Fairfield University announces 2009 commencement speakers for new double ceremony


For the first time in its history, Fairfield University will hold two commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 17, one at 9:30 a.m. for graduating seniors and the other at 3 p.m. for graduate students. Speaking at the morning ceremony will be Dr. Peter Pronovost, a 1987 graduate of Fairfield who is a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and this year was one of the select 25 MacArthur Fellows announced by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. At the afternoon ceremony the speaker will be Mathy Mezey, EdD, RN, FAAN, professor and director of The Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing in the New York University College of Nursing whose career has been dedicated to improving healthcare for older adults.

In making the announcement, Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., university president, said, "We are proud to have such distinguished leaders from the field of healthcare to encourage and inspire our graduates as they leave Fairfield to begin or continue their own journeys in careers that will impact the lives of others. In the case of Dr. Pronovost, it is someone who walked the same paths and studied in the same classrooms as they have and went on to make incredibly important improvements in critical care; in Dr. Mezey they have a woman who is a leader in this country in geriatric care, this at a time when our nation is re-examining our healthcare system."

Image: PronovostDr. Peter Pronovost, in addition to being selected for the MacArthur grant, known as the "genius grant," was also named one of the "most influential people of 2008" by Time Magazine. What brought him such attention and admiration is a healthcare safety "checklist" he developed that is saving countless lives around the world.

Pronovost's extraordinary advancements in critical care began in 2001, when he began studying hospital-acquired infections which affect about 10 percent of all patients nationwide, resulting in an estimated 90,000 deaths a year. Pronovost focused initially on line infections which are caused when a needle and catheter are inserted into a vein. It is a common procedure, but under stress, medical staffers would sometimes forget the routine steps needed to do it properly, so he decided to create a checklist to remind them of each necessary step.

A year after instituting the checklist, the results were staggering. The line-infection rate at Johns Hopkins had plummeted from 11 percent to zero. His dedicated team of doctors, nurses, researchers, and administrative staff estimated their straight-forward, one-page chart prevented 43 infections and eight deaths and may have saved about $2 million. In the years since, Pronovost and his team have used the checklist strategy successfully in other areas.

With Pronovost's help, hospitals in Michigan, Rhode Island, the United Kingdom, and Spain have adopted similar protocols. This month 10 states, including Connecticut, will join a federally funded cohort replicating the system and researching and reporting results, which is key to gauging its usefulness. Through philanthropic support, another 10 will soon join them, building on what Pronovost calls a "more efficient knowledge market."

Pronovost is also working with the World Health Organization to set up such safety programs in entire countries, in which Johns Hopkins would design projects, provide oversight, measure results, and create "safety scholars" who would get a Hopkins master's degree in public health and bring their new knowledge back to countries around the globe.

His research has brought attention to the field of healthcare safety, an area that does not usually attract a great deal of research dollars. He will be using his MacArthur grant to develop The Checklist Maker, a software product allowing healthcare professionals to make checklists using prediction markers, an idea that may have far-reaching applications outside of medicine as well.

Dr. Pronovost received his M.D. from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. In addition to serving as director of the Johns Hopkins-affiliated Quality and Safety Research Group, he is a professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he holds an additional appointment in the Department of Surgery.

Image: Mathy MezeyMathy Mezey, EdD, RN, FAAN, has used her position as professor and director of the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing at New York University College of Nursing to continue her career-long pursuit of providing good healthcare to older adults. She was a leader in developing The NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders) model at NYU in the mid-1990s. aimed at helping hospitals improve their policies and their training of nurses to better meet the healthcare needs of a growing geriatric patient population. In July 2004, 17 of the NICHE hospitals were included among US News & World Report's rankings of the top 50 hospitals in geriatric care.

Under Mezey's direction, one of the many web based geriatric nursing resources developed by the Hartford Institute is the "Try This: Best Practices in Geriatric Nursing," a series of publications that helps nurses assess a condition specific to older adults. As an outgrowth of the "Try This" series, the Hartford Institute teamed up with the Alzheimer's Association to develop a special series of clinical practice tips that include assessment tools that can be used quickly and easily to help bedside nurses care for their patients with dementia. Another outgrowth of the "Try This" series is the How to Try This series, a collaboration with the American Journal of Nursing to produce web based articles and videos on assessment of older adults.

Dr. Mezey began her career as a public health nurse before turning to teaching at Lehman College of the City University of New York. For 10 years she was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing where she directed the geriatric nurse practitioner program and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Teaching Nursing Home Program. She joined the New York University College of Nursing in 1991, assuming the position of director of the Hartford Institute in 1996.

Mezey has authored 11 books and has over 80 publications that focus on the preparation of baccalaureate and advanced practice nurses to care for older adults, nursing practice with older adults and bioethical issues that effect decisions at the end of life. She is editor for the "Springer Series in Geriatric Nursing" and "The Encyclopedia of Elder Care" and co-editor of "Evidence-Based Geriatric Nursing Protocols for Best Practice." Her current research and writing focus on geriatric nursing education, and the quality of care for older people in hospitals and long-term care.

Mezey earned her bachelor's degree in nursing and master's and doctoral degrees in education from Columbia University where she is Trustee Emeritus. She is a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing and the Gerontological Society of America, holds a D.Sc., honoris causa from Case Western Reserve University, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Gerontological Nursing Association. She sits on the Board and chairs the Executive Committee of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on March 12, 2009

Vol. 41, No. 228