Community Health

HHC is committed to being active in and relevant to the communities we serve, and assuring that all individuals have a fair and just opportunity to achieve their full health potential. This is only possible if:

  • We listen to those we serve and witness directly the needs and inequities they face.
  • Remove barriers to access care, interact effectively with our workforce, and services.
  • Intervene to improve health outcomes and address social determinants of health.
  • Ensure care is respectful and culturally responsive.
  • Build trusting relationships and partnerships with shared values and goals.

By exploring and promoting new programs and partnerships we will address the health of our community in ways that are supportive and culturally relevant.


A-OK with HHC

A-Ok with HHC is a program designed to meet the underserved members of our community where they are. A-ok consists of a blood pressure screening, along with an Hgb A1c test to screen for the possibility of diabetes. During testing, participants will be given education regarding high blood pressure and the importance of keeping their blood pressure in the “normal” range as well as information on A1c, what it means, and how to keep their number low. Participants will be given information about Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) as well as Urgent Care if needed. Every participant is given a brief health history questionnaire that includes questions such as: current medications, family history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes, if they themselves have ever been told they are a diabetic or have high blood pressure, and information about any recent Emergency Room visits.

According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2018, 34.2 million American’s had diabetes and of those, 7.3 million were undiagnosed. Many remain undiagnosed due to lack of regular medical care. HHC is looking to close that loop and meet our underserved community members in places like soup kitchens, mobile health fairs, mobile food pantries, homeless shelters, and brick and mortar food pantries. These free screenings will be provided in areas the participants are already utilizing and are comfortable with. The goal will be to provide testing that can help inform participants on their current health status and ultimately connect them to resources such as primary care if needed.

East Region’s ‘A-OK’ Program Brings Health Screenings to the Community

At a recent health screening clinic at the St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich, East Region Community Health nurse Michele Brezniak provided 16 individuals with diabetes and blood pressure screenings, free of charge.

Of the 16, seven had elevated blood pressure levels, and four showed higher than normal A1C levels. A1C is a blood test that is used to diagnose diabetes or prediabetes. Many of them did not realize they had a potential health issue.

The screenings were part of a new program called AOK with HHC, a community health outreach program designed to bring important health screenings to potentially at-risk individuals who may not have access to regular health care. Brezniak created the program after she came onboard with Community Health last fall.

“It is designed to provide anyone who wants it a free A1C screening or blood pressure check,” she said. “We also do a basic health risk assessment by asking a series of questions. And then we provide education based on their results, including how they can access a primary care provider or follow up care, regardless of their insurance or immigration status.”

The program has educational pamphlets in Creole, Mandarin, English and Spanish. Brezniak said she has been working with the Colleague Resource Groups across the system to provide accurate information in multiple languages, as well as understand cultural sensitivities and protocols.

“The CRGs have been great to work with,” she said. “It’s so nice to have this resource as we put this together, and then be able to go back and share information and data with them."

Outside HHC, Brezniak is working with United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, Three Rivers Community College, and the Health Education Center in Norwich, an organization that recruits and trains health professionals from diverse backgrounds to serve marginalized communities in Connecticut. HEC and Three Rivers are providing students to assist Brezniak at the clinics.

“Having the students to work with makes a huge difference, and it gives them clinical hours they need,'' she said. “Today, one of the students was fluent in Spanish, so that was an added benefit.”

After a break for the holidays, the monthly screenings will resume in February at St. Vincent de Paul, and will begin at the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic. The program had two trial runs, at Jennings School in New London and Wequonnoc School in Taftville, both in conjunction with United Way mobile food pantries. Moving forward, Brezniak would like to be able to provide these “pop up” type screenings at mobile food pantry sites, as a way to reach even more people.

Giving 16 people important information about their health and working with them to make sure they receive follow up care made it a “great day,” Brezniak said. “The people were grateful to have the opportunity to be screened, and it was great to connect with them.”


Healthy Beginnings

The Hartford HealthCare Healthy Beginnings program serves new mothers and their babies who use the Windham Women’s Health Center for pre and post-natal care. The program aims to promote healthy recovery for new moms and healthy growth for infants by providing information and access to community services the new family may need. Two home visits are offered, beginning around one week after delivery, to discuss programs that are available to both mom and baby and to discuss any concerns or challenges they may be facing in taking care of their new infant.

Services offered may include information on Husky insurance, SNAP/EBT benefits, fuel assistance, Care4Kids, diaper bank locations, and how to apply for these programs. Information about the local lactation consultant and healthy growth and development for infants will also be provided.

