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Former President John C. LaRosa, MD

Portrait Unveil

Students, alumni, faculty, neighbors, and trustees all gathered in the School of Public Health last Tuesday for the official portrait unveiling in honor of former Downstate President John C. LaRosa, M.D., MACP.

Nearly 100 people were on hand to catch a glimpse of the oil painting carefully crafted by artist Laurel Bock, as Dr. LaRosa’s family, peers, colleagues, and friends walked down memory lane with cheer and well wishes. Former New York State Senator, Martin J. Golden, who was instrumental in securing funding for the School of Public Health's new academic building and Downstate Biotech initiatives, former College of Medicine Dean and Professor Ian L. Taylor, M.D., Ph.D, former Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Ivan L. Lisnitzer, Professor and former Chair of Medicine Jeffrey S. Borer, M.D., FACC, FAHA, and current Senior VP for Academic Affairs & Chief Academic Officer Pascal J. Imperato, M.D., MPH&TM, MACP, all reflected on Dr. LaRosa’s time and impact at Downstate. Personal encounters, plenty of jokes and even some held back tears were shared at the ceremony—his contributions to this great institution and the legacy he leaves behind were lauded and echoed by all.

John C. Larosa Portrait Unveil

A prominent cardiologist and researcher, Dr. LaRosa served as Downstate’s 15th president from 1999-2012 and helped to grow, change, revitalize, and expand the Institution into a world-class academic medical center.

Under Dr. LaRosa’a leadership, Downstate launched its first Master of Public Health Program and grew it into the School of Public Health. The diversity and variety of Downstate’s academic programming expanded greatly with his additions of the Accelerated Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, the Master’s Degree in Health Informatics, and the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program in the newly-renamed School of Health Professions, to name a few.

Etched in Downstate’s history, Dr. LaRosa’s contributions are invaluable; his legacy will remain steeped in his unrelenting devotion to Downstate, and his vision to seeing it move toward greater successes.

Many thanks to all the students, faculty, and staff who attended. Special thanks to Ellen Watson in the Office of Communications & Marketing for her efforts to plan and coordinate the ceremony.



AMD Study, Drs. Macknik & Martinez-Conde

Vision Loss Study

In research this week, Professors Stephen Macknik, Ph.D., and Susana Martinez Conde, Ph.D., continue to make news, catching the attention of the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, Ph.D., for their innovation in neurotechnology that works to restore vision in people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—the leading cause of blindness among people age 50 and older.

Developed as part of the NIH-led BRAIN Initiative, the OBServ system will use a special pair of glasses that simultaneously tracks eye movement and captures the corresponding visual scene. The encrypted information will be wirelessly streamed to two surgically-implanted neuro-prosthetic devices at the rear of the brain, stimulating the visual cortex with the information needed for sight—information the retinas of AMD patients can no longer provide.

Among the critical components of their innovation are tiny, implantable neuro-prosthetic recording devices that Drs. Macknik and Martinez-Conde created. The 1-centimeter device is powered by induction coils similar to those in the cochlear implants used to help people with profound hearing loss.

Congratulations to Drs. Macknik and Martinez Conde for their groundbreaking contribution to science and for continuing to advance Downstate’s innovation footprint—elevating our work from Brooklyn to the national stage!



DEC, ECPC Leadership Cohort


Infancy and early childhood are critical years for skills development for all children, but especially for those who are challenged by disabilities. The Division of Early Childhood/Early Childhood Personnel Center (DEC/ECPC) is a national organization that provides resources and training to early intervention and early childhood special education professionals.

Beth Elenko

Congratulations to Occupational Therapy Professor and Early Intervention Program Specialization Director Beth Elenko, Ph.D., OTR/L, BCP, who was accepted into DEC’s 2019 Leadership Cohort. The program brought together leaders from 25 academic institutions to participate in conversations, think tanks, webinars, and more, all focused on critical issues in the field. The program’s goal is to prepare the cohort to serve as leaders in their respective professional organizations and on local, state, national, and federal committees.

