AUSTIN, Texas — Driven by the vision of a vital, inclusive health ecosystem, Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin recognized the importance of local organizations and community leaders working to improve health locally at its first-ever Health Leadership Awards ceremony today.
The event celebrated how Health Is Happening Here in our community, saluting 55 individuals and organizations who were nominated by the community because they demonstrate excellence in various settings and actively play a role in improving and rethinking health. From those community-sourced nominations, nine were selected for the Health Leadership Award.
“Community leaders have been innovating in health for a long time, and there’s a great amount of innovation that continues to flourish in this community,” said Maninder “Mini” Kahlon, Ph.D., vice dean of Dell Med’s Health Ecosystem and associate professor in the Department of Population Health, as she praised Health Ecosystem leaders Austin Recovery and People’s Community Clinic, represented respectively by Laura Sovine and Melissa Kaufmann. The two organizations were recognized for their innovative collaboration to provide substance use treatment while addressing the physical health needs of their patients.
Among the award recipients was St. Andrew’s Episcopal School eighth-grader Ben Hofer, who was named Middle School Student Health Leader for elevating the problem of lunch shaming within Austin ISD. He committed to organize a campaign to pay off the lunch debt first at three schools and then for the entire school district.
Dana Saltalamachia of Integral Care was honored as Health Care Practitioner Leader for her work in an interdisciplinary team that increases access to HIV/AIDS treatment for people experiencing homelessness through Integral Care’s Street Outreach Team.
Other award recipients:
- High School Student Leader: Jose Ponce, Del Valle ISD. Ponce is an aspiring physician who implemented a Science Olympiad team at his high school. “I look forward to welcoming him as a colleague in a few short years,” said Brandon Allport-Altillo, M.D. MPH, Dell Med’s co-director of Primary Care, Family and Community Medicine Clerkship, who introduced Ponce.
- Middle School Educator Leader: Jessica Davis, Del Valle ISD. This high school teacher was recognized for promoting health sciences through her school’s Science Olympiad team. Every Monday through Thursday, about 30 high school students practice after school for the Olympiad under Davis’ tutelage.
- High School Educator Leader: Sanford Jeames, Austin ISD. Jeames has transformed the health sciences program at East Side Memorial High School for the last six years. His work includes creating partnerships with community organizations — resulting in internships, college credits and more — and has inspired other schools across Texas to adopt similar models.
- Community Volunteer Health Leader: Susan Dawson, Central Texas Breast Health Coalition. Founder and executive director of E3 Alliance, Dawson was recognized for her dedication to helping uninsured breast cancer patients gain access to cancer care and her leadership of the Central Texas Breast Health Coalition.
- Transformational Health Leader: Rhonda Mundhenk, J.D., MPH, Lone Star Circle of Care. Mundhenk was recognized for her innovative methods of advancing health care and for the value she puts on collaboration across the community.
- Public Service Health Leader: Sen. Kirk Watson, Texas State Senate. Recognized for his continuing leadership in health in Texas, including advancing support for Austin State Hospital’s Brain Health Redesign.
Nominees were required to meet the following criteria:
- Achieving measurable improvements to health or health care;
- Making creative, innovative and exceptional contributions to the health ecosystem;
- Re-envisioning and rethinking health or health care;
- Paying attention to the long-term impact and sustainability of their work;
- Working diligently without significant recognition for their contributions to the health ecosystem; and
- Contributing to a vital and inclusive health ecosystem.
“Dell Med was created because Travis County residents decided to invest in the health and well-being of our community, so it’s befitting that we recognize the leaders within our area who are doing the tough work, day in and day out, of enacting health transformation,” said Kahlon.