New committee on diversity and inclusion appoints co-chairs

This fall, the Department of Psychiatry asked its members to join a committee tasked with enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion in the department.  It is open to all department members including faculty, staff, and trainees.  More than 35 members have participated in the meetings and the majority of the leadership team is in attendance.

One of the first tasks of the group was to come up with a mission for the committee.

Mission:  The mission of the UNMC Psychiatry Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee is to ask questions, to listen, to reflect, and to engage team members and community partners to create a culture where everyone belongs and where we continually act in concrete ways to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion. The impact of this committee must ripple across education, research, service, and clinical care. It must cross hierarchies and cultural barriers. And everyone must approach the work with a fundamental sense of humility.

 “We can always do more to speak up and advocate for our patients, our trainees, our colleagues, and our community,” said Department of Psychiatry Chair Howard Liu, MD, MBA.

On Dec. 1, Ali DeLizza, PhD, and Laura Schutte-Lundy, LIMHP, LADC, were selected as co-chairs of the group based on their vision for the DEI Committee. Schutte-Lundy said when the discussion on potential leaders started, she nominated others. Then, she was asked if she would accept the position of co-chair.  

 “This made me realize that I had never thought of myself as a leader. I was just being me by speaking up and voicing my concerns and opinions and encouraging others to do the same. I then realized that this is exactly what makes a leader,” Schutte-Lundy said. “So I decided it was time to step up into the role formally.  I’m very thankful to the committee for seeing leadership qualities within me and giving me this opportunity to grow and make positive changes. Creating inclusion and diversity is an important part of who I am and why I do the work that I do.”

Along with her role as co-chair of the DEI Committee, Dr. DeLizza is also Director of Wellness Programming for UNMC.

”I was very grateful to be nominated to apply for a co-chair position, and am thrilled to be working with Laura,” said Dr. DeLizza. “I believe that there is so much we can accomplish to bring more equity and inclusion not only to the Department of Psychiatry, but to UNMC and Omaha. I am excited by the energy and willingness displayed by members of our department to learn, have difficult conversations, and make tangible change.”

Dr. Liu said he believes the new co-chairs will provide invaluable leadership to the department’s culture.

“We’re lucky in psychiatry to have the vision of our UNMC Director of Inclusion, Dr. Sheritta Strong, in our department and on this committee.  As the new co-chairs, I have every confidence that Dr. Delizza and Ms. Schutte-Lundy will work as an inspiring team.  In their first meeting, they listened to and engaged the committee members to recognize that each of us is in a different growth stage. I’m committed to ensuring that the DEI Committee has the resources it needs to help our department grow in its ability to welcome all members and partners going ahead.”    

The committee meets on the first Tuesday of every month at noon.

Dr. Sheehan acquires grant for Beyond the Blowback program

Meghan Sheehan, MD, received a $3,000 grant from the Nebraska Medicine Guild to develop her Beyond the Blowback program.

The program will support victims of gang violence who have persistent psychiatric and medical needs.

“I have a longstanding interest in this population, and have seen repeatedly that when we move past dismissing these points as difficult and antisocial, we can really help them psychiatrically, which in turn helps lead to better results with their other medical issues as well,” said Dr. Sheehan.

Dr. Sheehan, who completed residency and fellowship in CL Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, will work with Charity Evans, MD, a UNMC trauma surgeon.

“Dr. Evans shares my passion for helping this neglected population. She and the trauma team will help to identify patients in this demographic for initial outreach efforts,” said Dr. Sheehan. “One of my CL mentors at UNC is a trauma surgeon turned CL psychiatrist and ethicist. His influence and his mentorship is part of why I am so passionate about ICU psychiatry and ethics. This program is a great area for collaboration for a CL psychiatrist and trauma surgeon.”

Dr. Ashish Sharma, Inpatient Medical Director for the Department of Psychiatry, said the grant is amazing news.

“Dr. Sheehan always works hard and looks out for what’s good for our patients,” Dr. Sharma said.

The funds will be available until June 30, 2021. Dr. Sheehan sees the program continuing past next spring.

“I expect that this program will continue to evolve, especially with the ever-changing demands of the pandemic, and the receipt of this grant will help me to meet the needs of our community better,” she said.

“UNMC Psychiatry thanks our veterans, active-duty military, and their family on Veterans Day! Thanks for your courage and sacrifice.”

