Once a Marine, Always a Marine

Wearing his Dress Blue-Whites, Neal Fisher awaits giving a speech at a Memorial Day celebration in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands during his final year in the Marine Corps.

Our Akoya Military Health System team wouldn’t be complete without veterans, whose unique perspectives on military life and operations are a crucial component of our success in working with the Department of Defense’s Defense Health Agency (DHA). This month, in recognition of Veterans Day, we will profile Akoyans who have served our country.

Neal Fisher joined our team in 2015 and writes and implements communications plans for DHA’s communications shop.

Neal’s military story started in 1992, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves. He spent five years as a member of Company A, 863rd Engineer Battalion in Kankakee, Illinois, and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant before requesting an inter-service transfer to the active duty Marine Corps and Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. He was commissioned in April 1998 and was selected to serve as a Field Artillery Officer following his completion of The Basic School in October 1998.

In 2001, the Marine Corps offered Neal a tour of duty in Public Affairs. “I thought Public Affairs/Communications would be a relaxing tour of duty after three hard years in artillery,” he says. Then 9/11 happened.

“After receiving orders to the Pentagon, and then experiencing the terrorist attack on September 11 from just 25 miles away at the Defense Information School, my misguided impression of Public Affairs as an easy job changed very quickly,” Neal says. 

Neal returned to artillery after his time as a public affairs officer at the Pentagon and says that he was fortunate to experience “the challenge and honor” of commanding a field artillery battery, leading 155 Marines for 14 months.

But Neal’s interest in public affairs never waned. “Though I considered commanding Marines the highlight of my military career, the daily challenge of public affairs and communicating with the public on behalf of the Marine Corps was unmatched,” he says. “In 2007, I committed to Public Affairs full time, relinquishing Field Artillery as my primary specialty.”

In 2015, Neal left the Marines with the goal of becoming a civilian public affairs professional. Someone directed him to Akoya two weeks after he and his family moved to northern Virginia, where his wife Yvonne had accepted a new job.

Neal appreciates the challenge and reward of working in dynamic and highly visible communications environments. “I have always loved the adrenaline rush of responding to a crisis situation, or the challenge of developing a communication plan that immediately produces ‘something,’” he says.

Working for DHA has been an enriching opportunity for Neal. While his military experience informs how he communicates with the military community and TRICARE beneficiaries, he had never previously worked in military medicine. Joining the Washington, DC, chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives helped him gain a different perspective on healthcare management and administration, and he credits Yvonne, a healthcare administrator, with helping him understand the language and mindset of healthcare outside of the military. “This has been very valuable in working the accounts I’ve been assigned here in the DHA Communications Division,” he says.

Outside of the office, Neal is an avid motorcyclist. He and Yvonne both have their own Harley-Davidsons and they are members of the Harley Owners Group (HOG). They also rode with Ma’Gachong, a  motorcycle club for married couples, when they lived in Guam. Neal recommends riding along the southern stretch of Route 1 in Guam, between the villages of Agat and Talofofo, for its amazing views of mountains and the ocean.

Neal is the proud father of two teenage sons, three adult stepchildren, and two adopted daughters, ages 11 and 7, who he and Yvonne fostered while stationed in Guam. And of course, Neal is “once a Marine, always a Marine.”

Neal and his wife Yvonne at Talofofo Falls Park in Guam

Akoya Wins MarCom Awards

We are pleased to announce that our work has earned recognition in the 2017 MarCom Awards, an annual creative competition for marketing and communications professionals.

Three of our projects were selected as MarCom Gold Winners: a fundraising report for The Midwife Center of Pittsburgh, a benefits awareness campaign for Puget Sound Military Health System, and the feature article “D-Day Through the Eyes of Combat Medic, 73 Years Later” for the Military Health System.

Additionally, our 2017 National Nurses Week campaign for the Military Health System earned an honorable mention.

MarCom is sponsored and judged by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals. A full list of winners can be found on their website.

Preparing Military Surgeons, Caring for Military Families

To keep their skills in top form, military surgeons need a sizeable and clinically complex caseload. That’s why “recapturing care”—encouraging TRICARE-eligible military personnel, families, and retirees within driving distance of a military treatment facility to seek care there first rather than at civilian medical facilities—is a strategic priority for the Defense Health Agency .

