Governor Wolf Honors 51 State Employees for Excellence in Public Service

May 05, 2021

Governor Tom Wolf today praised the recipients of the Governor’s Awards for Excellence for 2020 and proclaimed May 5 State Employee Recognition Day to pay tribute to all state employees for their dedication to public service.

“The accomplishments of these award recipients are a testament to the vital work that state employees throughout the commonwealth do every day to improve people’s lives and create a better future for all Pennsylvanians,” said Governor Wolf. “I want to thank all state employees for their extraordinary service throughout the pandemic and for their commitment to the people of Pennsylvania.”

Twenty-six state agencies submitted a total of 137 nominations prepared by their employees, with eight individuals and seven group nominations selected as winners for this year’s awards.

Margaret Barajas – Department of Aging

As the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Margaret took extraordinary steps by putting herself at risk, as did so many long-term care workers, to get inside facilities with outbreaks to help stabilize those facilities, connect with their residents and make sure both the COVID-19 positive and negative residents understood their options and had a voice in their care or relocation. Margaret also started the Virtual Family Council as a forum for families with loved ones inside facilities and pioneered the use of remote controlled, wheeled robots with a smartphone or tablet attached to facilitate interactions with residents.

Customer Service Center Team – Department of Community and Economic Development

Kristopher Adams, Christina Kurtz, Sarah Smith and Rene Wood

During the height of the pandemic and while teleworking, the staff of the DCED Customer Service Center (CSC) worked tirelessly to support businesses, community organizations, local governments and individuals seeking assistance during the pandemic. They managed an extraordinary volume of calls and emails and provided technical assistance on DCED’s programs and services. Additionally, the efforts of CSC supported assisting applicants, managing nearly 28,000 applications for funding sources and responding to over 83,000 CSC inquiries.

Jared Grissinger – Department of Community and Economic Development

Serving as DCED’s agency representative to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), Jared became one of DCED’s lead staff members working at PEMA. In addition to his regular job, he was immediately assigned additional responsibilities working nearly around the clock to provide support and answers to businesses during the early weeks of the pandemic. Jared also serves as the lead for Recovery Support Function 2 (RSF-2), coordinating with state agency and external partners on recovery efforts related to economic development, aligning directly with the administration’s pandemic economic recovery plans.

Pennsylvania Correctional Industries Team – Department of Corrections

Gerald Arasin, Craig Northrup and William York

As part of the management team for Pennsylvania Correctional Industries, Gerald, Craig and William mobilized inmates to assist in the production of personal protective equipment for state and local governments. To date, this includes over 820,000 masks, 28,000 white gowns, 5,000 cases of disinfectant and 3 million bars of antibacterial soap. They also coordinated with PEMA and other partners on the distribution of the items. In doing so, these employees made it possible for state and local agencies to obtain necessary protective equipment to continue essential in-person operations with minimal disruption and cost to taxpayers.

Jill Whitcomb – Department of Environmental Protection

As the director of the Chesapeake Bay Office, Jill has been instrumental to implementing the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan, Phase III, to improve water quality in Pennsylvania streams and rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. This effort has involved forging a collaborative effort among state agencies, county conservation districts, municipal governments, farmers and many others to cut down on water pollution. These community-based efforts are showing results, with widespread cooperation to identify ways to cut down pollution through best management practices.

Heidi Kunka – Department of Environmental Protection

Heidi Kunka is an Energy Program Specialist whose work on local climate action plans is bringing new ideas to municipal governments. She conceived, developed and deployed a first-of-its-kind program with local governments to combat climate change. Working with Pennsylvania college students and faculty, 20 local governments have been able to develop plans to reduce their local greenhouse gas emissions and address climate-related vulnerabilities. The effort was so successful that the program will have 21 more local governments participating this year, many of which include environmental justice communities.

Commonwealth Media Services Team – Department of General Services

Mark Dubravec, Derick Esch, Yasmin Jones-Coleman, Yvonne Murphy, David Pinskey, Michael Rathfon, Angela Senft, Ryan Wickersham and Daniel Zampogna

The Commonwealth Media Services (CMS) team developed innovative ways to effectively communicate with the public in a COVID-19 environment that ultimately resulted in two of the most effective marketing campaigns in the agency’s history. Under very tight time constraints, CMS assisted the Department of Health with a statewide COVID-19 campaign, and a campaign focused on Latino and African American audiences. The “Ready to Vote” campaign saw CMS staff expertly use technology and in-house resources to assist with messaging to encourage the public to vote and how to do so.

