I’m Not Fine… How Are You?

By Jennifer Hill Buehrer LMSW

As a social worker in the field of palliative care, I encounter a lot of suffering.  It’s the reason my job exists, really.  Every day I talk and listen to people with serious or terminal illnesses and support the people who love and care for them.  My teammates treat their physical suffering, and I focus on the emotional, psychological and spiritual pain.  I frequently hear from people that they don’t know how I can do this work every day… but the fact is that you learn ways to compartmentalize the suffering you encounter, and leave it behind at the end of the work day (most of the time anyway).  You learn how to anticipate the things people are feeling in these situations and reflect their thoughts and emotions back to them in a way that leaves them feeling validated and not alone.  Having experienced so many of my own losses, that ability to compartmentalize has been the most effective coping and survival technique I could find that allows me to be effective in helping others dealing with loss.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been the biggest challenge to these skills that I have ever faced – even more than the loss of my little brother five years ago.  That was a tough year, for sure, and I had to adjust some of my practices for a while after he died in order to process my own grief.  But this… the sheer magnitude of the suffering, and the duration of this crisis, and what looks to me like a fading light at the end of the tunnel is starting to get to me.  I’ve struggled watching bedside staff on the “hot” units working so hard and feeling so hopeless at times.  Yesterday I had really emotional phone conversations with two different families of people in their 40s and 50s with COVID, about the fact that they were not going to survive, and discussing how we would approach the end of their lives given that their loved ones can’t be here.  And I hung up the phone and cried.  Recently, we had three hot units, when not long ago we were back down to one.  When and how is this ever going to get better?  At least that’s how I feel sometimes.  And I have to admit that it follows me home.

But I’ll be honest, the worst part of this for me right now is seeing and hearing people outside the hospital walls express doubt that it’s as bad as we hear it is.  It’s people questioning the value of vaccination and masking – or even refusing to do either – while I watch patient after patient die despite the best care and treatment by the best professionals I know.  It feels so disrespectful of those professionals that I can hardly stand it.  People in my own extended family express such thoughts and I have to avoid them altogether for fear I will lose it completely if I engage in that conversation.  I know that it would be better for me to develop my argument and make the attempt to educate them about what is really going on, but I just don’t have the energy or the emotional reserve right now.  And after more than a year of this, and well over three million deaths worldwide, I can hardly believe I would have to.

I want so much to take this article in the optimistic and supportive direction that I always try to take… but I’m not in that space right now.  And I decided that, rather than wait until I am and send you another set of encouraging thoughts, I would just be honest.  I know that most if not all of us have times like this, and days when it feels like this will never end.  All we can do is set an example by doing what is right, and take care of ourselves physically and psychically, and trust that we’re as resilient as I’ve been saying we are.  Even optimists like me need to be reminded sometimes.

Dr. Paul Makela Honored for Performing 1,000 da Vinci Surgeries

LIVONIA – Paul Makela, MD was honored on Friday, May 7 for performing more than 1,000 surgeries with the da Vinci surgical system. Dr. Makela, a gynecologist with Westside OB/GYN & Urogynecology Livonia, specializes in minimally-invasive robotic surgeries, and has helped many women suffering from gynecological and urinary issues.

George Tuttle, a representative with da Vinci Systems, was onsite for the award presentation. He shared that Dr. Makela had performed surgery for one of his loved ones, which provided her with immense relief from her medical symptoms. He stated, “Dr. Makela changed her life for the better. He’s incredible, and I think the world of him.”

During the presentation, Dr. Makela was also surprised with a video from his sister, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. She said, “I know this is a milestone in the surgical world, but when I think about how many lives you have improved, your patients and their families, I couldn’t be more proud.”

Congratulations to Dr. Makela for reaching this milestone, and thank you for using your knowledge and expertise to improve the lives of others.

Rob Casalou Rounds on Chelsea Units

Trinity Health Michigan CEO Rob Casalou visited St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea this week. He and SJMC President Nancy Graebner rounded on several units to congratulate colleagues and medical staff members on new programs and facility renovations.  Rob expressed his gratitude to all for their dedication during the pandemic and for supporting significant change during the past year. 

Rob was impressed with the growth in surgical services with a 7th and 8th OR as well as robotics, the new ED patient area for patients requiring a longer stay for testing and observation that do not meet inpatient admission criteria, the expansion on Atrium West to accommodate 24 IP rehab beds and enhancements in the physical therapy department to accommodate higher volume of IP rehab patients.  “St. Joe’s Chelsea has found innovative ways to create a safe, healing place for both patients and staff,” Casalou said. “It is a beautiful campus with incredibly talented people who make it a world-class center for care.”