On Veterans Day, the Department of Psychiatry is proud to highlight many current and former US military members who are making a difference. 

“The UNMC Department of Psychiatry thanks its veterans, active-duty military and their families on Veterans Day,” said Department of Psychiatry Chair Dr. Howard Liu. “Thank you for your courage and sacrifice.”

When you speak to the veterans in the department, they talk about how their time in the armed services has helped them as medical assistants, nurses, and doctors. Medical Receptionist Caroline Davenport said her time in the U.S. Army developed her tenacious spirit.

“I’m grateful and blessed for my time and experience in the U.S. Army. Having the ability to have been able to serve in a multitude of different environments to the largest military base in the United States; Ft. Bragg, N.C. During my time in the Army, I had the pleasure of working with many people who came from all different backgrounds and places, but at the end of the day, we were all brothers and sisters looking out for one another. The 82nd Airborne is a fast-paced, strong, and professional team that allowed me to feel confident, prepared, and ready to tackle anything that may have come my way!”

Randy Vest, RN, served in the U.S. Navy from 1976-80. Vest said the teamwork, discipline, and service he learned forty years ago still play a role in his strong work ethic.

“I spent 59 straight days in the Indian Ocean during the Iranian hostage crisis. It was my honor and privilege to serve this great country,” Vest said.

Dr. Stephen Salzbrenner also served in the U.S. Navy. Much like Vest, Dr. Salzbrenner said the U.S. Navy helped develop a sense of teamwork, mission-orientation, and loyalty.

“I’m grateful for my time in the Navy. Having served in a diverse set of environments, including combat, brig psychiatry, inpatient, outpatient and consult liaison, and serving in leadership roles, helped me to feel confident and prepared to deal with any situation,” said Dr. Salzbrenner.

Inclusion Program Associate Jhoanna Olmos said her time in the Nebraska National Guard taught her many practical skills that have helped with her new position in the Office of Inclusion.

“What I have valued the most during my time in the National Guard are the relationships that I’ve developed,” she said. “It is an absolute blessing to get to make friends with people who think, learn, and experience the world differently than myself. It has allowed me the opportunity to broaden my understanding of humanity and enriched my understanding of friendship.”

For decades, residents in the UNMC/Creighton program have trained at the Omaha Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center. In 2019, UNMC started its own residency program, and the first-year residents will begin training at the Omaha VA in January. Resident Matthew Kelly, MD, served in the U.S. Navy. 

“We are so grateful for the support of Dr. Renee Woehrer, Associate Chief of Staff for Education, Dr. David Williams, Chief of Staff, and Dr. Dario Pulido, Chief of the Mental Health Service Line, for their support for UNMC psychiatry residents to train at the VA,” said Dr. Daniel Gih, Adult Psychiatry Residency program director at UNMC. The Omaha VA recently announced a commitment to increase the number of UNMC psychiatry residents rotating at the VA.

Dr. Stacey Herbster, who joined the department in 2020 as associate medical director of the Adult Psychiatric Emergency Services, served in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves from 1995-2006.

Along with staff members in the armed services, the department also has staff members with spouses in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force. Master Sergeant William Lundy is the husband of Laura Schutte-Lundy, LIMHP, LADC, in child and adolescent psychiatry. Master Sergeant Lundy has served in the Air Force for 14 years.

Lieutenant Commander Anthony Finigan is the husband of Amber Finigan, PA. He has served since October of 2018 and is currently serving on the USS Alaska Blue.

The Department of Psychiatry is grateful and proud of our military colleagues and families on Veterans Day!

Dr. Daniel Gih named Distinguished Fellow

UNMC Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Daniel Gih, MD, was named a Distinguished Fellow by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) this month during the organization’s virtual annual meeting.

This honor is given to psychiatrists in recognition for their high level of commitment, experience, and dedication. The Distinguished Fellow designation (DFAACAP) is the highest honor AACAP bestows upon its members.

“It’s a great honor as it reflects my long-standing membership in AACAP and contributions to the field of child and adolescent psychiatry. Being a distinguished fellow also means that my peers acknowledge my work with child and adolescent patients, and medical education,” Dr. Gih said.

