Reflections on Susan Walkama, LCSW, Wheeler President and CEO
One October 14, 2019, the Wheeler Board of Trustees announced that Susan Walkama, LCSW, who transformed Wheeler Clinic into a leading statewide provider of integrated health care services, retired on November 1, 2019.
Learn more about Susan's background in this 2018 article from Wheeler's 50th anniversary series of stories.
NEW! October 29, 2019
To make a gift in honor of Susan's leadership and in support of Wheeler's nutrition programming, please visit our giving page. Through December 31, your gift will be matched 1:1, up to $25,000 in total, by a longtime, dedicated, and anonymous former member of our Board of Trustees!
Reflections on Susan
BOARD LEADERSHIP FY2019–FY2020
“Susan’s vision, her passion for her work, and the commitment she gave to Wheeler on behalf of everyone we serve is extraordinary. In every area, every day, she guided Wheeler to focus on the individuals and families who depend on us for care. She expanded services unlike any other community-based organization in Connecticut, drove remarkable administrative efficiencies, focused on clinical outcomes that improved patients’ lives, and always challenged our staff and trustees to reexamine what we could do to provide better, more accessible, and patient-centered care.”
James Moylan, incoming Chairman, Board of Trustees
“What really stands out about Susan is that she is really low key but has an amazing handle on everything related to Wheeler. She understands everything from the ground up. She came up through the organization, which gave her a strength and understanding of the organization that no one could ever have. What also stands out to me are her vision for primary care opportunities and integration with behavioral health. Susan saw the benefit and the potential and now this is clearly the direction in which Wheeler continues to go.”
Christine Skelly, outgoing Chair, Board of Trustees, 2015–2019
CURRENT WHEELER SENIOR LEADERSHIP
“Susan is a visionary leader who dedicated her career to ensuring access to effective, high-quality community-based services for Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens. She has a deep understanding of community systems and personal commitment to eliminating disparities in health care. I’ve been honored to work with Susan and am in awe of her tireless dedication to healthcare excellence and to improving health outcomes for the more than 30,000 individuals served by Wheeler annually.”
Sabrina Trocchi, PhD, MPA, Chief Operating Officer
“Susan’s visionary leadership, passion and clinical insights have positioned Wheeler as a leader in integrated health care. She is able to balance strategic and tactical thinking with practicality and kindness. Susan has a genuine concern for our clients and staff that embraces innovation and sets excellence as the organization’s performance standard.
It has been a pleasure working with Susan. Her integrity, humor and work ethic set the tone for all of us. Susan’s decisions were always focused on what is best for our clients and workforce. She is one of the most thoughtful and kind persons you will ever meet. I, along with the rest of the organization will miss Susan, but knowing her, as this chapter of her life ends, another will begin."
Tish Speicher-Werbner, MPA, Chief Human Resources Officer
"Susan’s leadership steered Wheeler through changes in the health care delivery system. Through careful strategic planning, undertaken with members of our team and our board, she helped Wheeler to be better positioned for these changes, promoting an environment that is centered on the patient and innovation. On a personal note, Susan has been an outstanding mentor for many years, helping me to flourish in countless ways."
Athena Dellas, MBA, Chief Financial Officer
"Susan is an outstanding kind, compassionate and visionary leader who dedicated her career to providing and developing a service system to improve outcomes to tens of thousands of individual annually. Her knowledge of community service systems along with her passionate commitment to improving access and quality health care for all positioned Wheeler to be recognized as a statewide leader. I am honored and privileged to have had her as my professional mentor."
Kimberly Nelson, LCSW, Senior Vice President, Services
FORMER MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES
"I met Susan when I was invited to join the Wheeler Board sometime around 2005. Today I consider her a close friend. During my years on the Board I very much appreciated her leadership style --- warm, energetic, engaging, creative, kind....She was always a good listener --- respecting, welcoming, valuing our suggestions. Making time for us in the midst of so many demands on her time. Working with her was fun! And I appreciated that she stayed connected to me in the years since I left the Board. What a wonderful human being! Wheeler, and all of us connected to it, have been so lucky!!!"
Courtney Bourns, Former Trustee
“When David Berkowitz needed to take a medical leave of absence, he recommended that the Board appoint Susan as acting Executive Director until he returned. He had great things to say about Susan’s understanding of the services provided by the Clinic and her ability to manage a group of those services. He also felt that Susan was passionate about the work of the Clinic and had the vision to see the big picture. When David passed, the Board’s Executive Committee (which I served on at the time) had to decide who would replace David. Given the significance of this decision, we felt the need to consider Susan as well as others inside and outside of the Clinic. Ultimately, we choose Susan, and I’m glad we did. She has proven to be a fabulous choice demonstrating all of the skill, vision and leadership ability that David saw in her. The decision she made with respect to the direction the clinic would take once the Affordable Care Act became law was bold and risky and, in hindsight, obviously the correct choice. I very much enjoyed serving on the Board with Susan leading the way!”
Jeff Loureiro, President, Loureiro Engineering,
Chair, Board of Trustees 2009–2013
From the 50th Anniversary series of articles in 2018 on the history of Wheeler
“I remember Susan as a proactive, strategic thinker. Her commitment to quality and to Wheeler’s mission, staff, clients and community partners never wavered. She sought input from others and continuously incorporated new ideas and concepts into her thinking and actions. She was willing and able to grapple with and make tough decisions about very difficult issues such as staff layoffs, underfunded programs, and Connecticut’s budget crisis.
Susan introduced me, and other Trustees, to the significance of integrating behavioral health and primary care. Under Susan’s leadership, Wheeler took steps to ensure that the organization would be well positioned to take a leadership role in implementing related innovative and impactful programs and partnerships in the years ahead.”