Nurses Week and Health Care Week Video Contest at SJMO

OAKLAND – As part of this year’s Nurses Week and Health Care Week celebrations, St. Joe’s Oakland is hosting a video contest. This contest offers a exciting opportunity to have fun with your colleagues while showing off your dancing, singing, and lip-syncing skills.


To celebrate nurses and the interdisciplinary teams in health care in a fun way.


  1. All videos must be made in keeping with the Mission, Vision and Values of SJMHS
  2. No patients or patient information can be visible at any time in the videos
  3. All content and action in the videos must be G rated
  4. Videos should be brief (Less than 60 seconds)
  5. Colleagues are not allowed to post these videos to personal social media pages
  6. Be creative, but tasteful! This is a great activity for a department meeting or huddle
  7. Only employees of Saint Joseph Mercy Health System may appear in submitted videos
  8. Entries are limited to one per department
  9. Colleagues should wear appropriate PPE


  • Content must not include patients, their family members or patient information, images or actual care in progress.
  • Do not show copyrighted materials owned by others, including logos, photos, paintings, etc.
  • Your submission gives SJMHS permission to share in public media channels and social networks.

Please post completed video links to this Dropbox by Wednesday, May 12, 2021 for review.

Videos will be reviewed and the best video determined by a St Joe’s panel of leaders. Trophies will be awarded on Friday, May 14 for the following categories:

  • Best Masked Singer
  • Best Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork
  • Fanciest Footwork


By Jennifer Hill Buehrer LMSW

I’ve used this column over the past year to explore a lot of different feelings that we’re experiencing in health care through this pandemic.  I’ve discussed fear, anxiety, eagerness, hope, empathy, humility, gratitude, loneliness, pride, frustration… and so many others.  Nothing means more to me than hearing from my coworkers that these articles speak to them, or speak for them in some way.  At times it leads me to put pressure on myself, because I hear that people look forward to reading them and feeling heard.  But this started out as a way for me to feel useful at the height of the pandemic, when I wasn’t sure why I was here in the hospital, feeling like I had nothing useful to offer.

I have to admit that while this column has given me a bit of a purpose, I have not lost that sense of not really feeling useful much of the time.  I dare say that we all thought we’d be well past this thing by now.  And yet, what we have is another surge, this time with fewer resources of all kinds:  staff, money, energy, hope, community support, encouragement.  It would be perfectly natural under the circumstances to go about our business day after day, and just do what we have to do, without that drive to make a difference, or go above and beyond.  I have always been proud to work at St. Joe’s because I think that personal care and going above and beyond is what we do.  I’d rather be a part of the thoughtful care we provide here and the personal connection that our staff make with patients and families than work at the greatest research institution in the country.

This is what I think makes it so unnerving to feel the kind of apathy that we might feel at times.  If we’re being honest, I’m guessing most of us feel it now and then.  The isolation we’ve all experienced, combined with anxiety and fear over the virus itself and our safety and/or that of our loved ones, can become difficult to bear after a while.  In some ways, apathy is easier to handle over the long term.  Because too much feeling – whether it’s empathy, grief, fear, whatever – becomes exhausting and makes it difficult for us to do the things we have to do every day.  I’ve honestly spent a lifetime trying to get a handle on that.  So don’t feel bad about the apathy.  It’s a survival tactic.

When I start to worry is when apathy turns into anhedonia:  the inability to experience pleasure.  To be fair, many of the things that bring us pleasure have either been unavailable or severely limited over more than a year now (which is crazy when you really stop to think about it). But ideally this has forced us to be creative, or to look in other – maybe smaller – places for pleasure or joy.  For me it’s been things like the strings of sunny days we’ve had recently which are pretty unusual for Michigan, and all the incredible spring flowers that came early because of it.  I’ve also appreciated the slower pace of life overall, and the chance to actually see some faraway friends a little more often, as we’ve gotten accustomed to communicating using video chats.  I’ve also actually experienced some feelings of fulfillment through the changed – and changing – relationships with my coworkers all over the hospital.  It’s that shared trauma that comes with wartime that can bring people closer together. 

Keep looking for these kinds of opportunities to feel pleasure and joy, large and small.  And give yourself a break when the apathy creeps in, and you find yourself just getting through your day.  You can always call me, and I’ll share my daily Far Side calendar with you.  Some days that’s the best I can do too.

St. Joe’s & IHA Livonia Medical Center Opens Its Doors

LIVONIA – After approximately 18 months of construction, the new St. Joe’s & IHA Livonia Medical Center has now officially opened. This 124,000-square-foot health care facility is located adjacent to I-275 off Seven Mile Road on the newly renamed St. Joe’s Parkway campus service drive.