The only occupational therapist accepted into the highly competitive program, Dr. Elenko will present at the 2019 Cohort’s Summit in Dallas, Texas this fall. Her session, “Interdisciplinary Education Module for the Early Intervention Team,” is a Blackboard learning module created as part of a Master’s project with OT students Jenna Fanelli, Jacqueline Hakim, Melanie Rigo, Sandra Gomez, and Travis Barry.

Thank you Dr. Elenko, for so ably representing Downstate in this exceptional platform, and thank you to all the students who participated in developing the education module.



Accelerated Baccalaureate Honors Program

College of Nursing Honors

I am excited to announce the College of Nursing (CON) launched its 2019-2020 Honors Program for students enrolled in the Accelerated Baccalaureate Program. The program was designed to engage students in a clinical, on-site nursing curriculum that provides in-depth and experiential learning in a dedicated nursing honors community—while also generating outstanding nurse leaders that will advance nursing practice, research, education, service, and policy making.

Our Honors program is a competitive, invitation-only program that immerses high-achieving undergraduate nursing students in cutting-edge scholarship. An inaugural group of eight students began at our teaching hospital, the University Hospital of Brooklyn this month and, for the second year, 10 students were placed at Maimonides Medical Center.

The Honors Program provides a variety of unique clinical experiences, evidence-based projects, and activities for undergraduate students seeking deeper, more challenging clinical and academic experiences.

I proudly congratulate the newest inductees to the CON Honors Program:

Ashley Mendez
Chaya Cohen
Chaya Weinstein
Fiona Singh
Giomar Useche
Jamal Philip Berkenkotter
Jennifer Herrmann
Julia Smith
Kaithlyn Mustard
Leneshia Douglas
Maciej Pyzik
Natalie Eccleston
Nicole Piquant
Padminie Rai
Sally Yu
Taylor Wenk
Viktoriya Voitko
Vivian Hoang

Congratulations to all, as well as a round of applause to our incredibly hardworking, gifted Honors students for their commitment to distinction in their fields of study, and for continuing to add to Downstate’s legacy of excellence.

Many thanks to the faculty and staff in the College of Nursing for working tirelessly to enhance the educational experiences of our students in the class, at clinical sites, and within the community.


School of Public Health

NYC Diabetes Epidemic Intervention

New York City is facing a diabetes epidemic, pointing to alarming new figures that reveal there has been a 150% increase in the prevalence of diabetes in adults across the city since the 1990s. More specifically, East Flatbush has the highest rate of self-reported diabetes in Brooklyn. Obesity rates in communities similar to Downstate’s continue to climb as a result of limited access to healthy, balanced, and nutritionally-dense food—requiring coordinated action by local healthcare systems, hospitals, and community organization to address the escalating diabetes crisis, nationally and locally.

Dr. Helzner and Dr. Afable

In response, the Central Brooklyn Diabetes Project (CBDP) was formed—and a new partnership between Downstate’s School of Public Health (SPH) and faith-based centers throughout Central Brooklyn was born.  Aimee Afable Ph.D., MPH, Associate Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, and Elizabeth Helzner, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics,are leading the SPH effort as the New Creation Community Health Empowerment, Inc. (NCCHE) leads the faith-based coalition.

Guided by the Transcreation Framework for reducing health disparities, the team will test a diabetes care intervention prototype that is evidence-based and community driven. The program will integrate lifestyle modification strategies, plant-based nutrition science, group stress management, and local community activities. The prototype was designed to integrate a 10-day whole food, plant-based diet, and a meaningful approach to stress reduction.

The team will evaluate outcomes such as hemoglobin A1C, BMI, avoidable hospital visits and health-related quality-of-life to assess the feasibility of more broadly implementing the program.

Thank you Dr. Afable, Dr. Helzner, and SPH students, faculty, and staff who participated in carrying the mission of Downstate beyond our campus — leaving our community healthier and stronger than it was found.