HHC Healthy Beginnings will promote health and wellbeing while empowering new mothers in their motherhood journey by connecting them with community partners and resources they need.

Healthy Beginnings Off to a Strong Start

Since launching in the fall of 2021, Healthy Beginnings has enrolled more than 20 new or soon-to-be-new mothers.

Hartford HealthCare’s Healthy Beginnings program, part of Windham Hospital’s Women’s Health Center, brings information and support directly to new moms, and includes home visits and connecting the women to resources that they might not even know about.

The goal of the program is to help establish healthy behaviors and community connections while fostering a feeling of connectedness during the postpartum period that can be lonely for a new mom.

“Our number one goal is to empower women, educate them, and get them the services they need,” said Community Health nurse Michele Brezniak. “The community connections we help them create last a lifetime. It takes a village like they say, and we’re here to be your village.”

The program is open to any mom who receives care at the Windham Women’s Health Center, no matter where they give birth.

After delivery, new moms are contacted to set up a visitation time. A community health worker along with a community health nurse visits mom and baby in their home or location of their choice. During the visit, the community health worker and nurse partner with the new mom to identify needs she may have and help her to obtain services. Then a follow up visit is scheduled for six weeks later to check in on progress and identify any barriers.

Services include:

  • Healthy eating before and after birth
  • The importance of sleep
  • Postpartum depression
  • Breastfeeding
  • Poison prevention
  • Water safety
  • Finances
  • Health insurance
  • Housing
  • Heating assistance
  • Food assistance
  • Diaper assistance

For more information contact the Women's Health Center at 860.456.6796.

First Mother Takes Part in the Healthy Beginnings Program

Just weeks before giving birth to her first child, 20-year-old Heidi Garcia Gonzalez had intermittent running water, was unsure if she would have enough food and overall lacked confidence in her ability to succeed as a new mom.

That all changed when she was referred to Hartford HealthCare’s new Healthy Beginnings program, which was recently launched as part of Windham Hospital’s Women’s Health Center. The program brings information and support directly to new moms, and includes home visits and connecting new moms to resources that they might not even know about.

“I was scared, and had a lot of mixed feelings,” Heidi said as she held her sleeping baby boy Derian in the dining room of her sister’s home in Willimantic. “Now I am happy. Everything about this program is good — it helped me learn about things I didn’t even know about.”

Those things include home visits by Community Health Nurse Michele Brezniak, prenatal and postpartum care provided by bilingual Nurse Midwife Erin Bane and a host of education, including:

  • Healthy eating before and after birth
  • The importance of sleep
  • Postpartum depression
  • Breast feeding
  • Poison prevention
  • Water safety
  • Finances
  • Health insurance
  • Housing
  • Heating assistance
  • Food assistance

“I feel very happy and very blessed because of this program,” Heidi said during a recent visit with Brezniak and interpreter Amelia Ferrer-Triay of the Health Education Center based in Norwich. “Everyone has been so helpful. They have made me feel so comfortable.”

Heidi, who works for a sports net manufacturer in Colchester, is the first mom to take part in the Healthy Beginnings program, which is the brainchild of Joseph Zuzel, community outreach manager for Hartford HealthCare’s East Region, which includes Backus and Windham hospitals. It is open to any mom who receives care at the Windham Women’s Health Center, no matter where they give birth.

Heidi gave birth at Backus Hospital, which is part a comprehensive, coordinated approach to maternity and women’s health. Windham Hospital has filed a certificate of need with the state to close its birthing center due to declining numbers of births and the inability to recruit and retain staff.

“I loved Backus Hospital,” Heidi said. “All the nurses were very, very nice.”

One week after giving birth to Derian, she received the first visit from Brezniak.

“As most parents know, the timeframe after birth can be the most sleepless, beautiful, crazy time of your life,” Brezniak said. “What isn’t spoken about is how hard and isolated it can be. New moms face many pressures from today’s society beginning the moment they find out they are expecting. It can be hard to navigate the time period after birth even if a mom has gone through it before. We have noticed that women in our area feel they are unsuccessful at connecting to services they need or many times are unaware of what services are offered in their community. That’s where we come in. We want to help ease the burden on new moms, and set them up for success.”

Brezniak and Heidi have formed an impressive bond, with Heidi texting Brezniak when issues arise. For her part, Brezniak gets to hold baby Derian when they meet in person.

“I was kind of lost because this was my first baby,” Heidi told Brezniak. “Now I know if I need anything in the future, I can call you and you will be there for me.”

