Psychiatry

Dr. Strong awarded Canedy prize

Sheritta Strong, MD, has been unanimously selected as the next Canedy Executive MBA scholar. The award pays for Dr. Strong, an adult psychiatrist, to receive her Executive Masters of Business Administration. Dr. Strong graduated from UNMC College of Medicine in 2004 and finished her Creighton-Nebraska Psychiatry Residency Program in 2008.

Dr. Strong said the award was an exciting honor.

“As physicians, there are so many aspects to the practice of medicine outside of patient care that we don’t learn about in medical school,” Dr. Strong said. “As an inaugural diversity officer for UNMC, it is important that I continue to learn skills in business and administration areas to ensure that we build a sustainable diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. Like our mission states, ‘…We pursue the work today that creates a diverse, unbiased, and empowered workforce tomorrow.’ I’m truly honored to have been selected for the Canedy Scholarship program, which has a history with some very esteemed scholars, including my chairman, Howard Liu.”

Dr. Liu was previously a Canedy Scholar. He received his Executive MBA in Healthcare Management from the University of Colorado Denver Business School in 2019.

“Dr. Strong is an incredible leader who role models commitment, passion, and deep community engagement,” Dr. Liu said. “Her vision in creating the Office of Inclusion for UNMC has already moved the culture forward, and she has demonstrated her willingness to roll up her sleeves to build the infrastructure for greater understanding. As a graduate of the Canedy Scholarship, I know that she will benefit from the Executive MBA at the University of Colorado Denver to enhance her business skills in partnership with her strong EQ. I could not be more excited for Dr. Strong’s recognition as the next Canedy Scholar!” 

Dr. Strong has received several awards, including the Urban League of Omaha Health Award, the Omaha Chapter of the National Coalition of Negro Women’s (NCNW) Women in Medicine Award, the UNMC’s Alumni Early Career Achievement Award, and the American Psychiatric Association’s Nancy C.A. Roeske, MD Award. Additionally, Dr. Strong was a panelist for the American Psychiatry Association’s Town Hall on racism in 2021, moderated a virtual town hall in 2020 on racism for the Association of Directors of Medical Student Education (ADMSEP), co-led multiple workshops including the topic of microaggressions at the ADMSEP, and she served on a panel for women’s diversity in medicine at the BraveEnough conference with nationally well-known speakers.  She was a guest on the Growth Edge Leadership podcast to discuss “Quelling Fear Amid Uncertainty”.  While earning her Executive MBA, Dr. Strong will continue her clinical and faculty work at UNMC as well as continue as Director of Inclusion at UNMC. 




Psychiatry residents, fellow celebrate first year of new program


The Department of Psychiatry celebrated the first graduate of UNMC’s Addiction Medicine Fellowship as well as a successful first year for the Psychiatry Residency Program.

The department’s education division gathered to honor Claudia Moore, MD, on finishing the year-long fellowship. 

“I’m really honored to have had Claudia Moore as our first graduating fellow,” said Ken Zoucha, MD, the Addiction Medicine Fellowship Director. “I will say that I learned as much from her as she did from me. I’m also very happy that she has chosen to join our faculty upon completion of her fellowship. She will be a great addition to the addiction program at UNMC.”

Knowing 12 months can fly by quickly, Dr. Moore said she tried to hit the ground running.

“I know I only have 12 short months to learn a new specialty, so I’m trying to cram as much learning into every experience as possible. My previous roles have included a lot of medical students and resident education; I now get to use all the lessons I’ve learned about what allows a learner to be successful and apply it to my own education,” she said.

Dr. Moore graduated from Emory University in 1996 with a degree in Art History and Biology. She attended the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Memphis in 2000 and finished her residency at LSU Health Science Center in New Orleans in 2004. She completed a fellowship in Medical Toxicology at Emory/CDC/George Poison Center in 2006. From 2006-2020, she worked at Nebraska Medicine in emergency medicine. From 2013-2019, she was the Program Director for the Emergency Medicine Residency Program.

Following her graduation, Dr. Moore will join the UNMC Department of Psychiatry Faculty.

Michaelyn Everhart, MD; Matthew Kelly, MD; Andi Ngo, MD; and Emily Royer, MD, finished their first year in the new Psychiatry Residency Program.