At this new, state-of-the-art location, St. Joe’s and IHA are bringing together leading health care providers and services to offer a continuum of care under one roof to Livonia and the surrounding communities.

“We have been working to bring health care out into the community where people live, work and play, and this medical center located on the Schoolcraft College campus is a great example of that successful effort,” said Rob Casalou, president and CEO, Trinity Health Michigan.

The new center opened on Monday, April 19, with St. Joe’s Medical Group (SJMG) Sports Medicine as the first practice to move in, followed by IHA Livonia Primary Care on April 26.

The IHA Urgent Care, previously located within the Jeffress Center on campus, relocated to the new building on April 23. The urgent care is open 7 days a week, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., including holidays. 

Additional practices and services are opening over the next few weeks:

  • IHA Orthopaedics – May 3
  • IHA Podiatry – May 3
  • Probility Physical Therapy – May 3
  • SJMG Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery – May 10
  • IHA Obstetrics & Gynecology – May 17
  • IHA Nurse Midwives – May 17
  • Women’s Specialty ImagingDigital Mammography, Breast Ultrasound,
  • 3D Tomography and Bone Density Scans – May 24
  • Diagnostic Imaging -MRI, CT, Ultrasound and X-ray – May 24
  • IHA Livonia Pediatrics – June 1
  • Michigan Brain & Spine Institute – June 7
  • IHA Urology – June 7
  • IHA Vascular & Endovascular Surgery – June 7
  • Lab Services  – June 24
  • Joe’s Java Coffee Shop – Mid-July
  • Retail Pharmacy – August 2
  • Ambulatory Surgical Center – August 16

An ambulatory surgery center is currently under construction to provide outpatient procedures, such as orthopedic and general surgeries, with the ability for overnight stays if necessary. In addition, a full-service retail pharmacy will support the surgical suite, urgent care, and physician offices as well as the entire local community. Onsite amenities, including a coffee shop, will create a comfortable waiting area for patients and their families.

For more information or to reach someone to schedule an appointment, please visit LivoniaMedicalCenter.org.

St. Mary Mercy Livonia Introduces Colleague Resource Groups

LIVONIA – St. Mary Mercy Livonia strives to create an environment that fosters and promotes productivity, creativity and inclusivity for all its colleagues.  To help in these efforts, we have now created Colleague Resource Groups (CRGs), which offer a new opportunity to enhance our inclusive culture.  We hope this initiative will increase awareness and appreciation of cultural differences within our workplace and the community at large.

These CRGs will help us foster a welcoming environment through which colleagues feel supported and included.  They will help to promote individual and collective growth through various resources and networking opportunities, focusing on areas such as recruitment, retention and development opportunities. 

We eagerly invite you to consider joining the newly formed CRGs.  It is our hope that these CRGs will help us live our Core Values in a more intentional way and that St. Mary Mercy Livonia becomes more and more a place of inclusivity and openness so that everyone feels valued, welcomed and safe.  The following CRGs are available to all colleagues:

  • Addictions and Recovery CRG
  • Celebrating Cultural Diversity CRG
  • Grief Support CRG
  • P.R.I.S.M. (aka PRIDE in the Workplace) CRG
  • Spirituality & Wellness CRG
  • Veterans CRG

If you are interested in joining a CRG, please complete the SMML CRG MEMBERSHIP APPLICATION or scan the QR code below.

Interested in creating a new CRG?  Complete the New CRG Request form.  Please contact Anita Altawan via email at Anita.Altawan@stjoeshealth.org if you would like additional information.

Non-Motorized transportation improvements coming to city streets this summer

St. Joe’s, City of Ypsilanti, and WATS collaborate on improving safety on Ypsilanti’s roads

The City of Ypsilanti is collaborating with St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) to explore traffic -calming measures to reduce speeds on city streets and improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.  The following streets are part of this city effort: 

  • Second Ave, from Michigan Ave. to Monroe
  • Cross, from Prospect to River Street
  • Prospect, from Cross north to City Limits 
  • N. Mansfield, from Washtenaw Ave to Congress

Ypsilanti and partner agencies will be testing low-cost design concepts aimed at walking and bicycling improvements. The design concepts are being informed by NACTO, (the National Association of City Transportation Officials)  and the MMUTCD (Michigan Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices).  