What would have happened if Heidi did not have the Healthy Beginnings program?

“It would have been much different,” she said. “Maybe I would have felt more frustrated.”

Women are first notified of the program through the Windham Hospital Women's Health Center, which is staffed by OB/GYN Eugene Rozenshteyn, MD, and nurse midwife Erin Bane, who is bilingual. After delivery, new moms are contacted to set up a visitation time. A community health worker along with community health nurse visits mom and baby in their home or location of their choice. During the visit, the community health worker and nurse partner with the new mom to identify needs she may have and help her to obtain services. Then a follow up visit is scheduled for six weeks later to check in on progress and identify any barriers.

“The goal of Healthy Beginnings is to help establish healthy behaviors and community connections while fostering a feeling of connectedness during the postpartum period that is historically lonely for a new mom,” Zuzel said.

So far, seven expectant moms are enrolled in the program, with a goal of caring for all expectant moms who are cared for at the Women’s Health Center.

While the number of home visits is limited to one, the program can last a lifetime. Heidi will continue to see the nurse midwife for her gynecological care. They have found a pediatrician for Baby Derian, who is now a month old, and primary care for Heidi.

“We want to be able to empower women, and make sure they have everything they need to be successful,” Brezniak said. “I love being able to offer that motherly nursing advice that we all sometimes need as new moms. Knowledge is power — the more you have, the better off you will be at taking care of yourself and your child.”


Healthy Choices Food Boxes

Community Health and Backus Nutrition departments are partnering with the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center Emergency Food Pantry to create disease-specific food boxes (cardiac, diabetes and dialysis). Dieticians from Windham and Backus train volunteers at the food pantry in how to create food boxes and label food pantry for health conditions.

All participants receive diet “tip cards” that list optimal foods for their health condition and health-related numbers. HHC provides health education, recipes as well as upcoming events for distribution to PNC patrons.

Diet Tip Cards:
Renal / Dialysis
Heart Healthy
Diabetes

HHC Partners With Community Food Bank To Ensure Healthy Diets for Chronic Conditions

When Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center Executive Director Susan Sedensky sat down a few months ago with Joseph Zuzel, the new manager of community health for Hartford HealthCare’s East Region, it was a true meeting of the minds.

“It was amazing,” she recalled. “Joe was talking about his vision, and I was talking about my vision, and we learned we had the same vision! We both want to educate community food pantry clients on healthy food choices. I have been wanting to do this forever, to educate people about their food.”

Together they created a program unique to the East Region — a Backus Hospital-based registered dietician, Katie Field, held two information sessions at the PNC in July and August to teach first staff and then volunteers about food choices specific to several health conditions, including kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes. HHC is also providing laminated handouts to help guide staff and volunteers as they pack food boxes for distribution, and additional flyers to provide to pantry clients.

“My goal with community health in the East Region is to create collaborations and partnerships that have a long term positive effect on the health of residents across the region,” Zuzel said. “By teaming up with the PNC to help provide people with the best foods for their specific health and dietary needs, we are truly embedding ourselves in the wellbeing of the community.”

In 2020, the PNC food pantry served 1,500 families in the greater Stonington area, an increase of about 200 families that Sedensky attributes to the economic hardships brought on by COVID.  In addition, every Friday it sends home “Weekend BackPacks” with enough food for two days, with about 300 children. The food pantry is open five days a week, utilizing curbside pickup. In-person “shopping” was halted by the pandemic. Each family typically takes home 4-5 shopping bags/boxes a week, filled with staples, canned goods, fresh vegetables from the PNC community garden, meats and dairy.

“Being able to create food boxes for clients who have specific health issues will be incredible,” Sedensky said. “We often hear from clients that they have a new diagnosis, and it can be overwhelming to them. This is an easy way for us to help them.”

Field provided training on healthy diets for patients who have heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes. She also shared strategies for getting people to try new foods that will be better for their health.

“Don’t present it as, ‘You can’t have this …’,” she counseled. “Instead, present it as ‘Here’s everything you can have, and let’s try and limit these things.’ We want to always focus on fresh or frozen versus processed or canned. They might not be used to that, so take it slow.

 


Healthy Cooking

The “Heathy Cooking” initiative that will be implemented in Windham County. The Community Health Department in conjunction with Windham Hospital Food Services, Diabetes Education and Nutrition departments offers cooking classes at no cost to patients currently enrolled in diabetes education and nutrition support at Windham hospital. Participants in this initiative attend 4 in person cooking sessions (1X week for 4 weeks on Tuesdays during the month of November) at a local teaching kitchen to prepare 4 separate meals that they will then bring home to share with their families.

