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The Staff

Russell K. Portenoy, MD, Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer

Russell K. Portenoy, MD
Executive Director, MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care
Chief Medical Officer, MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care
Professor of Neurology and Family and Social Medicine,
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Russell K. Portenoy, MD, is Executive Director of the MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care, Chief Medical Officer of MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care, and Professor of Neurology and Family and Social Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is a neurologist trained in both pain medicine and palliative care. After his training, he worked at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he became Co-Chief of the Pain and Palliative Care Service. He departed Sloan-Kettering in 1997 to become the founding Chairman of the Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York–the first department of its kind in the country. In 2010, he began his association with MJHS after it acquired the Jacob Perlow Hospice from Beth Israel. He moved to MJHS full-time in 2014 to be Chief Medical Officer of MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care and Executive Director of a new academic entity, the MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care.

Throughout his career, Dr. Portenoy has divided his time among clinical practice, administration, teaching and research. In 1986, he became the founding Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, an international peer-reviewed palliative care journal. He edited this journal until 2019 and has served on the editorial boards of numerous other scientific journals. Dr. Portenoy co-edits the major textbook in palliative care, the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine, and has published 23 books and hundreds of papers and chapters on topics in palliative care and pain and symptom management.

Dr. Portenoy has also been an active volunteer, devoting time to national organizations dedicated to palliative care. He was president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine in 2008-2009 and served on the Academy’s Board of Directors from 2005-2009. He became a Trustee of the American Board of Hospice and Palliative Medicine in 1997 and was its chair in 2006, when the Board successfully achieved U.S. subspecialty status for Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

Dr. Portenoy has been elected one of 30 “Visionaries” in palliative care by the membership of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and has received the Academy’s 2008 Project on Death in America (PDIA) Palliative Medicine National Leadership Award, 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award, and 2020 Gerald H. Holman Distinguished Service Award. He is also the recipient of the 2015 Galen Miller Leadership Award of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the 2016 Ventafridda Prize for Research from the European Association for Palliative Care.

“The faculty of the MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care shares my commitment to improving the care of the chronically ill through palliative care and hospice, to expanding scientific knowledge that can benefit vulnerable patients and their families, and contributing to our field through education and professional training. We have strong support for our work at MJHS.”

–Russell K. Portenoy, MD

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Ebtesam Ahmed, PharmD, MS
Director of Pharmacy Internship
MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care
Clinical Professor,
St. John’s University

Dr. Ebtesam Ahmed is Director of the Pharmacy Internship for the MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care. She is a delegate for the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care and a frequent speaker at major academic medical centers and medical conferences about various pain-related topics to physicians, pharmacists and other health care providers.

Dr. Ahmed teaches extensively in the Doctor of Pharmacy curriculum on pain management, palliative care, hospice and end-of-life care. She has authored many book chapters and peer-reviewed articles on pain management, opioid pharmacotherapy in cancer patients and other topics.

A Clinical Professor at St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Dr. Ahmed earned her Doctor of Pharmacy from St. John’s University and completed a post-graduate residency in pharmacy practice with a focus on pain management in palliative care at the University of California, San Francisco. She also holds a master’s degree in bioethics from Columbia University.

Dr. Brenda Breuer, Research Scientist

Brenda Breuer, PhD, MPH
Research Scientist
MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care
Associate Professor of Family and Social Medicine,
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Dr. Brenda Breuer is an epidemiologist and Research Scientist at the Institute and Associate Professor of Family and Social Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She has a PhD in biochemistry and an MPH in epidemiology. Her current interest is assessing the prescribing/deprescribing practices of opioids for US nursing home residents, who are vulnerable to adverse events because of their frailty and the many prescription drugs they receive. In the past, she was the Director of Epidemiologic Research at the Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, where she was the principal investigator of numerous studies funded by the federal and New York State governments, industry, and foundations. Her study of oncologists’ practices of the management of chronic cancer pain alerted professionals and popular media to the need of improvement in this area. She also instructed department members in epidemiology.

Earlier in her career, Dr. Breuer held positions at the Jewish Home Lifecare, Strang Cancer Prevention Center, and the Hospital for Joint Diseases as an epidemiologist in geriatrics, cancer, and pain, respectively. Dr. Breuer also was an infectious diseases epidemiologist at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she published a seminal paper on the transmission of hepatitis B to staff and student classroom contacts of deinstitutionalized hepatitis B carriers, which was the basis for the policy of hepatitis B vaccination for this group.

Dr. Breuer has published more than 50 papers in peer-reviewed journals and has presented findings of her studies at numerous national and international conferences.

