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Program Director

Merdod Ghafouri, DO, FACC

Chief Patient Experience Officer
Inova Heart and Vascular Institute

Dr. Merdod Ghafouri has been in private practice for over 16 years and also serves as Medical Director and Chief Patient Experience Officer for the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute. He was nominated as one of the areas “Top Cardiologists” by Washingtonian Magazine in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2015, “Top Doctor” in Northern Virginia Magazine in 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2015. Dr Ghafouri has been recognized by the International Association of Health Care Professionals and has appeared on various media outlets, including CBS News and US News and World Report, as an expert in cardiac disease.

Dr. Ghafouri’s special interests include prevention and treatment of coronary artery disease, lipid abnormalities, hypertension, advanced heart failure and heart disease in women. He is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in Cardiovascular Disease and is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology.

Prior to moving to Virginia, Dr. Ghafouri was an associate clinical professor of internal medicine and cardiology at Michigan State University. Most recently, he was appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

Photo of Ronald Wyatt, MD, MHA
Keynote speaker

Ronald Wyatt, MD, MHA

Patient Safety Officer & Medical Director
The Joint Commission

Ronald M. Wyatt, MD, MHA, is the patient safety officer and medical director in the Division of Healthcare Improvement at The Joint Commission. In this role, Dr. Wyatt focuses on health care quality and patient safety at both the organizational and health-care system levels. Dr. Wyatt also directs data management and event analysis in the Office of Quality and Patient Safety, and he collaborates in the development of National Patient Safety Goals, Sentinel Event Alerts and Quick Safety publications. Dr. Wyatt leads The Joint Commission’s efforts to address health and health care disparity and equity. Additional areas of interest include professionalism and workplace safety in health care.

Previously, Dr. Wyatt was director of the Patient Safety Analysis Center at the Defense Health Agency, and served on the FDA Drug Safety Oversight Board and as a mentor to the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation Advisors program at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Dr. Wyatt is a board-certified internist with over 20 years of experience and is licensed in the state of Alabama. He was a George W. Merck Fellow with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in 2009-2010. Dr. Wyatt earned his medical degree and the Executive Master of Science in Health Administration (MSHA) from The University of Alabama at Birmingham. He completed the Harvard School of Public Health program in Clinical Effectiveness in 2009. Dr. Wyatt recently earned Green Belt Certification (lean, six-sigma and change management) at The Joint Commission.

Program Speakers

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Dick Axelrod

Co-Founder, The Axelrod Group, Inc.

Dick Axelrod co founded, with his wife Emily, the Axelrod Group, Inc., a consulting firm that pioneered the use of employee involvement to effect large scale organizational change. He holds a bachelor's in industrial management from Purdue, and an MBA from the University of Chicago. He served in the U.S. Army in Korea during the Vietnam War.  Dick has worked as an organization development manager for General Foods, among the first companies in America to use self-directed work teams. He brings more than 40 years of consulting and teaching experience to this work, with clients including Boeing, British Airways, Chicago Public Schools, Calgary Health Authority, Coca-Cola, Harley Davidson, Hewlett-Packard, Novartis, and the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. Dick is the recipient of the Organization Development Network’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Teaching Excellence Award from the University of Chicago.

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Sarah Cawley, MPAS, PA-C

Family Advisor, Cleveland Clinic
Breast Cancer Survivor
Patient and Family Advocate

Sarah Cawley is an Emergency Medicine Physician Assistant from Medina, Ohio. Her passion for patient experience was ignited by profession, fueled by her love for her daughter, and refined by her own experience. She has two girls, the youngest of which was born with special needs and is medically fragile.

Sarah is also a young survivor of metastatic Breast Cancer, and has spent the last two years in the role of the patient. She currently serves on the Cleveland Clinic’s Children's Hospital Family Engagement Committee, and volunteers her time with the Cleveland Clinic Breast Cancer Program spreading awareness and working to improve patient experience. In her spare time she enjoys running, CrossFit, and spending time with her family.