A special acknowledgement will be made during the AACAP Annual Meeting, in AACAP News, and online at

Dr. Gih is Associate Professor and Director of Education in the UNMC Department of Psychiatry. He currently serves on the UNMC College of Medicine Curriculum Committee, and is the founding program director of the UNMC psychiatry residency program. His clinical interests include psychiatric education, severe mood disorders in adolescents, electroconvulsive therapy, and eating disorders.

Dr. Gih joins a number of UNMC Department of Psychiatry faculty members who have been named Distinguished Fellows by their specialties in 2020. Fellow faculty members Dr. Sheritta Strong, Dr. Steven Wengel and adjunct faculty member Dr. Martin Wetzel were named Distinguished Fellows by the American Psychiatric Association in March. 

Spotlight: Kira Hannon

Kira Hannon joined the department last winter as a medical assistant. For all of her hard work in changing some workflow processes and streamlining techniques for the care staff, Kira received the Extraordinary Medical Assistant Award.

1. Why did you apply to be a medical assistant at Nebraska Medicine?

I applied to be a medical assistant at Nebraska Medicine because this company provides many opportunities for growth and learning. I had heard nothing but great things from friends and family who have worked here. Years ago, I completed summer research internships on campus, and I loved the atmosphere. Everyone was always so friendly, welcoming, and willing to help. I was excited to be back on campus and experience a different aspect: patient care.

2. Why did you decide to work in the Department of Psychiatry?
I minored in psychology and absolutely love it! I’m passionate about the science behind psychiatry, as well as the patients themselves. When I completed my student externship here at the Department of Psychiatry, everyone was incredibly welcoming and encouraged me to explore and expand my knowledge. They were supportive in helping me learn about more than just what my job is, but also about every aspect of the clinic and services we offer.

3. What is it like to be a medical assistant during the COVID-19 pandemic? 
It is vastly different than what I imagined back when I was a student. I was hired right as the pandemic hit and everything was becoming virtual. Medical assistants typically take patients’ vitals and start their care for their visit, but when everything was through a computer, that became impossible. Our department was innovative and found ways for us to still perform our job duties, even though most of our patient interactions became over the phone rather than face-to-face. Many patients are struggling due to the pandemic and are so unsure about the whole telehealth process. To be able to assist them and reassure them is rewarding.

4. What are your long-term goals in psychiatry?
My long-term goal is to become a child/adolescent psychiatrist. 

5. What are your hobbies?
My hobbies include dance, color guard, working out, eating sushi, and playing with my dog.

Dr. Salzbrenner honored for software to help with prior authorization

UNMC Adult Psychiatrist Stephen Salzbrenner, M.D., was honored at this year’s UNeMed Innovation Awards as the Startup of the Year for his software Breezmed.

The Innovation Awards recognize faculty, students, and staff within the University of Nebraska system that invented a new technology, licensed an invention or secured intellectual property rights during the previous fiscal year. Along with Startup of the Year, UNeMed also presents Emerging Inventor, Lifetime Achievement, and Innovator of the Year awards as circumstances dictate.

“I was shocked to get this award,” said Dr. Salzbrenner. “Breezmed started with an idea and just kept gaining steam. In many ways, I feel like I’m still fumbling around and tripping over my own feet as I navigate all of the intricacies of starting a company. This award serves as recognition that I’m moving forward and that the future of Breezmed is bright. I want to thank all of my mentors for being there over the last few years.”

UNeTech nominated Breezmed. UneTech is the University of Nebraska’s startup incubator and accelerator in Omaha, nurturing early-stage companies with ties to the University.  Breezmed was nominated for “its outstanding achievement to translate innovation into vital new products.”

An assistant professor in the UNMC Department of Psychiatry, Dr. Salzbrenner, with help from health software company H4 Technology, created Breezmed, a program which solves many of the problems patients deal with when it comes to prior authorizations.

For those who aren’t familiar with prior authorizations, it is a process insurance companies use to make sure doctors and other providers practice safe prescribing habits. The downside is that the current process is time-consuming and burdensome for nurses and prescribers, such as doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. The goal of Breezmed is to speed up the process of getting insurance providers to approve prescriptions.

“It’s called Breezmed because I want it to be a breeze,” Dr. Salzbrenner said. “I want doctors to enjoy their job, kick up their feet, sip some coffee, and know there’s a solution out there.”

Dr. Howard Liu, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, said he was glad to see Dr. Salzbrenner’s hard work recognized.

