Joel Wernick, president and CEO of Phoebe Health Systerm received the Regents Hall of Fame Alumni and Friends Award in recognition of his impact on Darton State College and Dr. Sarah Kuck was selected as the recipient of the 2016 Regents’ Teaching Excellence Award for online teaching for the University System of Georgia at the University System of Georgia Regents’ Scholarship Gala on Friday, April 29, 2016.
Joel Wernick, one of the longest serving healthcare chief executives in America, came to Albany in 1988 when Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital provided care to residents who lived in Dougherty County. Today, the healthcare landscape is vastly different. Phoebe Putney Health System has more than doubled in size with three acute care hospitals, two critical access hospitals, a home health organization, hospice and several regional clinics that now bring services to where the citizens of Southwest Georgia live.
Education has always been an important plank in Wernick’s vision to build an organizational environment that embraces all vectors of health – medicine, education, economics, and cultural opportunities. Early on he committed resources to strengthening the community’s education infrastructure, recognizing in particular the role of higher education as a key to economic development and community health. Wernick recognized the need to support student scholarships at Darton State College, and he led a regional consortium to create a $20,000 annual fast-track nursing scholarships for eligible students to attend classes fulltime without the distraction of outside jobs.
By many measures, Darton State College is an exceptional example of the impact of a hospital-college partnership. Wernick has consistently committed both financial and talent resources, including more than $750,000 for programmatic support over the past five years, and the return on the investment belongs to the community. The institution’s strong programs have been an excellent provider of nursing and allied health professionals, and its graduates populate Phoebe’s ranks in every medical and programmatic offering.
With Albany Technical College, Darton State College and Albany State University as hometown institutions, Wernick became a strong champion of the state’s strategy to provide students – regardless of their entry point – with a seamless education system. Increasing enrollment and educational attainment would accrue to the benefit of the student and community and ultimately ensure the talent pool needed to care for the citizens of Southwest Georgia. A main goal was to feed the pipeline for physicians of the future, as well as other medical professionals – an initiative he dubbed “the doctor is in.” As a result, he shaped vital partnerships with local and state institutions, getting support from the Georgia General Assembly to launch the Southwest Georgia Family Medicine Residency at Phoebe in 1993. Under his leadership, the Southwest Campus of the Medical College of Georgia was created, allowing third and fourth year medical students to work with physicians and hospitals across the region. Darton students also have been among the many who have come through this special campus and have been able to pursue medical and other higher degrees in nursing and allied health sciences.
Wernick’s achievements have been recognized in the state and nation. He has been named for eight consecutive years to Georgia Trend’s list of 100 Most Influential Georgians, which credits him with guiding Phoebe to a “period of historic growth in staff, revenues and new services in the vastly underserved areas of Southwest Georgia.” In May 2004, Phoebe was awarded the Foster G. McGaw Prize for excellence in community service, one of the health care industry’s most prestigious honors, bestowed by the American Hospital Association (AHA), the Baxter Alliance and Cardinal Health Foundation. He has been honored by the Medical College of Georgia for his commitment and support of their programs.
Also presented at the Scholarship Gala was the 2016 Regents’ Teaching Excellence Award for online teaching for the University System of Georgia. Created in 1996, The Regents’ Awards program recognizes the finest among the University System of Georgia’s full-time instructional faculty for their demonstrated educational excellence in teaching, online teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Award recipients have had records of exceptional teaching and a strong commitment to impacting student learning, ultimately fostering the academic success of students.
There were many outstanding nomination portfolios this year and each was thoroughly reviewed by a panel of faculty and administrators from across the University System. When the review committee met to discuss the nominations and finalize their recommendations, they voted unanimously to recommend Dr. Kuck as this year’s winner.
“Going through the process of nomination was enlightening,” says Kuck. “A lot of the material that needed to be submitted related, of course, to student evaluations, satisfaction, success of the students, and more. To see the impact and support from my students was amazing. I really believe that this award demonstrates the commitment and support of my colleagues. I work with a very dedicated group of professionals that put students first- from the Director of Online Learning to my Department Chair, so I certainly share this award with my institution.”
The committee was particularly impressed with Dr. Kuck’s commitment to the overall University System of Georgia mission and her involvement with system-level and collaborative effort initiatives. Her willingness to explore a variety of modalities and apply innovative teaching and learning solutions in the online environment also stood out to the committee.