Dr. Lara Dhingra, Director of Health Disparities and Outcomes Research

Lara Dhingra, PhD
Director of Health Disparities and Outcomes Research
MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care
Associate Professor of Family and Social Medicine,
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Dr. Lara Dhingra is the Director of Health Disparities and Outcomes Research at the MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care and an Associate Professor of Family and Social Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Dhingra is a clinical psychologist with expertise in palliative care and health services research. Her career has focused on improving the quality of life of patients with serious chronic illness and on health disparities research.

Dr. Dhingra is nationally known and has chaired the Pain and Disparities Special Interest Group for the American Pain Society and the Pain Special Interest Group for the Society of Behavioral Medicine. She has served as Associate Editor for the journal Ethnicity and Health, and is currently Associate Editor of the journal Pain Medicine. She has published widely and is the recipient of multiple grants, including a research grant from the NIH Health Disparities Loan Repayment Program.

During the past few years, she has directed two studies focused on the underserved Chinese-American community (“Development of an Evidence-based Toolkit to Improve ACP for Underserved Chinese-American Immigrants,” funded by The New York Community Trust, and a 5-year American Cancer Society Research Scholar Grant, “Quality Improvement for Symptom Control in Underserved Chinese Patients”). She led a OneCity Health Innovations Award-funded project to improve access to palliative care (“Achieving Best Practices in Advance Care Planning and Hospice Referral: A Novel Nurse-Mediated Collaborative Practice Approach for Primary Care”), and is Co-Principal Investigator of a national project to create a new model of palliative care for patients with cystic fibrosis (“Pragmatic Implementation Trial of a Cystic Fibrosis Primary Palliative Care Intervention,” a multi-site study supported by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation). Current studies also include: “Race/ethnicity and Pressure Ulcers in Nursing Homes” funded by the Donaghue Medical Research Foundation, and “Understanding Causes of Hospice Utilization in New York State,” funded by the MJHS Foundation.

Dr. Myra Glajchen, Director of Medical Education

Stephanie DiFiglia, PhD
Research Project Manager
MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care

Stephanie DiFiglia, PhD, is the Research Project Manager for Health Disparities and Outcomes Research at the MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care. Dr. DiFiglia is an Applied Developmental Psychologist who received her doctorate from Fordham University, with a focus on health and well-being throughout the lifespan. She completed a research internship at The New Jewish Home where she published research relating to predictors of post-acute care transitions. Following this position, she worked as a Research Project Manager at Fordham University’s School of Social Work, became Deputy Academic Director of the M.S. Applied Analytics program at Columbia University, and did consultative work in research and evaluation. She assumed her current position in January 2021.

Dr. DiFiglia has engaged in research and administrative roles, as well as teaching appointments at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She is also a yoga and meditation teacher and coach, using research knowledge and training of mind-body techniques to optimize individuals’ quality of life.

Dr. DiFiglia received the 2013 John R. Hayes Award for best article in the Journal of Writing Research over the preceding two years, a Research Support Grant from the Fordham Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 2015, and the Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging’s Innovative Research on Aging Award in 2018.

“Working to improve the care and lives of those with chronic illnesses through impactful research at the MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care provides a deep sense of meaning to the work we do each day. I am grateful to be part of a community with such a strong commitment to service.”

–Stephanie DiFiglia, PhD

Dr. Myra Glajchen, Director of Medical Education

Myra Glajchen, DSW, MSW, BSW, ACSW, APHSW-C
Director of Education and Training
MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care
Assistant Professor of Family and Social Medicine,
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Dr. Myra Glajchen is widely known as a clinician, educator, and researcher for her work in oncology, caregiver burden, pain, palliative care and social work. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds both a master’s and a doctorate in Social Work from Columbia University.

As Director of Medical Education in the MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care, Dr. Glajchen manages the Fellowship in Hospice and Palliative Medicine and the Internship in Social Work. As Principal Investigator for the grant-supported National Consensus Project to Define Core Competencies and an Educational Curriculum for Generalist-Level Palliative Social Work, Dr. Glajchen is conducting a study which will yield consensus-derived core competencies for generalist-level palliative social work, and guide development of a new training course for front-line clinicians in healthcare.

Prior to joining the MJHS Institute, Dr. Glajchen served as Director of the Institute for Education and Training at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. During this time, she created the family caregiver initiative to improve the well-being of caregivers facing advanced illness. She led the research team that validated the Brief Assessment Scale for Caregivers (BASC) in English and Chinese, published bilingual handbooks and designed an award-winning online resource. In addition, Dr. Glajchen was Associate Director of two accredited fellowships; oversaw electives; and participated in development of continuing medical education conferences.