Akoya recently wrapped up our engagement supporting a successful recapture pilot program at the Puget Sound Military Health System (MHS). Our integrated marketing campaign emphasized the superb care the system provides to patients and its unique strengths in serving the military community. One of our challenges was creating a unifying brand for the consolidated Puget Sound MHS, which includes Army, Navy, and Air Force facilities that were traditionally operated independently. Another was supporting internal communications to convey the new business plan and processes that are driving high quality, effectiveness, and efficiency across the system.

The new brand, along with a suite of patient-centric marketing tools, has raised the profile of the system as a preferred provider for TRICARE beneficiaries. Many thanks to our project lead, Carrie Petershagen, who has accepted a permanent position at the Puget Sound MHS starting next month to continue the good work!

Akoya to Manage Logistics for 2018 DesignLights Consortium Annual Meeting

For the third consecutive year, the Boston-based DesignLights Consortium has chosen Akoya to manage logistics for its annual stakeholder meeting, scheduled for summer 2018 in DLC’s home city.

Akoya will work with the client to help select and negotiate contracts with venues and vendors, manage registration and the room block, supervise all logistics for the run of the event, and oversee post-event wrap up for this conference of 250+ lighting designers and manufacturer representatives.

Akoya’s Role With Defense Health Agency Expanded

Transforming one of the largest health care delivery systems in the world entails monumental communication challenges, even in a disciplined structure like the U.S. military. Leaders responsible for standing up the Defense Health Agency (DHA) in 2013 had just two years to reach full operational capacity, integrating the management of functions previously executed by the individual services. In 2014, Akoya was honored to be selected by DHA as prime contractor for strategic communications during this start-up period. We continue to support the agency by effectively engaging all the diverse constituencies vital to its mission success.

The Department of Defense recently expanded Akoya’s contract for DHA to include health communications support in the National Capital Region and to support the broad policy and operational issues within the Military Health System by driving more integrated communications across the enterprise. Under this expanded contract, we are thrilled to be working more closely with the Military Health System to communicate health policy and services to military members, family members, and retirees in the Washington, DC, and surrounding areas.

Kudos to our dedicated Akoya team in Falls Church, Virginia!

A Night on the North Shore for Cleaner Waterfronts

Illustration: Mark Bender/Riverlife

Akoyans are always happy to join the party–especially if it’s for a good cause. We love doing our part to make our hometown a better place, and we’re proud to support Riverlife in their mission to make Pittsburgh’s riverfronts cleaner, safer, and more fun for everyone.

As a corporate sponsor of this year’s royalty-themed War of the Rosés fundraiser, Akoya was represented nobly by partner Genna Cavanaugh and her husband Sean, who danced, braved the waves on an Allegheny River paddleboat, and enjoyed all things pink throughout the whimsical North Shore fête.

Partners in the Lighting Revolution

Does government investment in research really make a difference? It is hard to find a more successful example than the solid-state lighting field. In just under a decade, modest yet strategic investments spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have been instrumental in moving LED lighting from the lab to a position of strength in many lighting niches—an achievement recently praised in a July 2017 assessment by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. In our program support role for the DOE Solid-State Lighting Program, Akoya has been a partner in this ongoing work to revolutionize lighting technology.

And the work continues! DOE recently exercised another option year on our contract, which makes 10 years of Akoya supporting the emergence of this game-changing technology. Fully tapping the potential of LED and organic LED technologies to save energy and improve lighting performance will not only mean cultivating the existing SSL lighting partners in industry and academia, but also reaching new diverse audiences. Cheers to Akoya’s remarkable SSL team.

FAIR:PLAY Drives Advocacy, Equal Opportunities for Female Athletes

Too many Pennsylvania schools get a poor grade when it comes to providing equitable athletic opportunities for female students. Is your school one of them? Just a few minutes on FAIR:PLAY, a new website from the Women’s Law Project and the FISA Foundation, will help you find out.

Developed by students and volunteer mentors in a February 2017 hackathon sponsored by Akoya, FAIR:PLAY crunches millions of data points reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Education through a simple-to-use tool, designed to help parents, students, and communities advocate for a fair share of health-enhancing, leadership-developing sports opportunities for girls. 

Akoya partner Nancy Reese introduced the web site at a launch party at Google’s Pittsburgh office on September 27.

