Solid leadership is particularly important during a pandemic, and that guidance was demonstrated by the 2021 recipients of the President’s Awards for Leadership at UTHealth Houston.
Established in 2006, the annual award honors the late Michael J. Jimenez, former vice president and chief human resources officer at UTHealth Houston. Recipients are nominated by co-workers, and there are categories for faculty, management/administrative and professional, and classified staff.
“Michael was known for his commitment to service, compassion, and ethical values. This year’s recipients share these beliefs,” said Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, MD, president of UTHealth Houston and the Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair.
The 2021 honorees are: Cecilia Ganduglia Cazaban, MD, DrPH, assistant professor with UTHealth School of Public Health; Monica K. Guidry, LCSW, ACSW, executive director of the UTHealth Houston Office of Employee Assistance and Well-Being Programs; and Robin Riggs, MSN, RN, senior nurse manager for McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and the Nurse Triage Line at UT Physicians.
President’s Award for Leadership: Outstanding Faculty
Cecilia Ganduglia Cazaban, MD, DrPH
Department of Management, Policy & Community Health
UTHealth School of Public Health
Ganduglia Cazaban analyzes insurance claims and uses the information to measure the cost of care and the quality of that care.
As a co-director of the Center for Healthcare Data in the Department of Management, Policy & Community Health, Ganduglia Cazaban helps guide a team of 29 people who can access data on approximately 75 percent of insured Texans. That percentage will soon be going up thanks to new legislation calling for the Center for Healthcare Data to create a State of Texas All Payers Claim Database.
“What I really like about my job is when we are able to create information that people can act on. We’re using this database to improve health, and we also share it with other researchers,” Ganduglia Cazaban said.
When the pandemic struck, employees at the Center for Healthcare Data had to advance their research while working from home. During their many video conferences, Ganduglia Cazaban checked on the well-being of colleagues.
“Cecilia always makes sure to carve out time to ask about my loved ones and pets … to notice and compliment a recent haircut, even when peering at each other through a small, blurry WebEx screen,” recalled a co-worker, who was part of Ganduglia Cazaban’s nine-person nomination group.
Another member of the nominating group wrote, “If a stranger were to ask me to describe Cecilia as a leader, I could easily list her inherent leadership characteristics of calmness under pressure, compassion while instilling excellence, ingenuity in the face of adversity, and passion for developing the center and its team members.”
“I love to see people grow and it’s great when their career goals align with the activities that we’re doing at the center,” Ganduglia Cazaban said.
President’s Award for Leadership: Outstanding Management/Administrative and Professional
Monica K. Guidry, LCSW, ACSW
UTHealth Houston Office of Employee Assistance and Well-Being Programs
Guidry directs the university’s, 16-person employee assistance program, which supports faculty, staff, residents, and fellows dealing with struggles of everyday life and relationships. She is also responsible for the management of employee assistance programs for more than 50 organizations throughout Texas, which include four other UT institutions, 30 municipalities, and 10 additional institutions of higher educations including Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, Texas State University, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, and the University of Houston System.
Throughout the pandemic, Guidry has made sure UTHealth Houston employees were aware of the resources available for dealing with challenges related to COVID-19. Now, her team is helping employees with return-to-work issues including fear of infection and the care of young children or elderly parents. Guidry said other issues include “the mental health impact on our employees due to the pandemic, social isolation, and well-being of our enterprise.”
“Monica is the proverbial ‘unsung hero,’ in that most of her victories are won in the personal, private, and confidential lives of our faculty and staff,” wrote one of seven members of Guidry’s nominating group. “These victories do not, and cannot, live in view of the public; yet they do live and show up every day in the operational success of our institution without uttering a word.”
During their “Monday Morning Huddles,” Guidry and her co-workers strategize on how to meet the challenges of the week and how the team members are doing on a personal basis. “It was one of those requests that came from the team asking for ways to connect and not isolate,” Guidry said. In addition to her management of the EAP programs, Guidry is a licensed mental health clinician and certified coach. She has developed a critical program for faculty on workplace professionalism, while maintaining a caseload of clients for counseling and coaching.
“Monica is receptive and willing to let us chart new territory in delivering effective programming utilizing technology and the newest trends in social engagement and applying it to employee wellness programming. She basically creates a safe place for us to innovate,” another co-worker wrote in the nomination form.
“As we move forward into the new normal, Monica has specifically supported our wellness team in reimagining a new way to deliver employee well-being services,” the co-worker continued.
Guidry learned many of her leadership skills from her family, which celebrated successes and emphasized values, and a patient swim coach, who recognized the importance of discipline, asking for help, and believing in what you could accomplish. Asking for help is a strength that Guidry is trying to foster at all levels of UTHealth Houston.
President’s Award for Leadership: Outstanding Classified Staff
Robin Riggs, MSN, RN
Senior Nurse Manager
McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and Nurse Triage Line at UT Physicians
Riggs and her team help callers to the 24/7 Nurse Triage Line at UT Physicians determine whether their medical ailments warrant an immediate trip to the hospital, can wait for an appointment in a day or two, or can be managed at home.
“Being able to mentor the next generation of nurses and nursing leaders is probably the most rewarding part of my job,” Riggs said.
Riggs describes her leadership style as participatory. “By involving the entire team in identifying opportunities for improvement and for developing strategies for that improvement, the team shares a sense of ownership in the success of the department as a whole,” she said.
When the pandemic started, Riggs’ “open door” policy helped the team transition to a work-from-home-environment, change its workflow, learn telemedicine scheduling, and identify COVID-19 symptoms. It also helped the team deal with the widespread power outages during the February freeze.
“Worried, anxious, and often sick, patients were calling around the clock with fears of COVID-19 symptoms,” wrote one of the 16 members of Riggs’ nomination group. “Robin remained calm and diligent in her approach. She developed protocols and led trainings to ensure every member of the team was ready to meet this new demand.”
Riggs said her prior work experience as a major in the U.S. Army helps her deal with the unexpected. “I think this experience has provided me the tools to build a team that can improvise, adapt, and overcome any obstacles that may arise,” she said.