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Advanced Practitioners Receive Special Occupational Medicine Training
March 28, 2024

First Row: Todd Zoltack PA-C, Vanessa Ruggiero CRNP, Tara Collins CRNP, Anna Frank PA-C, Ramon Torres PA-C, Rob Dolansky DO. Second Row: Nicole Frailey PA-C, Alanna Espenshade PA-C, Kevin Valvano DO, Jeff Kowalski, Darrell Smulling PA-C, Rob Pica PA-C, Michelle Behler PA-C, Hayden Phillips PA-C.

Eight members of the St. Luke’s University Health Network Care Now team were recognized for being the first-ever group of advanced practitioners (APs) to complete an in-house introductory course on occupational and environmental medicine.

St. Luke’s Care Now Occupational Medicine provides pre-employment physicals, preventative medicine, workman’s compensation treatment and return-to-work protocols at dozens of locations for more than 1,000 corporate clients. St. Luke’s is the largest, most comprehensive occupational medicine program in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and is the only Occupational Medicine provider in the Greater Lehigh Valley to be backed by a nationally acclaimed healthcare network.  

The providers who successfully passed St. Luke’s Care Now Occupational Medicine Tract for Advanced Practitioners (COMTAPP) course are:

Vanessa Ruggiero, CRNP; Michelle Behler, PA-C; Todd Zoltack, PA-C; Nicole Frailey, PA-C; Tara Collins, CRNP; Anna Frank, PA-C; Darrell Smulling, PA-C, and Ramon Torres, PA-C.

Kevin D. Valvano, DO, developed and taught the wide-ranging, three-month training. The course consisted of classroom instruction, practical training and an online component designed for certified physician assistants (PA-C) and nurse practitioners (NP).

Valvano designed the course to give advanced practitioners the tools necessary to provide a higher level of care while cultivating leadership roles within occupational medicine.

“We believe that investing in the professional development of our APs will ultimately lead to better patient outcomes and ensure­­­­ exceptional care and service for our clients,” said for St. Luke’s Director of Advanced Practice Provider Development and Education Hayden Phillips, who organized the training.

Ruggiero is a Roseto native and graduate of Pius X High School and DeSales University. She received her BSN and MSN from Moravian University. Ruggiero oversees the advanced practitioners and facilitates scheduling at the Forks Township and Wind Gap locations.

“As a group, we took a deep dive into the intricacies of occupational medicine and how it translates into treating the patient.” Ruggiero said, “We examined what they’re coming in for and took an incredibly detailed look into the medical components necessary to get them back on track.

Occupational medicine is more involved than just treating people who get injured at work.

“We analyze each patient’s case,” Ruggiero said. “For instance, if an employee gets injured delivering a package, we look at the exact cause of the injury, how to prevent further injury, and what is needed to get them back to work safely and as soon as possible.”

Ruggiero said she takes pride in developing her skills with St. Luke’s as the Network expands in her hometown market.

“It is such a great feeling to give back to the community I grew up in,” she said. “Many of the people that we treat have lived here their whole lives, and it makes it easy to connect with them, to talk about their experience in the Lehigh Valley, and it develops an almost instant level of trust and care.”

Zoltack, who graduated from Freedom High School and DeSales University, works out of Care Now in Kutztown, but is expecting to transfer to the new Spring Township facility farther west in Berks County, which is scheduled to open in April.

He will also provide occupational medicine services intermittently at the Hamburg location while St. Luke’s continues to grow and expand its occupational medicine profile in Berks County.

Zoltack is proud to be part of the thriving occupational medicine program at St. Luke’s, who has a unique connection with St. Luke’s. He was born, volunteered and trained at St. Luke’s, and all six of his children were born at St. Luke’s.

“Occupational medicine has become an integral part of the service line, and as such, it’s important to develop leadership in this area to be a go-to resource,” he said. “This training allows us an opportunity to go onsite to some of the companies, which gives us a more accurate picture of what we need to know on our end to facilitate their safe return to work.”

St. Luke's University Health Network has expanded its occupational and environmental footprint with more than a dozen new Care Now facilities to help serve more than 1,000 corporate clients with preemployment physicals, workman’s compensation injury care, preventative medicine, clinical and non-clinical management and return-to-work protocols.

“St. Luke’s Occupational Medicine continues expanding to meet the needs of our employer clients and their employees. This training course was established to cultivate and enhance the skill sets of those interested providers willing to invest the time to receive more comprehensive training in the field of occupational and environmental medicine (OEM),” said Michael M. Sidhom, MD, MSPH, the Network Medical Director of the Department of Occupational & Environmental Medicine/Urgent Care.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the work put in by our team, including Dr. Valvano, Hayden Phillips, Beth Syrstad [manager of Care Now Management], and this inaugural class in accomplishing this feat,” Dr. Sidhom said.

“The graduates of this inaugural class, and future graduating classes, will serve as OEM resources for other providers as well as our colleagues and clients throughout the Network and the Lehigh Valley.”