Ann Thomas, Chair, Board of Trustees 2007–2008
From the 50th Anniversary series of articles in 2018 on the history of Wheeler
CURRENT WHEELER OPERATIONAL MANAGEMENT TEAM AND STAFF
"Susan’s leadership and vision has guided Wheeler into a position to remain competitive in the crowded health care space for years to come. I have always been fascinated by Susan’s ability to keep a pulse on every corner of Wheeler, knowing that every detail matters in order to succeed as a whole. Her commanding presence and high expectations for the Wheeler employees has fostered an environment where clients can expect to receive the best care possible and employees feel that every contribution matters."
Dan Herens, Vice President, Information Technology
“Susan’s tireless work and commitment to the underserved and vulnerable populations is inspirational. The work she has done in and outside of Wheeler helped shape Wheeler into the organization it is today as a fully integrated patient centered medical home providing innovative and compassionate care to all patients and families we serve. Susan’s vision for this population and the overall strategic plan for Wheeler is thoughtful and multi-dimensional. Her strong leadership style is considerate, direct and authoritative, yet patient and motivating. She has been a source of tremendous support and mentorship for me and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Susan. Wheeler is well positioned as a leader in the healthcare industry because of Susan’s contribution and leadership.”
Heidi Joseph, Vice President, Health Center Operations
"I've had the pleasure of reporting directly to Susan for the past 3 years. We've worked closely on the vision of community outreach/engagement activities for the Family Health and Wellness centers. Susan's commitment to partnering with and listening to the communities we serve is an integral part of this organization's framework. Her strong, courageous, and compassionate leadership style is one to be admired and mirrored."
Keturah Kinch, MPA, Director, Health Center Community Engagement
"Susan has been a passionate leader of Wheeler, which I think comes from the many roles she's held in the organization. Just as important, she's compassionate about everyone we serve. I've heard her share so many stories over the years about a particular patient or family and how we were helping them. She's a detail-oriented, analytical thinker, and understands, especially in my area, that the details matter a lot. She always works to make sure all of us get it right. She sets the example of leadership from the President and CEO role down, all the way to Program Directors and Supervisors and beyond. Lastly, she understands the needs, direction, and pulse of the state in so many areas. We've been able to succeed because I think she can read where trends are moving, and she positions us ahead of them."
Todd Raymond, Vice President, Facilities
"Susan’s leadership of Wheeler Clinic has been exemplary in every respect. She is a strategic visionary who has courageously led the agency in new and extremely exciting endeavors in order to best serve the needs of the individuals in our care. Susan is brilliant, insightful, and compassionate; and it has truly been an honor to have worked under Susan’s leadership for nearly twenty years."
Judith Stonger, MA, CPS, CARC, Vice President, Prevention, Wellness and Recovery
“It's impossible to miss the tremendous positive changes Susan led. The changes by themselves are impressive, but what's equally impressive to me is that she ensured we kept our eyes focused on the core values driving the organization from the beginning: innovation; providing high-quality, accessible care; and understanding that we put the needs of everyone we serve at the forefront of everything we do, every day.
A lot of leaders can create institutional change. Changing things is easy. Very few can do it successfully, while not only maintaining, but strengthening, our focus on the mission. Susan did that.”
John Sponauer, Vice President of Marketing Communications
and Philanthropic Giving
PEERS AND COLLEAGUES
"Susan has been a respected and trusted leader in children's services, particularly in regard to the mental health needs of children and families not only in Connecticut but throughout New England. Her retirement will deprive us of an important advocate and spokesperson. We will all miss her."
Jean Adnopoz, MPH, Yale Child Study Center
"Susan gave me a genuine opportunity to serve the children and families of my community in my neighborhood I resided. She recognized the passion I have for advocacy and protection. I am grateful for the time I spent working for The Hartford Community Partnership under her supervision. Thank you and I wish you well."
Michele Calhoun (Ramsey), Community Organizer, Hartford
"It has always been such a pleasure to work with Susan here in Connecticut. Her professionalism, warmth, commitment, and leadership have been a wonderful powerful example to others in the field. She will be missed!"
Mary Painter, LCSW, LADC, Director of the Office of Intimate Partner Violence &
Substance Use Treatment & Recovery, CT Department of Children and Families
"I have had the pleasure of being a vendor to Wheeler Clinic and Susan for the past 7 years, and through that period I have often marveled at the level of professionalism, work ethic, and integrity that permeates the entire organization. Clearly a credit to Susan's team building spirit and extraordinary management style. The absence of her presence I am sure will be felt by all, but her legacy as a pioneer and advocate is assured. I wish you much happiness in your retirement."
Nicholas J. Ververis, President, Irongate Insurance Counselors
"I have had the pleasure knowing and working with Susan for many years. Together under her leadership and vision, Wheeler and DCF have collaborated on the development and implementation of effective services for children and families. Her vision and dedication to the work is a true inspiration. She always kept the best interest of the community in the forefront. Best wishes to you Susan in your retirement!!"
Christine Lau, Assistant Chief of Child Welfare, Department of Children and Families
“Your relentless pursuit of high-quality care has improved the lives of so many. It was a pleasure working with you. All the best in your retirement.”
Claudio Capone, Regional Vice President of Strategic Planning and Business Development, Trinity Health Of New England
LOCAL AND STATEWIDE LEADERS
"It has been a pleasure working with Susan over the years. Susan has also put the needs of the community first. I believe among her many accomplishments is the FQHC, which was very insightful. I wish Susan much Health and Happiness in her retirement."
State Representative Catherine Abercrombie (D-83)
employees past and present
"Hard-working, dedicated, a leader above the rest. You will be greatly missed at Wheeler Clinic. Thank you for the opportunity to work with you and to have you as a mentor. Love you and all the best to you on your retirement."
Dawn Tyson, Former Case Manager