The sessions are taught by the Windham Hospital Executive Chef and nutritional support is offered throughout the program by Windham Hospital Dieticians. Participants not only learn kitchen and meal preparation skills but are educated about choosing foods that are best suited for their diagnosis and how to maximize foods and meal planning based on a limited budget. The goal of the initiative is to have a positive effect not only on clinical measures (A1c, BMI, Cholesterol, etc.) but subjective measures as well such as how often families are consuming fast food and how often families are sitting down to eat meals together. 

Healthy Cooking Programs in Windham and Mystic Launched

By ELISSA BASS

You know the old adage, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” East Region Community Health Manager Joseph Zuzel, in partnership with Windham and Backus hospital dieticians, clinicians and chefs, are bringing that philosophy to eastern Connecticut residents. 

This month, a Healthy Cooking program was launched in partnership with CLiCK (Commercially Licensed Co-Operative Kitchen) in Windham. George Zern, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Windham Hospital, is teaching four classes to people diagnosed with diabetes, providing healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack menus, recipes and techniques. 

In December, a heart-healthy version of the program will launch at the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center’s Coogan Farm, taught by Scott Mickleson, executive chef at Backus Hospital. 

Zuzel said the program is much more than a simple cooking class. Dieticians also join and provide information on nutrition (both general and diagnosis-specific), as well as tips for efficient and cost-effective grocery shopping, why it’s better to eat at home than grab takeout, why family mealtimes are important, and even what types of tools are needed to be able to make home-cooked meals. 

The first session at CLiCK “went really well,” said Angela Frankland RD, CD-N, Clinical and Outpatient Dietitian at Windham Hospital. “George did an awesome job not only teaching the recipes but teaching the participants basic cooking skills and safe food-handling skills. We gave basic nutrition education, i.e; how starting your day off with a low carb, high protein breakfast can help better manage blood sugars throughout the day. We also talked about why the foods we chose were healthy in other aspects, such as eggs are high in Vitamin D and protein.” 

The Windham program was created in conjunction with Diabetes Educator Karen Barbone, RN. The Mystic program is a partnership with cardiologists based at Hartford HealthCare’s Mystic HealthCenter, Lisa Gibney, director of food services at Backus, and Lauren Nichols, clinical nutrition manager at Backus, as well as Mickleson. 

Both programs are free to participants. 

Breakfast Muffin Cup
Yield: 10 servings
Pre grease a muffin tin. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 20 ounces pasteurized liquid eggs
  • 20 ounces baby spinach, chopped
  • 12 ounces diced tomatoes
  • 1 red or yellow pepper, diced
  • 10 ounces low fat shredded cheese

Lightly whisk the eggs for 2 minutes. Set aside.

Evenly distribute all the vegetables in the pre-greased muffin tins. Measure 4 oz. of the liquid eggs over the vegetables into each muffin tin.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 12-15 minutes until internal temp reaches 165F. Remove from oven and let rest for a few minutes prior to serving. Can be made a day ahead and reheated.


Rx for Health Program

Hartford HealthCare “Rx for Health” program has been in the Norwich area since 2010 and in Windham since 2021. The goal of the program is to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income families. Local pediatricians identify low-income families with children up to age 18 who are at risk for diet-related health conditions and are not being able to afford fresh fruits and vegetables.

Hartford health care supplies families with $126.00 worth of vouchers that can be exchanged for fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets and grocery stores. Nutrition education, as well as recipes, are supplies for families to encourage participation.

Rx for Health Program Expands to Windham

by Elissa Bass

The Rx for Health program, which celebrated its 10th anniversary at Backus Hospital last year, will expand to Windham this summer.

In addition, the program has been streamlined, making it easier for families to utilize it.

Rx for Health provides nutritionally at-risk families with “prescriptions” for fresh produce that come from their doctor or other healthcare provider. In the Norwich area, the vouchers can be redeemed for fresh fruits and vegetables at the weekly Farmers Market at Howard T. Brown Memorial Park.

In Windham, the program will be available at the Willimantic Food Co-op (91 Valley St., Willimantic), the Willimantic Farmers Market (Saturdays, 8 a.m.-noon, 28 Bridge St., Willimantic) and the Windham Hospital Farmstand (Wednesdays, 3-6 p.m., 132 Mansfield Ave., Willimantic).