Hayes Kelly – Department of General Services

Hayes is being recognized for his set-up and management of the commonwealth’s Critical Stockpile Warehouse, which has been used for receiving, inventorying and distributing supplies used for COVID-19 response efforts since the pandemic began. Under his management, the warehouse has distributed a combined total of 32.1 million N95 masks, safety gloves, safety gowns, procedure face masks, face shields and units of hand sanitizer – with a combined total of more than 61.6 million of those items in reserve to ensure the commonwealth is prepared in the future.

Matthew Bembenick – Department of General Services

When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in early 2020, Matthew was tapped to oversee the implementation of Alternative Care Facilities at three sites. In total, 930 additional hospital beds were planned and 680 of them were made available in a period of a few weeks. He also managed the creation of a sustainable supply-chain operation and warehousing operation for state agencies that are large-scale PPE users. He was responsible for creating the commonwealth’s initial stockpile analysis which is updated monthly and is still used to ensure 60-day readiness response.

Regional Response Health Collaborative Program Team – Department of Human Services

Wilmarie Gonzalez, Jeanne Parisi, Andrea Race and Sallie Rodgers

This team was instrumental in creating the Regional Response Health Collaborative Program to assist long-term care facilities in preparing for and dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks. The program helps facilities to implement best practices for infection control, contact tracing, clinical care and testing. These services were utilized over 14,000 times from July to December of last year. In addition, there were over 500 emergency deployments to facilities to help stabilize outbreaks. By developing this critical program, the team assisted facilities in protecting their residents and staff, and in avoiding emergency closures that could have put additional people at risk for COVID-19.

Tara Smolock – Department of Labor and Industry

Recognizing substance use disorder as a significant public health crisis, Tara’s initiated a dynamic project to provide employers in some of Pennsylvania’s hardest-hit areas with resources and strategies to support employees in recovery. By initiating a partnership with Penn State College of Medicine, Tara transformed a method of delivering information to integrate treatment and employment services, expand related medical and treatment services and educate and engage employers to promote recovery-friendly workplaces that promote diversity, inclusiveness and fairness across the commonwealth.

Linda Wentz – Department of Labor and Industry

Linda, a dormitory counselor at the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation’s Hiram G. Andrews Center (HGAC) in Johnstown, Cambria County, designed, tested and eventually sewed 500 clear masks for OVR’s staff and customers to facilitate safe and effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing during the pandemic. Additionally, when classes at HGAC were transitioned to remote learning to protect the health and safety of students and staff, despite the potential risk of being exposed to COVID-19, Linda volunteered to help students retrieve critical personal items that were needed at home.

COVID-19 Data Team – Office of Administration and Department of Health

Neil Berney, Paul Dioguardo, Mark Dittman, Howard Eckman, Matthew Freeze, Bryan Harker, William Pugh, Susan Stockwell and Brian Wright

The employees assisted with onboarding a massive influx of new users, including hospitals, laboratories, nursing homes, schools, testing sites and others that needed to submit data on COVID-19 outbreaks and test results to the Department of Health. The team oversaw the creation of daily reports and updates for the Secretary of Health, Governor, COVID-19 data dashboards, COVID AlertPA mobile app and media outlets. They also made enhancements to send data to new systems implemented for COVID-19, accept additional data from providers and improve system performance under increasing workloads.

Elections System Technology Team – Office of Administration

Naveen Allu, Vishwas Chandanshive, Smitha Jayaprakash, Jennifer Joyner, David Naisby, Bryan Reed, Nicole Ryan, Richard Schoffstall II, Wanda Wallace and Dean Winkelspecht

Historic reforms of Act 77 of 2019 include no-excuse mail-in voting and extended deadlines for voter registration. With just five months until the 2020 primary, the team implemented changes across multiple internal and public-facing systems managed by the Department of State for online voter registration, the statewide voter database and reporting election results. Their success was made possible through an aggressive project schedule, exceptional collaboration with the department’s elections staff and suppliers and impeccable attention to detail in every aspect of their work.

Elections Legal Team – Department of State

Kimberly Adams, Gregory Darr and John Hartzell

These three recipients are being recognized for their extraordinary work during the 2020 election cycle. From the historic election law changes in Act 77, to coordinating legal review of voter education materials, to creating an accessible write-in ballot and process for voters with disabilities, to providing guidance on how to administer an election amid a pandemic and so much more, the legal team provided countless hours of support to ensure that all voters in Pennsylvania could cast their ballots safely and securely in an unprecedented year.

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