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Christina Dempsey, MSN, MBA, CNOR, CENP

Chief Nursing Officer
Press Ganey

Christina Dempsey is responsible for providing clinical guidance to help clients transform the patient experience, focusing on reducing patient suffering and developing compassionate and connected care across the continuum. In her present role, as well as previously as leader of clinical and operational consulting services for Press Ganey, Christy has worked to improve employee and physician engagement, improve the flow of patients throughout organizations, improve quality and efficiency, and prepare organizations for health care reform. Christy is a registered nurse with over three decades of health care experience in nursing, perioperative and emergency services management, medical practice, supply chain and materials management, and physician-hospital collaboration. She is also a faculty member of the Missouri State University Dept. of Nursing, and holds master’s degrees in both business and nursing and is certified in perioperative nursing and executive nursing practice.

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Dan Diaz

Advocate - End of Life Options (CompassionAndChoices.org)

Dan is the husband of Brittany Maynard, who died in November 2014 from a brain tumor. The couple moved from California to Oregon, one of five states that has authorized medical aid in dying in order for Brittany to have the option of a gentle dying process. As a result of Brittany’s story, legislators have introduced bills to authorize medical aid in dying in 25 states and Washington DC.
Dan advocates for improving end-of-life care and options for terminally ill individuals. His efforts were instrumental in securing the passage of the legislation in California, and his work now continues in the other states across the country.

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Andrew Horn

Founder, Tribute

Andrew Horn is a serial social entrepreneur based in Brooklyn, NY. In 2009, at the young age of 22, he started a children’s non-profit, Dreams for Kids DC, without any prior experience in launching a business. In just three years, he established the organization as one of the premiere adaptive athletic providers in Washington, D.C. (where kids with disabilities played sports with professional athletic orgs from the Washington Capitals to the DC United). He was able to build a succession plan and stepped down in 2011 to start another non-profit venture called AbilityList, (think “Craigslist for people with disabilities.”).

Once Dreams for Kids DC and Ability List were operationally sound, Andrew went to work with best-selling author Sam Horn to launch The Intrigue Agency, a full-service branding/communications firm with offices in NYC and Washington, D.C.

Most recently, in 2014, Andrew launched TRIBUTE. He has built what The New Yorker calls “Hallmark 2.0” and makes it easy for people to send meaningful collaborative video montages to the people they care about on special occasions. He is on a deep mission to spread gratitude around the globe and already has tens of thousands of people using the site.

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Wendy Leebov

Language of Caring

A lifelong activist for creating healing experiences for patients, families and the entire healthcare team, Wendy Leebov is internationally respected as a thought leader, healthcare executive, culture change strategist, coach, and author who has helped hospitals, health systems, and medical practices to achieve breakthroughs in the patient and family experience.

Leebov is founder and Partner of Language of Caring, the company culminating from her accomplishments with Wendy Leebov and Associates and the Leebov Golde Group. Before making her mark as champion of the international patient experience movement, Wendy was Vice President and change coach for the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia where she worked for 20 years.

A self-described communication fanatic, Leebov has written 14 books on the patient experience, leadership, and service excellence. Also, she created the acclaimed, web-based program The Language of Caring for Staff and The Language of Caring for Physicians with Dr. Carla Rotering. Her latest book with Carla Rotering, M.D. is The Language of Caring Guide for Physicians: Communication Essentials for Patient-Centered Care.

Wendy also serves on the Executive Board of the Beryl Institute.

Wendy earned a Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Harvard University, and a B.A. in sociology/anthropology from Oberlin College. Wendy is a breast-cancer survivor and has been a watchful and engaged family member through the prolonged, life-threatening illnesses of her sister, mother, and friends.