Each “prescription” is worth $126.

Windham Hospital has partnered with Generations Family Health Center in Willimantic to promote the program and recruit families to use it. Casey Squier, engagement services manager for Generations, said 20 families will be identified by the organization's staff pediatricians to receive the vouchers.

“We are always looking for creative ways to help our patients be more healthy and make better life choices,” Squier said. “Our care coordinators will work with the families to overcome any barriers there may be — cultural, financial, logistical — to get them to these markets to use the vouchers in the best way.”

The expansion into Windham was made possible by a donation to the program by the Windham Hospital Foundation.

“The Windham Hospital Foundation is pleased to provide funding to pilot a Rx for Health program in the greater Willimantic community in order for families with children to receive adequate amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis,” said Shawn J. Maynard, executive director of the Foundation. “The board of trustees of the Foundation looks for ways to provide funding for programs and services for the patients the Hospital serves, whether it be in a hospital setting or in the community.”

Joseph Zuzel, manager of Community Health for Hartford HealthCare’s East Region, said he was pleased that he could bring together the hospital’s Foundation and a community partner to bring the Rx for Health program to the Willimantic area.

“Being able to bring together these organizations to improve the health of the community is what we are all about,” he said.

Funded by the Backus Hospital Development Office, Rx for Health started as an initiative for the Backus Hospital Healthy Community Campaign and has been a hugely successful program serving the Backus Community since its pilot in 2011. 

In addition to receiving the fresh foods, registered dietitians provide the families with nutrition counseling and education materials that cover an array of wellness topics including:

  • How to stay active as a family
  • Tips for being healthy for busy families
  • Healthy snack ideas for children and toddlers
  • Healthy recipes utilizing the many fruits and vegetables in-season

A survey of program participants in 2019 showed that tight finances affect how families buy food, including food choices.

Of the 55 people who completed the survey, 27 percent felt as though they were not able to make healthy choices for their family. Of those, 11 stated it was because of money. The surveys also revealed that within the past 12 months, 53 percent of families were worried they would run out of food before they had money to buy more; 31 percent did run out of food and didn’t have money to buy more.

Also, 75 percent said that before their participation in Rx for Health, their children received a fruit or vegetable every day. At the end of the 2019 program, 100 percent of the families said their children were able to receive fruits and vegetables every day.


Well Wishes and Dishes

Well Wishes and Dishes is a program where the food services departments at both Backus and Windham hospital partner with local elementary schools. Students create Get Well cards that are placed on every patient’s lunch tray. Students get to explore concepts in altruism, kindness, and other characteristics that align with their Social Emotional Learning curriculum. Patients get a friendly note and drawing from local youth to brighten their day.

At Windham Hospital, a Side Order of Kindness

A new program at Windham Hospital is providing local elementary students a way to practice altruism while also bringing a smile to hospital patients’ faces.

Called “Well Wishes and Dishes,” it’s the brainchild of East Region Community Health Manager Joseph Zuzel. Zuzel approached Kathleen Monroe, speech-language pathologist and Special Education team leader at the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy, with the idea of having students create get well cards for patients at Windham Hospital.

Launched in early October, the students make the cards, which are then delivered to new patients at Windham on their lunch trays. So far, 259 cards have been delivered to Windham, and more than 100 have been delivered to patients.

“Part of what this accomplishes is it helps to erase any stigmas kids may have about hospitals or being in the hospital,” Zuzel said. “It also speaks to their social and emotional needs, being able to make something that will make someone else feel better - that’s huge for kids, and even more right now during the pandemic. To do something nice for someone you don’t even know, that’s learning altruism.”

At the STEM Barrows Academy, the initiative is meant to prompt teachers to have a conversation with their students about community and messages that would be positive. Each month, students have a different theme to address when they make the cards. Topics up for discussion include altruism, empathy, compassion, responsibility, generosity, inclusion, fairness.


Additional Resources

Community Partners and Other Resources

Explore our community partners and community resources on our platform Connections That Matter. Hartford HealthCare makes it easier to make Connections That Matter to all kinds of free or reduced-cost services. Just enter your Zip Code to find help and support near you — like medical care, food, clothing, job training … and lots more!

Safe Kids East Region

East Region Community Health and Backus Hospital Trauma department co-chair the east regional chapter of Safe Kids worldwide for the state of Connecticut.
 

Windham Hospital


Community Health Contacts

Joseph Zuzel
Director, Community Health East Region

Michele Brezniak
RN, Community Health East Region

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