The Chamber’s 6th Annual Healthy Hall Awards program was held on March 15 at Lanier Technical College. Presented by Northeast Georgia Health System, the awards honor those in the healthcare industry making a significant impact on our quality of life through excellence in health and wellness.
The keynote speaker was Ugochukwu Egolum, MD, FACC, Medical Director of the Heart Failure Treatment & Recovery Center at Georgia Heart Institute, the cardiovascular service line for Northeast Georgia Health System. Dr. Egolum also serves as the Program Director of the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship at Georgia Heart Institute.
2023 Healthy Hall Award Recipients:
Foothills Area Health Education Center or AHEC, was established in 1999 as a community driven non-profit organization with a mission to increase the quality, supply, and distribution of health care professionals throughout 31 counties in Northeast Georgia. To fulfill their mission they work with established partners throughout the region to educate young students about health career choices, facilitate community-based clinical training experiences for health profession students, and provide continuing education opportunities that support healthcare professionals. AHEC has organized the Pathway to Med School Program for 8 years and graduated 64 pre-med students interested in becoming primary care physicians in the state. A tribute to the program’s success is that 97% of these graduates that apply to medical school are accepted, and 85% of graduates that are currently in residency programs are choosing primary care specialties. Their RN Re-Entry Program helps RNs reinstate their lapsed licenses and rejoin the nursing workforce in our region. Since 2002, 1,520 graduates supported by Foothills have chosen to practice in our northeast Georgia region, with an additional 1,687 graduates practicing in other parts of the state. Foothills AHEC’s team remains focused on meeting the healthcare workforce needs of Hall County and northeast Georgia.
Monica Newton, DO
One Hall Mental & Behavioral Health Committee, NGHS
Dr. Monica Newton earned her medical degree from Midwestern University in Chicago in 1997. While there, she became the national president of the Student Osteopathic Medical Association and learned the importance of advocacy for patients and providers. She went on to complete her family medicine residency at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and then began teaching at the UAB-Selma Family Medicine Residency Program while completing a fellowship in obstetrics and gynecology. She also completed a faculty fellowship in underserved medicine through the University of California-San Diego. Dr. Newton went on to start a free clinic in Alabama called “Family Doc in a bus”, which was recognized by the state as the year’s most innovative Government-Community partnership. In 2011, Dr. Newton moved with her family to Gainesville and joined Northeast Georgia Physicians Group, where she is the inaugural program director of the Family Medicine Residency Program at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. While all of these remarkable accomplishments have a clear impact on the community – now and for the future – Dr. Newton is also being recognized this year for her leadership in the One Hall Mental and Behavioral Health Committee.
Outstanding Achievement in Behavioral Health
Gainesville Police Department
Law enforcement agencies across the country are facing increasing challenges when addressing and supporting mental health issues in their communities. To better serve the Gainesville community, the Gainesville Police Department, with the help of partner agencies – North Georgia Community Foundation, Northeast Georgia Health System, United Way of Hall County – hired a mental health clinician in 2020. Anjana Freeman has developed the program from the ground up. She has been able to reach those who have struggled with mental illness for decades and given them hope for a future by providing the patients with the skills and resources to manage their illness. Several of these patients had numerous encounters with law enforcement and spent days to weeks in jail. Anjana’s work has reunited families with their loved ones that were sometimes lost because of the stigma of mental illness. Anjana is known throughout the state as a pioneer in Law Enforcement Co-Responder programs. She is called upon by agencies all of the state to provide modeling and consulting in starting co-responder programs. Anjana’s passion to provide help and remove the barriers that have prevented so many people from receiving needed treatment can be seen in her numerous hours of work she gives to the citizens of Gainesville and Hall County.
Healthcare Worker of the Year
Stephanie Kirby Ayers
Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic
Stephanie has been with Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic/ Northside for 20 years. Stephanie has done an amazing job managing the Diagnostic Clinic/ Northside radiology department. She has overseen the growth of the radiology department into the Braselton and Duluth markets. Stephanie has been intricately involved in the implementation of two RIS/PACS systems. In addition to managing the radiology employees Stephanie still completes patient exams in bone density, CT, and general x-ray every week. During her time as the radiology manager, Stephanie has been involved in the implementation of new equipment for bone density, CT, mammography, general x-ray, ultrasound, and vascular ultrasound. Her coworkers feel Stephanie is an amazing boss. She is hardworking, kind, supportive, communicates effectively, and makes work fun.