“The City of Ypsilanti is committed to creating an environment that supports the health, safety, and welfare of all of our residents and visitors. By enabling people to bike and walk to work, for errands, for exercise, and for recreation, and by encouraging drivers to drive more safely within the City, we can help everyone lead longer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives,” stated Frances McMullan, City Manager.  “As we recover from the effects of coronavirus, it’s more important than ever to support healthy living.”

“St. Joe’s is focused on community efforts aimed at positively influencing the social determinants that influence one’s health to reduce the health disparities we know exist in our community, ” said Alonzo Lewis, president, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, and Livingston hospitals.  “Supporting the city of Ypsilanti and WATS to create safer streets and promote pedestrian and bicycle use is a great example where we can influence our community’s broader health and wellbeing.” 

The project areas were chosen for this project due to recent and recurring complaints about driver behavior, including speeding, as well as requests to improve pedestrian and bicycle facilities in these areas.  

As the project gets underway, miwats.org/route-ypsilanti will be updated with project details and opportunities for public engagement.

Reflection for Earth Day, April 22

By Rev. Kathy Schell, Director of Mission Integration, St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea

Earth Day, April 22, has always been a significant day for me, as my daughter’s birthday falls on that day.  My mother in law made a joke about the timing of her birth by calling me “Earth Mother!” I was so exhausted that hours ticked by before the allusion sunk into my foggy brain.

Just as my daughter was a blessed gift of new life 31 years ago, so is spring an annual gift bearing renewal of life. I confess to an increasing appreciation of that gift with every year that passes. We have only to glance outside at the flowers and trees blossoming in this season (yes, even in Michigan) to be filled with both awe and hope. This enduring hope, and the solace so often found in nature, is crucial in the “COVID times” in which we live.

In the past year, I have heard numerous people attest that stepping outside and walking, biking, gardening, or simply sitting with attention, has been essential for their emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Here at St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea, our behavioral health patients walk our beautiful hospital grounds with staff every day, weather permitting. This activity has been part of the therapy schedule for many years, with wise and good reason: nature promotes healing.

Pope Francis said in 2018, “Defense of the Earth has no other purpose than the defense of life.” He reminds us that we have only one planet on which we all live, and our stewardship of Earth ensures life for ourselves and generations to come.

“Gracious God, Creator of the world,
draw us into prayer and celebration this Earth day
as we remember the gifts of your earth and the stewardship you have entrusted to us.
Let us rejoice in the beautiful gift of creation,
the mystery and glory of nature and the earth that has been put into the care of our hands.
Grant us the wisdom and will to conserve your creation.”
(A prayer from the Catholic Health Association)

5th Annual Regional Resident Research Day Winners

The 5th annual Regional Resident Research Day was held on March 26, 2021. This event included scientific presentations by residents from St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, St. Mary Mercy Livonia, and Wayne State University Anesthesia. Presenters discussed clinical case reports, quality improvement studies/educational innovation studies, and original research.

Residents gave over 80 presentations at the event. The winner results by category are listed below, with a more detailed list of their studies here. Thank you to all the participants in the regional event, who all did an excellent job, and congratulations to all our winners! If you have any questions, please contact: Melody Dankha at melody.dankha@stjoeshealth.org.

Original Research Presentation Winners:

  • First Place Winner: Kathleen Stipek, DO – Emergency Medicine – St. Mary Mercy Livonia
  • Second Place Winner: Kaitlin Zaki-Matias, MD and Christopher Zarour, MD – Diagnostic Radiology – St. Joseph Mercy Oakland
  • Third Place Winner: Shelby Booker, DO – OBGYN – St. Joseph Mercy Oakland

Quality Improvement Study Presentation Winners:

  • First Place Winner: Mehvish Khan, PharmD – Pharmacy – St. Joseph Mercy Oakland
  • Second Place Winner: Nick Mills, MD and Rajbir Pannu, MD – Transitional Year – St. Joseph Mercy Oakland
  • 1) Third Place Winner: Anna Shu, DO – General Surgery – St. Joseph Mercy Oakland
  • 2) Third Place Winner: Cameron Strong, MD – Transitional Year/Internal Medicine – St. Mary Mercy Livonia

Case Report Presentation Winners:

  • First Place Winner: Amie Gerodimos, DO – Psychiatry Resident – St. Mary Mercy Livonia
  • Second Place Winner: Jacob Gates, MD – Family Medicine – St. Mary Mercy Livonia
  • Third Place Winner: Jasmeet Kaur, MD and Parveen Dhillon, MS4 – Internal Medicine – St. Joseph Mercy Oakland

Critically Appraised Topic (CAT) presentation Winner:

  • First Place Winner: Michael Zhao, MD – Transitional Year – St. Mary Mercy Livonia