UNMC Psychiatrists split time with Community Alliance

UNMC psychiatrists Riley Machal, MD, and Melissa O’Dell, MD spend much of their clinical time with the ACT team at Community Alliance.

Community Alliance is a mental health agency which offers a wide array of services geared toward helping adults with serious mental illness thrive in the community, including Omaha’s only ACT team. ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) is an interdisciplinary, team-based model of care for adults with serious mental illness, and often co-occurring substance use disorders, whose needs cannot be met in traditional outpatient care settings. 

“In ACT we place a strong emphasis on recovery-oriented, strengths-based and person-centered approaches to care. As a team we interact with our clients multiple times per week in a variety of community settings.” Dr. O’Dell explained.

Following the January 16, 2020 death of Community Alliance full-time Psychiatrist Nathan Bruce, DO, Dr. O’Dell was asked to fill his vacancy as the ACT team psychiatrist.

“Anyone who knew Dr. Bruce will tell you his shoes are impossible to fill, but having had the benefit of working under his supervision at ACT for two years, I was better prepared than most to step into the role,” said Dr. O’Dell. “For the first few months, with the team and our patients acutely grieving Dr. Bruce’s loss, me only being able to devote two days a week to what is really a full-time position, and then the onset of the coronavirus pandemic forcing us to throw everything we do into a new risk-benefit calculator, it was an uphill battle for the team to regain its footing and get back to providing the high level of care our clients need and deserve.”

In August, Dr. Machal joined UNMC and the ACT team. Dr. O’Dell she was thrilled to have Dr. Machal join the team. Dr. Machal said it was an easy decision.

Drs. O’Dell and Machal share clinical duties, which include seeing patients (sometimes in their homes), providing education and support to the team, crisis intervention, overseeing the treatment planning process, and supervising residents.

“ACT is the most intensive treatment patients can receive while out of a hospital or partial hospitalization setting,” Dr. Machal said. “Having an ACT team available in Omaha allows for more people to stay healthy with fewer hospitalizations.”

Dr. O’Dell said she’s excited to welcome several new Creighton residents to the team: Dr. Rebecca Leval, Dr. Amanda Emmert, Dr. Ruben Solis, Dr. Geoffrey Allison, and appreciates the continued dedication of Dr. Rocky Esteraich, PGY-4.

Nursing grant will bring mental health care to rural communities

Members of the Department of Psychiatry will use part of a $1.5 million grant, acquired by the UNMC College of Nursing, to make mental health services accessible for vulnerable adults and children in rural and urban Nebraska communities.

The grant will establish partnerships with two primary care clinics to provide services to underserved populations — those who are at a disadvantage due to economic, medical, or geographic barriers, including minorities. Advanced practice nurses — psychiatric nurse practitioners — will work with teams of family nurse practitioners and other health professionals at each clinic. Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who diagnose, treat, and manage illness and prescribe medications.

Department of Psychiatry Nurse Practitioner Leigh Cook said it’s been a department goal to provide needed services to communities without large numbers of mental health professionals. UNMC will use $500,000 of the grant on getting mental health services to rural communities, such as Ravenna, Nebraska, population 1,369.

 “The (Ravenna) clinic is just getting started, and they are very excited to provide mental health services,” Cook said. “It’s groundbreaking to have this type of health care in a small community. And it’s not just people who live in Ravenna, who we will be able to get help. We expect to pull people from miles away. Previously, it’s been rare that a rural area could provide something like this.”

The Ravenna Clinic is part of Heartland Health Service.

The grant does not just provide services for rural communities. The three-year project, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is partnering Nebraska Medicine’s Internal Medicine clinic in Omaha. The clinics also will serve as a training site for the education of nursing and students enrolled in mental health specialties at UNMC, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and other institutions.

“While there are different settings, both urban and rural populations see similar challenges,” said Maggie Emerson, APRN, PMHNP-BC, Advanced Practice Workforce Director, Dept. of Psychiatry. “Along with providing mental health services, we have a goal to train and facilitate on-site management to help their patients.”

Another goal is to build partnerships with area public schools to develop a support system for mental health screening and counseling or referral for individuals from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The grant is titled “Increasing Access to Integrated Behavioral and Primary Care Services Through APRN-Led Teams.”