Nurse of the Year
Alan Satterfield, RN
District 2 Public Health Department
After filling various nursing roles in several regional hospitals Alan began working at the Hall County Health Department in the Child Health Clinic in 2001. He worked with the Ninth District Opportunity administration to assure physical and dental exams were complete during the school year. He assisted in coordinating and working scoliosis screening in the Gainesville City and Hall County School System. In 2002, Alan assumed the role of the Hall County Nurse Manager. Duties involved coordination of all programs in the Health Department, including Child Health and Immunizations, Women’s Health (Family Planning and OB), Infectious Disease Clinics, Outreach and follow up activities in all programs. He was the liaison between the Hall County OB Clinic and Longstreet Clinic and the Northeast Georgia Physician Group’s on-site Primary Care Clinic. He worked with multiple community agencies, including serve the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, and with many local businesses and schools to provide yearly flu shots and other preventative immunizations. Alan also worked with the GA State Agency to provide equipment for Tele Health for the Ryan White/HIV Clinic. Alan was responsible for interviewing staff for all positions in the clinic. Alan re-introduced cross training for nurses working in all programs in the clinic, instead of focusing on one specialty. In 2019, Alan was promoted to Director of Nursing and Clinical Services at the District level. He became responsible for coordinating all programs within the 13-county area. Alan was instrumental in training and implementing the Community Clinics during the COVID pandemic.
Dentist/Orthodontist of the Year
Ron Wilson, DMD
Dr. Ron Wilson is a Gainesville native who graduated from Gainesville High School and North GA College. He then attended The Medical College of GA (now, Augusta University Medical Center) for both dental school and his orthodontic residency. Dr. Wilson moved back to his hometown acquiring Dr. Thomas Field’s long-standing orthodontic practice with his wife, Bonnie-Lynne. Together they started Wilson Orthodontics, and Dr. Wilson officially became Gainesville’s Hometown Orthodontist. They opened a satellite location in Hoschton, GA to better serve patients providing multiple convenient locations. As the practice grew they opened multiple convenient locations across North GA providing excellent orthodontic care. Dr. Wilson has been a continuous supporter of his local community over the past 17 years in many ways, including volunteering as the orthodontist at Good News Clinic. He has donated free orthodontic care to hundreds of community members over the years, and has provided free hands-on learning for students in the dental field. He was the first to donate free braces to our local schools for fundraising purposes. Dr. Wilson and his family have loved calling Gainesville home, and he will be forever grateful to his outstanding team and the amazing patients he has the privilege of treating over these past 17 years.
Physician of the Year (1 of 2 in this category)
Andre M. Kallab, MD, FACP
Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic
Dr. Kallab has worked in the Hall County community with Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic since 2005. He is a leading expert in oncology and hematology. He is a member of the American Society of clinical Oncology, the American Society of Hematology, the American College of Physicians and the Georgia Society of Clinical oncology. He is also an elected fellow with the American College of Physicians. He has done numerous lectures at National and State meetings and is well recognized in his field. He is one of the reasons that clinical research for patients is so available in our area, as he is a member and speaks at the Georgia National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program. Dr. Kallab is respected by the community, he is devoted to his patients. His kindness and compassion are one of his many attributes. His patients love him and trust him whole-heartedly. He takes his time with patients and his patients often speak and say he is the “oncologist, I would see if I need one.”
Physician of the Year (2 of 2 in this category)
Keshma Saujani, MD, FACOG
Keshma Saujani, MD, FACOG, is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist at Longstreet Clinic. She also holds board certification in minimally invasive GYN surgery. She is recognized as a Surgeon of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery, Minimally Invasive Surgery and Robotic Surgery by the Surgical Review Corporation. Dr. Saujani delivers the utmost care for each patient she sees. She is an outstanding physician, person, mother and friend, and all who know her know she is the first to put others before herself.
Advanced Practice Provider of the Year (1 of 2 in this category)
Ashley Simpson, AGACNP-BC, FNP-BC
Georgia Heart Institute
Ashley Simpson is an acute care nurse practitioner at Georgia Heart Institute, the comprehensive heart and vascular program of Northeast Georgia Health System. Ashley also serves as a software builder, offering clinical insight into the creation of EPIC, the electronic health records system at NGHS. Ashley received her Family Nurse Practitioner degree from the University of North Georgia and continued her education at Emory University, graduating with a masters in Acute Care and Gerontology. Since graduating and starting work at NGHS, Ashley has helped lead the IT buildout for the inaugural Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program; improved the discharge process for cardiology patients; and coordinated Georgia Heart Institute’s APP schedule to ensure coverage is present in the hospital all day, every day. Ashley serves on the Northeast Georgia Region American Heart Association Executive Leadership Team and was recently named as one of University of North Georgia’s inaugural 20 Under 40 alumni honorees. She and her husband also help lead at Lanier Christian Church in Gainesville. Ashley truly exemplifies compassionate patient care, while also helping to improve the community in the greater Hall area.