Akoya Welcomes New Strategic Outreach Communications Manager

Jane Acton

Jane Acton

We’re thrilled to welcome Jane Acton to our Military Health System (MHS) team as the strategic outreach communications manager. In her new role, she’ll coordinate campaigns to support the mission of the MHS and develop strategic plans to keep internal and external stakeholders informed and engaged.

Jane brings more than three decades of experience in strategic communications, publication production, and event planning and management across the private, government, and nonprofit sectors. She has previously worked for the MHS and has held leadership positions in marketing and PR for two major league sports teams. She’s also a certified etiquette coach.

Akoyans Assemble at a Retreat to Remember

akoya-chili-cookoff

Always prepared for a team challenge, Sarah and Matt chop ingredients for their team’s winning chili.

Earlier this month, Akoyans from around the country convened for three days of team building and relaxation at the historic Bedford Springs resort in idyllic Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania. The retreat was a wonderful reminder of why we love working for a small business like Akoya. When we come together, things aren’t strictly business — we gather for camaraderie, good food, and good fun.

Several new team members have joined Akoya over the past couple of years; many of us working in different locations had our first chance to meet each other in person. Breaking bread together and roasting marshmallows around the fire pit made fast friends out of Akoyans assigned to different contracts who normally don’t get to work with one another.

The memorable main team building activity was also replete with food. Divided into five teams, we felt the heat of boiling pots, spices, and competition as we put our culinary skills to the test to see who could concoct the best chili in a short amount of time. (Congratulations to Sarah, Genna, Matt, Neal, and Angel for your winning recipe!)

On the work front, we discussed ways we can better review our performances on the job, facilitate communication between team members at multiple sites, and showcase our successes to prospective clients.

We made sure everyone had ample time to spend with their guests and explore Bedford Springs and the resort. Some of us enjoyed the resort’s pool, golf course, and hiking trails, while others ventured into town to investigate the local antique stores and boutiques.

Everyone expressed satisfaction with the outcomes — a quick yet welcome break from our day-to-day office activities and a renewed readiness to make the work that we do better than ever.

Supporting Midwives, Fostering Healthier Communities

midwifereportThanks to a successful capital campaign and facility expansion, Pittsburgh is now home to the largest freestanding birth center in the United States, The Midwife Center for Birth & Women’s Health. Akoya proudly supported this effort—and had the honor to help publicize the results by designing this end-of-campaign report.

By raising $3.9 million, The Midwife Center (TMC) is now positioned to meet growing demand for its person-centered care in its LEED-certified facility, serving a large, diverse clientele. By strengthening its outreach to underserved communities, TMC also is better able to reduce barriers to care and improve health outcomes for women and infants in the Pittsburgh region.

The quality of outcomes achieved by TMC is evident in a few key statistics. Compared to national averages, TMC has three times fewer cesarean deliveries, four times fewer preterm births, and an astonishing 800 times fewer incidents of low birth weight—a serious condition closely associated with inhibited growth and cognitive development, as well as chronic diseases later in life. With this track record, it is no wonder than TMC is emerging as a national leader in safe, personalized birth center care and is dedicated to educating future generations of midwives.

HRSA Hospital Organ Donation Campaign Surpasses 400,000 Donor Registrations

Results are in for the 2017 Hospital Organ Donation Campaign, sponsored by HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and coordinated by Akoya. For the first time, more than 1,000 hospitals participated in the annual campaign, adding nearly 27,000 new donor registrations in a seven-month period. The campaign has added more than 419,000 new registrations since its launch in 2011.

The campaign is part of HRSA’s Workplace Partnership for Life initiative, which Akoya has supported since its inception in 2001. The initiative enlists workplaces across the country to promote organ, eye, and tissue donation. Akoya helped conceptualize the Hospital July2017_FBCampaign structure, branding, and outreach materials and engages campaign partners. From October through April each year, hospitals can record their outreach efforts on a digital scorecard and earn points that translate into recognition from HRSA and other national organizations.

We’re proud to have earned our own recognition for the Hospital Campaign, having won PR Daily’s 2014 Nonprofit PR Award for Best Membership/Recruiting Campaign and two 2012 Communicator Awards of Excellence. We’re even prouder to have played an instrumental role in launching and growing the campaign and to see our hospital partners take charge of promoting the life-saving mission of organ donation.

We look forward to the 2018 phase of the campaign, which launches October 1. For more information, visit the Hospital Campaign web page.