A new group of residents will start this summer. Thomas Bainter, MD; Logan Ford, MD; and Max Lydiatt, MD, will stay in Omaha after graduating from and matching at UNMC. Bryndis Grissom, DO, comes to UNMC after studying at the University of North Texas Health Center, and Tianqi (Nina) Luo, DO, will head west this summer after graduating from Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine of Midwestern University.

Zachary Rupp, MD, will join this department this summer as a second-year resident after spending his first year at the University of Kentucky. He will be switching from family medicine to psychiatry. He brings the total number of residents to 10.

Salzbrenner receives grant for time-saving software

Stephen Salzbrenner, M.D., continues his quest to help providers with insurance prior authorizations.

Dr. Salzbrenner has been working on a healthcare software application since 2019. Along the way, he has worked with UNeTech (UNMC’s Startup Incubator) and H4 Technologies, an Omaha-based healthcare technology company who is developing the application.  The company he founded to build the software is called Breezmed. The software would allow providers to seamlessly complete the prior authorization process at the point of care.

This year, Dr. Salzbrenner received an I-Corps grant for $52,000. The I-Corps grants come from the National Institute of Health.  The Breezmed I-Corps team will consist of three individuals, including Dr. Salzbrenner, Joe Runge from UNeTech, and Shawntea (“Taya”) Moheiser from H4 Technologies.  Previously, Dr. Salzbrenner and his team were awarded $300,000 from NIH and $100,000 from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Breezmed will help physicians make an informed treatment decision based on what medications are available to prescribe, are evidence-based, and meet prior authorization criteria. If a prior authorization is needed, Breezmed, which has a patent-pending, will automate its completion and submission at the point of care, Dr. Salzbrenner said.

“The entire prior authorization process is like a virus that is going to eat away at providers’ passion for the medical profession, and I want to vaccinate myself and others against that.”

In the three years since creating Breezmed, Dr. Salzbrenner and his team have worked hard to simplify the prior authorization process and minimize manual processes which require paperwork, phone calls and faxes. 

“We completed a huge study. More than 1,200 providers responded,” Dr. Salzbrenner said. “What we found out was many prescribing providers bypass certain medicines, which could help the patient, because it’s easier to prescribe another medicine, due to insurance. It’s affecting patient care. Also, people are spending up to two days to fill our prior authorizations. That’s less time with patients, or they are hiring staff to do prior authorization. Right now, it’s hugely inefficient.”

Dr. Salzbrenner says the new grant will help continue research so that once launched, Breezmed will give doctors more time doing what they went into medicine to do in the first place — helping their patients.

“We want to find paying customers who see the need for a product like Breezmed,” he said. 

NAMIWalks set for May 22

Once again, members of the Department of Psychiatry will participate in NAMIWalks, a fundraiser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

Celeste Akers, Behavioral Health Connections Director in the Psychiatry Department, chairs Nebraska Medicine’s team for the event, which takes place virtually at 11 a.m. on May 22, 2021. This is the second year, the event, normally at an outdoor location, will be done virtually. According the NAMIWalks webpage, the virtual event encourages people to use their creativity and participate by doing the healthy activities they enjoy. Last year, participants not only walked, but also jump roped, baked healthy and unhealthy food and even made people laugh during the COVID-19 pandemic by doing stand-up comedy.

“You can walk, but you don’t have to walk,” Akers said. “You just need to do something healthy. If you garden, you can garden. If you do yoga, you can do yoga.”

This year’s theme is NAMIWalks Your Way: A United Day of Hope with the destination as always being Mental Health for All and Always.  May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

“After a long year and a long winter, this is a good time to get out,” Akers said. “Let’s all do something healthy, because it can also be also good for mental health.”

For more information on the event, clink this link for the NAMIWALKS Your Way Nebraska page.

Spotlight: Randy Vest, RN

Randy Vest has been a nurse with UNMC, ASAF, Midlands Hospital, Immanuel Hospital and Nebraska Medicine. He has worked in dual diagnosis, geriatrics, ECT, ACT and currently works with the Department of Psychiatry’s ASPIRE Team.

What made you apply at Nebraska Medicine? 

A big thanks to Phoebe Gearhart for calling and notifying me of an available position. I applied to work for an organization that provides multiple services for a sometimes-forgotten population of patients with mental health diagnoses. 

Why did you want to work in psychiatry?