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Micah Solomon

Author, Speaker

Micah Solomon is one of America’s most popular keynote speakers on building bottom line growth through customer service. A bestselling author and hands-on consultant, Micah Solomon specializes in building stellar, profitable customer experiences, company culture, 21st-century marketing, and social (and anti-social!) media.

Micah was recently named the “new guru of customer service excellence” by the Financial Post. His latest business bestseller, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service, as well as his perennial bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit, (a collaboration with the creators of the modern-day Ritz-Carlton) have won multiple awards. His expertise has been featured in Inc. Magazine, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, CNBC, Forbes, and the Harvard Business Review.

Micah's uniquely inspiring and humorous speeches convey his passion for everything that makes a business great, delivered in his famously relaxed and friendly 21st-century speaking style. Micah is legendary for engaging his audiences through his sincerity, his genuine passion for his clients’ success, and his unique visual presentation style - no stock photos here, just real life examples.

An entrepreneur and business leader himself, Micah used the techniques he speaks about to build his company from a one-man home operation into a market leader in the manufacturing and independent entertainment field—a story well known to readers of FastCompany and Seth Godin’s marketing bestseller Purple Cow. Micah was also an early investor in the Apple-related speech-recognition technology behind Apple’s Siri.

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Patti Substelny, MLIR

Patient Advocate

Patti received her undergraduate degree from John Carroll University in Economics. She subsequently studied at Cambridge University in England and Michigan State University. After receiving her Masters of Labor and Industrial Relations. She enjoyed successively more responsible positions in wage and salary administration, incentive compensation design, pension and 401(k) design and administration, benefits plan design, and benefits administration in the Healthcare, Retail, and Banking industries. In 2007 Patti retired. She has taught Microeconomics and Macroeconomics at the college level. Patti consults on Operations and Finance matters with We Can Code IT, a computer programming boot camp startup with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion for new software developers, in the Cleveland area. Patti is president of the board of directors for Maximum Accessibility Housing of Ohio. Patti sits on the editorial review board for the Journal of Patient Experience. She serves on patient advisory committees for the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in the Neurological Institute and the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis. Patti is active in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and has worked with her family and friends bike team to raise over $500,000 in 15 years.

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Prathibha Varkey, MBBS, MPH, MHPE, MBA

Chief Executive Officer, Northeast Medical Group
Senior Vice President, Yale New Haven Health System

Dr. Varkey currently serves at the Chief Executive Officer, Northeast Medical Group and Senior Vice President, Yale New Haven Health System in Connecticut. Northeast Medical Group (NEMG) is a medical foundation of over 750 medical experts in over 100 locations in Connecticut and Westchester County, New York.

Prior to her current role, Dr. Varkey served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Clinical Enterprise, a large multispecialty group at Seton Family Healthcare, Austin, Texas. A nationally recognized expert in Quality Improvement, Dr. Varkey serves as the President of the American College of Medical Quality and is a member of their Board of Trustees. She is also currently adjunct Professor of Medicine and adjunct Professor of Preventive Medicine at Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Varkey served a number of positions at Mayo Clinic, including Associate Chair of the Department of Medicine; medical director of Ask Mayo Clinic (national nurse triage line with 1.5 million covered lives); medical director of the Value Program at the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of healthcare delivery; medical director of “Better” a mobile app start up jointly funded by Mayo Clinic and a venture capital firm; vice chair for the Outpatient Practice Committee; and program director for the Preventive Medicine Fellowship and Director of the Quality Improvement Curriculum at Mayo Medical School, Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education and Mayo School of Continuing Medical Education. She is the editor of two books: Medical Quality Management, and Preventive Medicine and Public Health.

Dr. Varkey earned her MBBS (MD equivalent) from the Christian Medical College, Vellore, India; a Masters of Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts; and a Masters of Health Professions Education (MHPE) from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She also earned a Masters of Business Administration from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota She completed her Internal Medicine Residency at the Hospital of Saint Raphael and Preventive Medicine fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.