Dr. Margaret Kaplan

Dr. KaplanI am proud to shine the Faculty Spotlight on Margaret Kaplan, Ph.D., OTR/L, Associate Dean for Program Development and Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy (OT) in the School of Health Professions (SOPH), as this week’s Faculty Spotlight.

After earning her Bachelor's degree in Occupational Therapy from Downstate in 1975, Dr. Kaplan went on to graduate from Columbia University with a Master’s in Motor Learning. Thereafter, she returned to her alma mater in 1990 as official Downstate Faculty. Since that day, Dr. Kaplan’s has built a nearly 30-year record of distinguished service, academic instruction, and research that has touched the lives and earned the respect of students, faculty, staff, and leadership alike.

Over her tenure, Dr. Kaplan served as a faculty member in OT, Interim OT Chair, Interim College Dean, and Associate Dean for Program Development. In each of her roles, Dr. Kaplan worked to extend her influence beyond instruction in the classroom—exceeding expectations and simultaneously helping to grow the footprint of Downstate and SOPH. Dr. Kaplan’s leadership and vision have proven to be critical to the expansion of SOHP’s academic offerings, as she was instrumental in developing new programs for the school including Medical Coding, SOHP Career Center, Community Health Worker Certificate, Applied Behavior Analysis MS degree and Certificate, Midwifery Doctorate, Physician Assistant MS degree, and the MS degree completion program. She also worked to stretch and adapt SOHP to the demands of the ever-evolving technology of this century—developing online content into hybrid courses for the OT program since 2001.

Beyond her work in the SOHP, Dr. Kaplan has been equally committed to advancing Downstate—lending her time, skill, and support to where needed She currently serves as Chair of the SOHP Admissions and Academic Standing Committee, on the Downstate Space Committee, and as Chair of the Academic Technology Steering Committee, coordinating academic technology Center-wide across all schools/colleges, making recommendations to the Deans and Administration. Additionally, shehas secured over 1 Mil grant funding for advanced training of OTs in Early Intervention from the U.S. Department of Education.

After nearly 30 years of distinguished service, Dr. Kaplan has announced her retirement. While congratulations on her retirement are certainly in order—Dean Allen Lewis,Ph.D, CRC, the SOHP Family, the Downstate community and I would like to thank Dr. Kaplan for her leadership, unwavering commitment to our students, and for adding to the quality of Downstate’s fabric, and for her commitment to this community.



Last week the nation paused, again, to remember 9/11. I know that many who worked at Downstate on that day were impacted both professionally and emotionally–either as healthcare providers or among those waiting for word of the safety and survival of family, neighbors, friends and our citizens.

9/11 memorial

I would like to highlight the work of one of our staff members on that day—Josh Kellerman, Programmer/Analyst in Information Services. Josh was a volunteer EMT with the Hatzalah Ambulance Service and worked directly across the street from the World Trade Center. Always EMT-ready, Josh grabbed his two-way radio and rushed help immediately after the first tower was hit. When the tower fell, Josh was less than a block away, working with an ambulance that was quickly enveloped in the falling dust cloud. With zero visibility, he drove the ambulance team and two injured on board to NYU’s trauma center. He continued to work through the night, transporting patients—primarily firemen—to local hospitals. Josh is one of the many unsung heroes who risked his life to save others.

I share this story, not to recall the pain and chaos of that day, but to remind us all of the sacred positions we hold as healthcare providers and professionals. The impact of our work has no geographic limitation. The second we get out of bed and walk out into the real world, our jobs have begun for the day. The world is our office, and though we can never be sure when or where we may be called to duty, each time we step up, we more deeply appreciate our roles as gatekeepers of healthy life.

I would like to thank Josh and everyone at Downstate for their service on that day and who, in the days, weeks, and months that followed, provided ongoing clinical care and counseling to 9/11 victims, survivors, and their families. We will never forget.





President's Bulletin
SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University
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Brooklyn, NY 11203