 I have always felt a calling to help people. My first job in 1985 was in the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute (NPI) Dual Diagnosis unit. My calling to help and care for patients with mental health diagnoses bloomed into a passion. I learned some valuable lessons on that unit. People want to be listened to and know that someone cares. 

What do you enjoy about working in the department of psychiatry? 

Where do I start? First, I’m blessed to work with the best and most experienced and supportive nursing staff. The leadership provides an environment where everyone works to make our patients feel cared about on a daily basis. The growth in the department has been phenomenal.

Why is the ASPIRE Program critical in the Metro area? 

For those who don’t know, ASPIRE stands for Active Support for Patients with Psychosis in Recovery. I feel privileged to work with a group with grand visions to add and expand services for patients with many challenging issues. Their passion and dedication to overcome all obstacles to expand and create new services to meet the ever-increasing demand for mental health services for our community is inspiring. 

What are some of your hobbies? 

I am an active person. I love spending time with my wife, Carol, of 39 years; my sons, Ben and Jer; my daughters, Bri and Lyss; and my two sons-in-law, Sam and Preston. I’m involved in BBBS (Big Brothers Big Sisters) with my little Caleb, 10, for the last two years. I am a Deacon on several committees and lead two men’s study groups at Westside Church. My two sons and I went to Colorado and rode a ski bike down a mountain. My next bucket list item is to go to Utah and drive a dune buggy in the desert. I have played a mean Roman soldier in the Westside Christmas Pageant for five years. Two years ago, I was an 8-foot inflatable shark—what a blast. We missed last year due to Covid-19, but I hope to be back this year. I enjoy reading sci-fi, and, of course, my favorite hobby is anything with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. My wife says I will watch anything Huskers. She is right. I even watched the Nebraska Women’s bowling team win a National Championship. #GBR

Psychiatry Department provides support for important research project

UNMC Department of Psychiatry Research Director Soonjo Hwang’s expertise in neuroimagine has made him a sought-after partner for other departments and institutions.  His work in the default mode network came to the attention of UNMC Associate Professor and Director of Inpatient Palliative Medicine at the Omaha VA, Lou Lukas, MD, in 2020 and a collaboration was born.   

Dr. Lukas is leading a study using a psychedelic agent for the alleviation of distress in adults with pancreatobiliary cancers, and is joined by UNMC Internal Medicine Assistant Professor and Buffett Cancer Center oncologist Kelsey Klute, MD, University of Nebraska Lincoln Professor Jody Kellas, PhD, and Hwang, MD, in the project.  The oncology and palliative care teams have experience with patients with cancers of the pancreas and gallbladder, which have particularly poor prognoses and are associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety than other cancers. 

“The project is important because people with cancer often have significant emotional and psychological distress that is challenging to treat with current protocols,” says Dr. Lukas.  “New work with psychedelic agents combined with supportive counseling shows promise for helping people suffering from the distress of cancer, depression, and addictive disorders.”  

Lukas brings unique and extensive experience to the project. Prior to her return to Omaha, she worked with the group at John Hopkins who pioneered the resurgence of research in psychedelics. Dr. Lukas has since founded the Heartland Palliadelic Research Group which is interested in exploring these modalities.

“We reached out to Dr. Hwang to collaborate with the neuroimaging section of the trial and have since found several people in the department who are quite interested in this growing field of medicine,” Lukas says.  Ji-woo Suk, PhD, post-doctoral researcher, is sharing her expertise in fMRI with the study team, and Brigette Vaughan, MSN, APRN, Lead Research Coordinator, is participating in the palliadelic guide training which includes providers from UNMC, the VA, and the community, and also provides some psychiatry guidance as they prepare for regulatory submission. 

“The combination of plant medicine and a guided therapeutic element is a novel approach to the alleviation of distress,” Vaughan said. 

“We’re also studying how the families of people who try this treatment communicate and cope with the illness, and how patients make decisions and utilize anti-cancer treatment,” Dr. Lukas adds. “There is hope that we are able to offer a fast-acting treatment that helps [patients] relieve some of their distress and live more fully for whatever time they have available.”

Volunteer Committee finds ways for department staff to give back to community

Cindy Schreiber, Celeste Akers and Arica Lerdahl loads bags of clothes into a car to give to Foster Love, a local non-profit who donates clothing and household items to foster children.

