromised Scuderi’s health.

After consultations with a specialist in Long Island, and another year of treatments, Scuderi finally began to find some relief, but only after the tick-borne diseases cost her significant time, money and wellness. It was three years before Scuderi could return to her normal daily activities.

“The toll of this long journey caused enormous hardship and suffering for myself and my family, along with years of lost wages and the end of a career as a freelance writer, as I could no longer form coherent thoughts,” Scuderi says. “It took several more years to eliminate the substantial debt incurred as a result of lost wages, treatments not covered by insurance and extensive travel.”

Scuderi says that when Messenger approached her during summer 2019 with the concept of an organization that would bring together clinicians, patients, researchers and advocates in an effort to solve the mysteries of tick-borne disease, she was eager to get involved. Today, Scuderi has turned her experience into action and serves as Executive Director for the Central New York Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Alliance.

“The hope is that we can help attack the Lyme and tick-borne illnesses in our region through education and outreach to medical providers and to the community at large,” says Dr. Paolino, who is one of the founding members of the Central New York Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Alliance. “We will also approach the problem via research initiatives that target environmental factors to help with prevention, as well as laboratory and clinical studies.”

Addressing a Growing Concern

Investigating the rapid rise of tick-borne disease is one of the chief objectives of researchers like Brian F. Leydet Jr., MPH, PhD, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology & Disease Ecology in the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. In his research, Dr. Leydet, who is also on the board of the Central New York Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Alliance, saw a spike in tick-borne disease in the region in 2008, an uptick that has not slowed.

“If we don’t think about stopping the spread of ticks in this area, then eventually, they are going to be everywhere,” Dr. Leydet says “We will also see increases in cases of tick-borne diseases, like Lyme disease, Babesia and anaplasmosis, unless we can figure out vaccines or some miracle method to wipe out the entire tick population. Once ticks are established, they are very hard to get rid of. We need to stop these ticks from spreading, because that is what is bringing disease into new areas.”

In partnership with area infectious-disease clinicians and scientists also involved with the Alliance, Dr. Leydet is working to advance diagnostics and vaccines for tick-borne diseases.

“I cannot think of a place where this would work better than in Syracuse,” Dr. Leydet says. “All I do is study tick-borne disease. The infectious disease clinicians are doing so many different things with patients and the local university experts have important insight into what is going on in the community. The Alliance will be a source of very unique information for patients and clinicians alike.”

A Resource for the Underserved

Due to lack of access to financial and medical resources, tick-borne disease has historically gone undetected and untreated in underserved communities such as the inner city, another challenge that the Alliance is seeking to address.

“So many families do not have access to the care they need, and when they are finally diagnosed, they are not covered by insurance,” says Kathy Ruscitto, Vice Chair of the Central New York Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Alliance. “Early treatment is essential.”

Brandiss Pearson, RN, Director of Community Engagement at Saint Joseph’s Health Hospital, was recruited to join the Alliance as a board member and to closely connect with inner-city communities.

“Underserved individuals are often not able to get the support they need,” Pearson says. “My role gives me the opportunity to speak about Lyme in a way that I would not have been able to before.”

One of the earliest initiatives of the Alliance is a grant for outreach to those in the region’s underserved neighborhoods.

“It is perplexing to me that we fight mosquitos, treat EEE, yet we have no strategy for tick control, eradication or treatment,” Ruscitto says. “Our goal in the Alliance is to help connect research, education, and treatment to help the residents of New York.”

Investigating the Offender

Saravanan Thangamani, PhD, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at State University of New York Upstate Medical University and Director of the SUNY Center for Environmental Health and Medicine, leads a tick-submission program for patients who find a tick on their bodies. Through the Citizen Science Tick Testing Program, those patients may send the tick in so that Dr. Thangamani and his team can assess the tick for pathogens and gather data to better understand the threat presented by these arachnids.

This robust gathering of information has already helped identify where ticks are most prevalent and offers patients vital information about whether they have contracted infections, including Lyme disease, Babesia and Ehrlichia.

To learn more about Lyme education for healthcare professionals, visit

To track the emergence of ticks and tick-borne diseases in New York, visit