RVNAhealth’s Theresa Santoro wins 2020 Judith Hriceniak Award for Excellence in Nursing Leadership

RVNAhealth is extremely proud of our President and CEO, Theresa Santoro, who most deservedly earned the 2020 Judith Hriceniak award. And we are also proud of how graciously she handled the surprise presentation. Because behind every great story, there’s a great backstory. Read on.

The Story

November 6, 2020: Theresa Santoro, MSN, RN, CHCA, President and CEO of RVNAhealth was officially awarded the 2020 Judith Hriceniak Award for Excellence in Nursing Leadership by the Connecticut Association for Healthcare at Home (CAHCH). The prestigious annual award recognizes a nursing leader who serves as a visionary role model, inspires others through development and life-long learning, incorporates technology into the practice of nursing and patient education; and consistently displays strong communication and collaboration. Santoro was nominated by her RVNAhealth team, the beneficiaries of her talents and vision.

Tracy Wodatch, president and CEO of CAHCH, and Kim Hriceniak, daughter of the award namesake, Judith Hriceniak, presented the award, sharing elements and excerpts from the nomination, which highlighted Theresa’s vision and energy, especially in a year such as 2020.  

While many companies and organizations have focused on maintaining and preserving this year, Theresa’s leadership at RVNAhealth rang strong – guiding the team through the unknowns of a global pandemic with our mission as a guiding principle;  leading RVNAhealth to an agency merger with the Bethel Visiting Nurse Association and New Milford Visiting Nurse & Hospice to enable all three agencies to better serve our patients and communities for generations to come; and – for the 8th time since 2011 – steering RVNAhealth to a Top Workplaces Award by Hearst Media, a recognition earned through staff surveys, a true sign of organizational health, respect, and engagement.

The following tribute from RVNAhealth Chief Clinical Officer, Keri Linardi, is representative of what decades of Theresa’s colleagues and collaborators, all know about her:

Nurses are inherent leaders from the bedside, facilitating, providing, and promoting best practices and care for their patients. This clinical leadership often translates into excellence in nursing leadership as evidenced by mentoring, scholarship, commitment to excellent care, and the ability to respond to challenges with innovation.  RVNAhealth and I are fortunate to have someone who embodies true ‘Excellence in Nursing Leadership’ at the helm for us all.

Theresa is a powerhouse with innovative ideas and tenacity in getting things done. Since joining Theresa’s team, I have had the privilege of working closely with her and having her as my mentor. She leads with integrity and a dedication to excellence in all she does.

The Backstory

Each year, the annual CAHCH awards are presented on the second day of their annual conference.  It’s a highlight of the day and received with great enthusiasm.  Early on, it was determined that the 2020 CAHCH Annual Conference would be held virtually, of course, but it was also clear that the award presentations could not wholly follow suit. Where’s the fun in that!?

So in late October, with video camera and awards in hand, Tracy Wodatch, CAHCH President & CEO, and colleague, Courtney Verissimo, took the show on the road, presenting the annual awards to their recipients … in person … in advance of the conference and … in some cases, by surprise.  “It was great!,” says Wodatch.  “We mapped our course, traversed the state, and left joy and pride in our wake.  Our annual awards are very meaningful to us and to the recipients, so it was important to us to present them with the distinction they deserve.  Plus, it’s always fun to have a surprise.”

Indeed.  At RVNAhealth, the plan had been hatched: Board Chair, Eileen Walker, would serve as the decoy, occupying Theresa before leading her to the Board Room; close agency friends and family would enter the building stealthily, respecting distancing and limit requirements, and keeping noise to a minimum; and award presenter, Kim Hriceniak — remote for the occasion — would wait patiently on the Board Room screen, ready to do her part. The RVNAhealth team would celebrate following the official announcement.

And so it went.  Theresa, believing she was doing a Board Room walk-through for a future ‘event,’ entered respectfully, wary of interrupting an ongoing meeting. Eileen encouraged her on and Theresa was quick to notice — not all was as it seemed.  Ever poised, she said nothing, looked about, and then exclaimed her first words, “Tracy Wodatch! What are you doing in Ridgefield?!”

See the Play-by-Play

Theresa Santoro in Action

The photos below share a brief glimpse of Theresa Santoro in recent months. They tell just a small fraction of her overall story, but they do demonstrate that, in addition to being an extraordinary leader, Theresa is also the consummate team player.

Eighth Time a Charm …

For the 8th time since 2011, RVNAhealth has earned a Top Workplaces award from Hearst Connecticut Media. This recognition is awarded based on the results of employee surveys which measure such areas as leadership, compensation and training, and diversity. Continue reading

RVNAhealth’s Gigi Weiss Earns Innovation Award

Gigi Weiss (third from left) with members of the RVNAhealth Rehabilitation team.

At RVNAhealth, we all know that Gigi Weiss, MSPT, CDP, CKTP is incredible. That opinion was seconded today when Gigi, RVNAhealth’s director of rehabilitation services, was selected for the Innovation Award by the Connecticut Association for Healthcare at Home.

The CAHCH Innovation Award is given each year to an association member agency or individual who embraces change and consistently strives to use new methods and technologies to optimize home health, hospice or personal care delivery.

During her decade-long tenure at RVNAhealth, Gigi has had a resounding theme: forward progress, forward motion. Her many accomplishments have included introducing innovative, proven programs and capabilities, such as LSVT Big and Loud® (for patients with Parkinson’s), Otago (a fall prevention program) and Vestibular Therapy (to address inner ear/balance issues).

Gigi has also embraced technology to augment traditional interventions, incorporating digital apps and technologies into treatment plans when appropriate. Examples include Constant Therapy and Apraxia Therapy, for improving skills such as speech, memory and attention. These exciting therapies allow treatment to continue even after their reimbursed care ends.

Growing the Facility, Staff and Partnerships

Building and growing have also been constant themes under Gigi’s leadership. Thanks to her vision, the 2,100 square foot RVNAhealth Rehabilitation & Wellness Center was created at RVNAhealth’s 27 Governor Street headquarters. The team that she leads has also grown, from 6 therapists to 32 (including physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists). She has also forged preferred partnerships with local surgical centers, meaning that more and more patients have access to excellent pre- and post-surgical care.

Throughout her tenure, Gigi has been committed to the patients that RVNAhealth Rehabilitation Services serves and the staff whom she leads.

“Gigi has worked tirelessly to help patients get the rehabilitation care that they need, both in their homes and onsite at the RVNAhealth Rehabilitation & Wellness Center,” says Theresa Santoro, MSN, RN, RVNAhealth President & CEO. “She was instrumental in spearheading efforts to help Medicare patients continue to receive therapy in their homes when logistical issues prevented them from pursuing outpatient care.”

Crystal Madyda, PT, Rehabilitation Team Lead, notes that Gigi’s compassionate, friendly nature and dedication to helping her staff develop has earned their loyalty. “I have been with RVNAhealth for nearly six years, and I feel fortunate to know her and work with her,” she says. “She’s a really strong, really caring, and really inspiring leader.”

Gigi received her prestigious award at the Hartford Marriott Downtown, as part of the Connecticut Association for Healthcare at Home Annual Conference.