Last month, the Department of Psychiatry’s Volunteer Committee collected more than a dozen bags of clothes for area foster children, one of many projects the committee organizes each year.

Since 2019, the committee and department staff have helped several local charities and non-profits by raising money, collecting food, pulling weeds, stuffing backpacks and other activities.

The most recent project was collecting clothing and money for Foster Love, a local clothing store. Its website says it’s a boutique where children in foster care and their families could shop the latest trends in a welcoming, unique, boutique-like setting where merchandise would be new and quality like-new clothing, The clothing is free and available once a month for every child while in care.

Celeste Akers, volunteer committee chairperson, said the department ended up raising $280 in donation funds, thirteen bags of clothes and two large boxes of diapers.

“It was a huge success,” Akers said.

Other yearly projects include raising more than $2,000 to sponsor more than a dozen families as part of the Holiday Adopt-A-Family donation drive, and participating in fundraising walks for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention).

Each May, during Mental Health Awareness Month, department faculty and staff will take time out of their workday to volunteer at local non-profits, as Heart Ministries food pantry, Grief’s Journey, YES (Youth Emergency Shelter), and Keep Omaha Beautiful.

Last fall, department faculty and staff donated 28 new backpacks and raised $495 for Girls Inc., as part of the “Stuff the Backpacks” donation drive. In November, the department collected food, raised $210, and packed 20 Thanksgiving meal bags for Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church Pantry.

“It’s wonderful to see the level of caring in this department,” said Howard Liu, MD, MBA, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry.

Residency Program adds six trainees

Last month, five first-year residents joined the Department of Psychiatry, along with one second-year transfer as the department’s residency program continues to grow.

Thomas Bainter, Logan Ford and Max Lydiatt will stay in Omaha after matching at UNMC while finishing their final year in the UNMC College of Medicine. Bryndis Grissom comes to UNMC after studying at the University of North Texas Health Center, and Tianqi (Nina) Luo will head west this summer after graduating from Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine of Midwestern University.

In 2020, the Department of Psychiatry started its new residency program with four trainees. They matched into the program a few months after visiting UNMC, meeting with faculty members and touring Omaha. This year’s matches did their interview via Zoom, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Luo said she’s never been to Omaha.

“Finding out that I matched at a program in a state that I have never been to is both a scary and exciting prospect. Since matching, so many people from the program have been reaching out to offer support. I feel very welcome and can’t wait to call Nebraska home,” she said.

Grissom also did her interviews online, but she’s thrilled to be moving to Omaha after her fiancé had matched with UNMC in pediatrics.

“We both could feel the friendly and supportive culture of UNMC – even virtually! I am looking forward to exploring the unique training opportunities that UNMC has to offer, especially the ACT team, and I cannot wait to begin,” she said.

Lydiatt said staying in Omaha was very important.

“I’ve had great experiences within the psychiatry department and have been fortunate to have had great mentorship from faculty here. I’m looking forward to continuing to develop those relationships as I grow into a more experienced clinician,” he said.

Bainter said he was also thrilled to stay in Omaha and was happy to see Max and Logan on the Match list.

“I think sharing our familiarity with the program and the area will help us learn together and hit the ground running in July,” he said.

Zachary Rupp, MD, will join this department this summer as a second-year resident after spending his first year at the University of Kentucky. He will be switching from family medicine to psychiatry. He brings the total number of residents to 10.

To learn more about this year’s class, click here.

Spotlight: Ali Krause, RN, BSN


Ali Krause, RN, BSN, joined the Department of Psychiatry in May 2020 after working at Nebraska Medicine in Bellevue for seven years in the Emergency Department and Medical Surgical Floor. This year, she was nominated for Nebraska Medicine’s Spirit of Nursing Award, which goes to one nurse each year, who has been a leader in promoting and improving the quality of care, contributing to a positive work environment and fostering a learning environment for students and peers.

What made you apply at UNMC/Nebraska Med?  
I graduated from nursing school in 2013 from a small town/community and dreamed of working for an organization that would allow me to learn and test my knowledge. My options were pretty limited in Beemer, Nebraska. My dream was to be a trauma flight nurse until I saw the small space of the helicopter and realized how motion sick I get on planes. I toured the Nebraska Medicine main campus, and I was overwhelmed by how big it was. I come from a village, which has about 700 people with no stoplights, so one floor on the main campus was bigger than our village. I had a friend recommend the Bellevue Campus as it was smaller, more homey, but still had opportunity to learn and see many different aspects of nursing.  I started on the Medical Surgical floor for about three years and then transferred to the ER and worked there until I took this position in May 2020. 