Internationally recognized for her scholarship, Dr. Glajchen’s leadership roles include board member for the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network, Co-Editor for the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Care Communication, Book Review Editor for the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Continuing Education Provider for Social Work in New York State, past Board Member for the National Cancer Institute, and past Associate Editor for PC-FACS.

Dr. Helena Knotkova, Director of Clinical Research and Analytics

Helena Knotkova, PhD, PhilD
Director of Clinical Research and Analytics
Associate Professor of Family and Social Medicine,
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care

I received a PhD in biological sciences/neuroscience from the Institute of Physiology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, in Prague, and a doctorate in psychology from Charles University, Prague, and completed a Fulbright Scholarship at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, New York.

My research interests include studies of novel approaches to symptom control in chronic illness with a specific focus on noninvasive neuromodulation. I have extensive practical experience with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in clinical and research settings, and I lead the MJHS Neuromodulation Program. I have served as principal investigator on multiple studies and collaborative projects examining the potential of tDCS for symptoms common in chronic illness, such as pain or cognitive and mood disturbances.

Besides my research work, I am active in the professional community and serve as educator and mentor. I have co-founded and co-direct the international CME-accredited tDCS Fellowship, co-direct tDCS Hands-on Workshops, and direct the MJHS Internship on Neurostimulation and Biomedical Research. I have served as leading editor of several textbooks on neuromodulation, such as the Practical Guide to the Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, the Textbook of Neuromodulation and the books Brain Stimulation in the Treatment of Pain and Brain Plasticity in Chronic Pain. To facilitate collaborations within the neuromodulation community, I have founded and serve on the Executive Committee of the Special Interest Group on Neuromodulation of the International Association for the Study of Pain and serve on the IASP SIG Governance Task Force.

Dr. Pauline Lesage, Physician Educator

Pauline Lesage, MD, LLM
Physician Educator
MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care

Teaching has been a major part of Dr. Pauline Lesage’s career. At Sherbrooke University in Canada, she developed a program in palliative care and ethics and law at the Faculty of Medicine and also taught a master’s program course on the health care system.

When Dr. Lesage joined the department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care at Mount Sinai Beth Israel as Director of the Palliative Care Division, she developed and sustained the palliative care division and fellowship programs.

Dr. Lesage has contributed to multiple publications in the fields of palliative and hospice care, legal medicine and bioethics. She has authored articles on cancer pain, palliative care, legal aspects of medical practice and informed consent. Her master’s in law thesis is entitled “Withholding and Withdrawing Treatment.” She has lectured frequently on this topic and served on many ethics committees.

Dr. Lesage is a graduate of McGill University School of Medicine in Canada, and earned her master’s in law at Sherbrooke University in Canada.

Dr. Karen A. Richards, Director of Instructional Design, Media and Technology

Karen A. Richards, PhD, EdS, MS
Director of Instructional Design, Media and Technology
MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care
Adjunct Assistant Professor,
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Biomedical and Health Sciences, School of Health Professions

Dr. Karen Richards has been working in the field of e-learning and web development for the past 22 years, specializing in online scenario-based and problem-based learning. As a member of many awarding-winning teams, she has collaborated with nationally renowned subject-matter experts and talented on- and off-shore developers to advance not only the fields of online continuing medical and nursing education, but also healthcare consumer education. Her research and development interests are also focused on online interprofessional education.

Dr. Richards holds an appointment as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Rutgers University’s School of Health Professions, Dept. of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Counseling Professions, where she is works in instructional design and development. Her educational specialist postmaster’s degree and doctoral degree in computer technology in education are both from Nova Southeastern University, Florida.

Winifred Schein, BA, Director of Institutional Giving and Grants Management

Winifred Schein, BA
Director of Institutional Giving and Grants Management
MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care

Prior to joining the MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care, Wini Schein served for nine years as Director of Development and Special Funds for Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care. In that capacity, she brought in approximately $10 million in support from foundations, corporations and individuals for programmatic initiatives, palliative care fellowships, continuing medical education conferences and research. Ms. Schein also initiated an individual giving program, produced a series of e-newsletters for the department, and managed special funds including government grants and budgets. Previously, she was a Development Officer for St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center and Continuum Health Partners.

Ms. Schein has a B.A. in history from Queens College, CUNY and a certificate in financial development/nonprofit management from Adelphi University. She has also studied music at Dalcroze School of Music.