Advanced Practice Provider of the Year (2 of 2 in this category)
Paige Owens, NP
Paige Owens is a Nurse Practitioner who specializes in House Calls at Longstreet Clinic. Her patients and their families describe her as always going over and beyond for the patients that she sees. She provides care to patients that would otherwise not be seen by a medical professional as she goes into their homes to provide the care that they need. Paige is an essential part of many families in the community and is very deserving of receiving Advanced Practice Provider of the year.
Brenau University Lynn J. Darby School of Psychology & Adolescent Counseling
According to Mental Health America’s 2022 Access to Care Ranking, Georgia ranked No. 48 in the U.S. for access to quality mental health care. Brenau’s Lynn J. Darby School of Psychology and Adolescent Counseling addresses that critical need through degree programs that produce clinicians who serve Gainesville-Hall County and beyond. This fall, the Darby School will add a doctorate in psychology for mental health care professionals who will serve as clinicians and educate future counselors. Dedicated to community partnerships, the Darby School works with the police department, court system and a wide variety of community agencies. The Darby School also serves the community through onsite clinics in Gainesville and Norcross that are open to the public. Brenau is one of two universities in the state accredited as an official play therapy training institute. The Darby School helps students develop an in-depth understanding of human behavior, so they may use that knowledge to pursue a career that enriches lives and serves the community. The Lynn J. Darby School of Psychology and Adolescent Counseling is located in the Gainesville Renaissance building on the second floor in Downtown Gainesville. Thank you Doug and Kay Ivester and Lynn Darby for your generous investment in healthcare at Brenau University.
Northeast Georgia Health System
Tracy Vardeman is recently retired after more than 30 years at Northeast Georgia Health System, where she served in several roles – the most recent being Chief Strategy Executive. Tracy had a true vision and keen instinct when it came to not just NGHS, but also to the provision of healthcare in our region. She had a real knack for always looking around the corner to see where NGHS should be headed. She could see what’s possible and then worked to put in motion the parts and pieces necessary to see it come to fruition. Tracy’s fingerprint is at the core of NGHS’ growth and development, from the acquisition of Barrow Regional Medical Center in 2017; to a partnership with the Georgia Board of Regents to reopen Chestatee Regional Medical Center in Lumpkin in 2019; to the expansion of ambulatory care sites throughout the region; to leading board study committees which resulted in decisions to start a Graduate Medical Education program and to seek Level I trauma designation; and, of course, intense campus redevelopment in both Gainesville and Braselton. Most recently, though, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tracy’s foresight and leadership were evident as she brought together resources from across the community to fight the pandemic in a collaborative way that has been heralded by state and national officials as a model for true community health improvement. Tracy is a master in gathering groups both within NGHS and throughout the community to achieve true collaborative success. This is especially evident in her work with the Community Health Needs Assessment, which has grown from a one-hospital, one county assessment to a true regional community health assessment involving partner hospitals from throughout the region, as well as District II Public Health. Tracy is passionate about this community’s health and has spent her career truly living out NGHS’ mission to improve the health of the community in all it does. Her relentless pursuit of a better tomorrow for NGHS and the Northeast Georgia community is her lasting legacy.
Philip Wilheit, Sr.
Philip Wilheit, Sr. has served in board governance at Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) for more than three decades, helping to set the vision and trajectory for the Health System, which led to the success NGHS enjoys today. Philip served as NGHS Board Chair from 1993 to 2006, and has served in many other roles since. With his unique blend of commitment to our community, extensive relationships throughout the state, keen financial intellect and warm sense of humor, he has always been at the helm through tremendous growth for the health system. As a true advocate, even outside the board room, Philip is always looking for ways to advance the NGHS’ mission in the community. From his longtime support of The Medical Center Foundation and funding initiatives that have improved the health of our greater community, to his statewide service on the Georgia Board of Regents, NGHS is fortunate to have his far-reaching influence and expertise benefitting the local community. Philip Wilheit’s commitment to the people of northeast Georgia is evident as he and his family have invested themselves generously at NGHS through their volunteer service and ongoing philanthropy to improve the health of the community.