What made you want to work in psychiatry and behavioral health?  
I had a beautiful baby boy in February 2019 and life was wonderful until I spiraled into postpartum depression. I was embarrassed, but I thought I could handle it myself and honestly didn’t know the resources available for help. I thought ‘If I feel this way, how do those who are not medically educated feel?’  This inspired me to check in on all of the mamas I could, educate them and let them know they’re not alone and how common PPD is. When I finally discussed this with my family I learned that we have a family history of untreated depression/anxiety/mental health issues. When this position opened, I felt called to learn more, help more, and do as much as I could to advocate for those with mental illness. 

What were your thoughts when you saw you were nominated for the Spirit of Nursing Award?  
My first thought was ‘Oh my goodness, how sweet of someone to nominate me.’ Then I read through the description of the award and I teared up. As nurses, we want to help, and do as much as we can to make sure our patients and co-workers are taken care of.  I don’t do this job to get awards or to be recognized, but when I got nominated it made me feel a sense of accomplishment. I must be doing something right.  
Note: The winner of the Spirit of Nursing Award will be handed out on May 12.

What do you enjoy about working in the Department of Psychiatry?  
There is a mile-long list of things I enjoy about working in the Psychiatry Department. First and foremost, would be the teamwork and communication that happens daily in our clinic. We are very good about helping each other through tough cases, covering when someone is gone, calling and messaging to check in after a rough phone call, and recognizing each other for the great work we do.  

This is the first place I have worked where everyone looks you in the eye, says hello and good morning with a smile – even under a mask. I have worked for a couple different departments that are busy, like ours, but they do not take the time to stop and say hello or ask ‘how are you?’ or ‘how are the kids?’  This department truly cares about each of their staff members and it shows by how happy everyone is. I also love how much this department cares for everyone in the community with fundraisers, volunteering, giving back and making awareness of mental illness!  

What are some of your hobbies?
I love to be outdoors.  Boating, swimming, the zoo, hiking with our son and dogs and playing co-ed volleyball and softball. My husband and I are foodies, so we enjoy trying new restaurants and food, when we get the chance. We have naturally turned into home bodies, due to COVID, but that has helped us tackle some house projects. We love the Lord, we cheer loud for the HUSKERS. we’re a fun-filled and blessed family! 

SPOTLIGHT: Troyia Anderson helps get PES up and running

Before becoming a nurse in the Adult Psychiatric Emergency Services unit, Troyia spent 10 years working in the jail system, and she has a degree in Criminal Justice. Troyia is a three-time graduate from College of Saint Mary, and graduated with a post masters certificate in nursing December 2019 from UNMC, where she is pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

Troyia’s past nursing experience includes managing two psychiatric residential treatment facilities for a local healthcare organization, teaching mental health nursing for two local universities, women’s health (antepartum, postpartum, GYN), and for the last two years she worked as an intensive care nurse.

What made you apply to work at UNMC/Nebraska Medicine?
I’m new to the NM family as of June 2020. I’m extremely excited to be apart of opening the PES and look forward to continuing a lifelong career here at NM. 

How have the first few months of the PES gone?
We have used the first few months of opening PES to explore our opportunities and continue working on our strengths to ensure we are fully prepared to open to the public once that time comes. 

Why is the PES important to the community?
PES is important to the community because it helps bridge the gap for patients experiencing a mental health crisis in a timely manner. Perhaps this person does not necessarily need inpatient psychiatric hospitalization and needs additional outpatient resources and referrals. The space in PES also provides a therapeutic and safe environment for our patients that is free from the hustle and bustle of the medical ER and affords the medical ER the opportunity to keep space for patients who have strictly medical needs. 

What do you love about working in behavioral health?
My goal is to help destigmatize mental illness. I want individuals to understand how mental health impacts our ability to cope and function just as a physical illness may. I want people to understand that it does not discriminate and could be any of us or a loved one. 

What are some of your hobbies?
My hobbies include traveling, shopping, and spending time with my family and two fur babies.