Dr. Emerson is an Assistant Professor at UNMC College of Nursing. She specializes in the implementation and delivery of integrated behavioral health modalities. Her work has expanded into exploring the use of mobile apps in these settings to meet the needs of the underserved.

Dr. DeLizza joins UNMC faculty

Child Psychologist Ali DeLizza, PhD, joined the UNMC Department of Psychiatry faculty as an assistant professor on Sept. 1, 2020.

Dr. DeLizza grew up in Plano, Texas and earned her master’s degree and PhD from Western Michigan University. She moved to Omaha two years ago after accepting an internship at the Munroe-Meyer Institute. In 2019, she joined UNMC as a Post-Doc Clinical Psychology Fellow. Dr. DeLizza said it was an easy decision to apply for a faculty position in the Psychiatry Department.

“I always knew I wanted to stay here,” she said. “I love the culture of this department. It’s exciting to see how (Department of Psychiatry Chair) Dr. Liu values psychologists and wants to build a psychology division.”

Dr. Liu calls Dr. DeLizza a skilled CBT and ACT therapist who understands the big picture for families in need.

“Dr. DeLizza is also a passionate teacher on wellness issues for students and providers and a gifted communicator of mental health wisdom to the media. I’m personally thrilled to have her on my team,” said Dr. Liu.

Dr. DeLizza credits Carolyn Black Becker, PhD, ABPR, for her passion for psychology. Dr. DeLizza took Intro to Psychology as a freshman at Trinity University and loved it.

“I realized how much I loved doing research, working with people, and studying how to help them be their best,” Dr. DeLizza said.

Dr. DeLizza’s therapy interests include adolescent depression, anxiety, OCD, and working with LGBTQIA+ youth.  Additionally, she’s part of the Wellness Division with Dr. Steven Wengel and Dr. Kati Cordts.

When asked what her favorite part of being a psychologist – clinical, education, research, wellness – Dr. DeLizza answered “all of it.”

“I want to do it all. That’s a major reason I became a psychologist,” she said. “There’s so much to do in psychology and lots of ways to collaborate with others. I consider myself first a clinician, but I enjoy educating and training students.”

Ryan Cordts joins UNMC as Business Operations Manager

What are your job duties as business operations manager for the UNMC Department of Psychiatry?

My current roles include managing administrative staff, creating the MD PES schedule, and managing contracts and RVU reports for all clinical providers. In addition to assisting with department financials (e.g., travel request approvals, expense approvals, budgets, salaries, billing and invoices, account reconciliation), I’m helping with new employee oversight, faculty recruitment processing, facilities management, and providing research and education support.

What made you apply with the Department of Psychiatry?

Before entering the field of academic medicine, I worked as a financial analyst for a commercial real estate company, which gave me a strong foundation in business operations and finance. When my wife (Dr. Kati Cordts, UNMC Psychologist) and I relocated to Omaha, I knew I wanted to continue work in business and finance, but felt it would be a good time to explore other industries. Prior to UNMC, I worked at Creighton in Gastroenterology and Infectious Diseases. I had a positive experience at Creighton and really enjoyed working in hospital administration. When the position at UNMC opened up, it seemed like the perfect opportunity, both personally and professionally. There has been rapid growth within the department and across UNMC and Nebraska Medicine and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

What have you been working on during your first few months?

Much of my time has been spent getting to know the ins and outs of the department, as well as our staff and operations within the department. Because I started during the pandemic, I’ve met people gradually. I’ve really appreciated people’s willingness to poke their head in and introduce themselves when they stop by the office. One of my first major tasks was to update RVUs and create the PES schedule. Both of these things were major undertakings, but they really helped me get to know people and the various divisions within the department. I knew psychiatry was a large department when I started, but I’m continually amazed by the breadth and depth of clinical services, educational and training experiences, and research projects.

Who has helped you settle into your new position and what have they done to get your prepared?

The administrative staff has been incredibly helpful in getting me up to speed on department operations. I have learned so much from the team, and I have enjoyed learning about their respective roles and responsibilities. I look forward to working with the administrative staff to develop processes that will increase efficiency, communication, and reduce response time.

What are some of your hobbies?

As a native Kansan and a huge sports fan, I love cheering on the Kansas City Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks. I’m very active and enjoy spending time outdoors. I like to run and hike, and thanks to the pandemic, my more recent hobbies include gardening and lawn care.