CapNY Healthcare Professionals Taking the Lead

Dr. Sarah Pesek, Breast Surgeon
The Healthcare Cluster lays the foundation for CapNY’s vibrant economy, accounting for one in eight jobs regionwide. Major employers within the cluster include three major hospital systems as well as several health insurance companies.
One of those hospital systems is St. Peter’s Health Partners, a member of Trinity Health.

We had the honor of interviewing our local healthcare heroes and are pleased to highlight just a few individuals leading the way in providing excellent healthcare across CapNY. In this article, you’ll meet the following SPHP employees:

Dr. Vishwala Kasbekar, Physician with Capital Region Family Healthcare, a practice of SPHP
Dr. Sarah Pesek, Breast Surgeon
Dr. Thea Dalfino, Chief Medical Officer of SPHP Acute Care
Dr. Catherine Adams, Chief of Pallative Medicine
Dr. Holly Payne, Pediatrician

Meet Dr. Vishwala Kasbekar, Physician with Capital Region Family Healthcare, a practice of SPHP

Meet Dr. Vishwala Kasbekar, Physician with Capital Region Family Healthcare, a practice of SPHP

Where are you from? Where in CapNY do you live now?

I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana but grew up in Monmouth County, New Jersey.  I currently live in the Latham area. I was looking for jobs from Boston to Washington, DC during my job search in preparation from graduating from residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.  I have traveled a lot for school.  I started at the University of Rochester for undergraduate degree and then went to George Washington University Mailman School of Public Health in Washington, DC for my master’s degree; followed by the island of Grenada for medical school at St. George’s University.  At the end of the day, I am an East Coast girl who wanted to stay close to home base in NJ.  CapNY was close to family and allowed me to be close to other major cities like Boston and New York City. 

Describe your role and how you ended up in the field

I was a determined child. Even as a child I knew I wanted to be a physician. I truly believe that if one is afforded the opportunity to succeed and shown how from a young age, they are able to achieve anything on their journey. As I grew up, I made sure that I took every opportunity available to explore this dream, which included going to a career academy high school that was geared towards the medical-sciences, The Academy of Allied Health and Science (AAHS) in Neptune, NJ. I am still involved in my high school by sitting on the AAHS’s Advisory Council.  The intellectual curiosity that began while at AAHS allowed me to succeed in my undergraduate degree at the University of Rochester in Neuroscience, then in my Masters Degree in Public Health in International Health at George Washington University, and finally my medical degree at St. George’s University in Grenada.

I am currently practicing primary care as an Internal Medicine and Pediatrics physician at Capital Region Family Health Care, in Rensselaer, NY. I also work as a Physician Consultant at Siena College Health Services in Loudonville, NY.  I also am involved in a significant amount of administrative work at St. Peter’s Health Partners Medical Associates. 

I serve as the chairwoman of the Primary Care Joint Operating Committee, serve on the Quality and Compliance Committees of the Board, as well as serve as a member of the Board of Directors for St. Peter’s Health Partners Medical Associates.  My other administrative roles are at Innovative Health Alliance of New York (IHANY) as a member of the Governing Board and Chairwoman of the Membership and Network Development Committee.  At SPHPMA I have won awards for Service to the Organization in 2018 and Provider Excellence Award in 2019. 

What do you enjoy most about working for SPHP?

I have worked in healthcare since I was 16 years old, in the back of an Ambulance and I can honestly say the people I work with at my office are some of best people I have worked with in my career.  The camaraderie of my colleagues and staff in my office allows us to get our unending work done in an enjoyable way .  Working with people who understand that there are frustrating parts in our day, but we have to put our patients’ care first.  Also, the key to SPHPMA’s success is that our administrative team is approachable.  They understand and are frank with colleagues that there are some things that we can’t make change due to the way healthcare is right now however, they are always willing to listen and ready, willing, and able to be change agents when needed.

Favorite thing about living and working in CapNY?

The diversity.  Multicultural, socioeconomic, and industrial.  You can be in farm country in some parts and then travel a few miles down the road and be in a small city atmosphere.  This allows for a diversity of people as well, which makes being a physician enjoyable.  The performing arts buff in me loves all the venues from SPAC and the Egg to Proctors and The Capital Reparatory Theatre.  One of the first things I did when I moved here was buy a subscription to Broadway shows at Proctors. 

Meet Dr. Sarah Pesek, Breast Surgeon

Where are you from?

I am originally from a small town in Western PA about one hour north of Pittsburgh called Mercer. However, I lived in Burlington, VT for six years for residency and did a one year fellowship in Providence, RI.

Where in CapNY do you live now?

I currently live in Albany in the Helderberg neighborhood. I moved here for the job. I had been in New England for 7 years total before coming here and wanted to stay close to the skiing and hiking that I had come to love in residency in Vermont.

Describe your role. How did you end up in the breast surgery field?

I am a breast surgeon and take care of patients with benign and malignant breast disease. I also work with patients who are at higher risk of breast cancer to help manage their screening and risk. Not all my patients are surgical!

I started in general surgery after I fell in love with surgery during my third year of medical school.  I loved the immediate impact you can have on a patient. Once I was in residency, I was drawn to surgical oncology, specifically breast. I loved the subtle nuances of taking care of individual cancer patients and personalizing the plan for each patient. I also enjoyed the finesse involved in the surgeries and the challenge of leaving the patient with a breast or chest wall that looked good with minimal deformity after their surgery.

I was an awardee for the “40 under 40 in Cancer” presented by the Lynx Group in 2020. I am also a Fellow of the American College of surgeons, inducted in 2020.

What are you future career goals & how do you feel you can make a difference at SPHP?

I want to continue to work on my oncoplastic skills, meaning giving the patient the best cosmetic outcome I can after a breast surgery. I want to make it so people do not feel that they need to ask for a cosmetic closure as something special, but expect it as standard of care treatment.

I work with some pretty amazing people. My partner, my office manager and I came to SPHP all around the same time in 2015 and for a while it was just us. I am amazed at the solid breast surgery program we have built and grown.  My OR team is also amazing and I always look forward to seeing them. The research team in the cancer department has helped immensely in bringing in and running a clinical trial here as part of multisite study for breast cancer localization.

What’s your favorite thing about living and working in CapNY?

I enjoy hiking and became an ADK 46er in 2021. I love my neighborhood in Albany, especially my street. We all became very close during the pandemic and still do a Friday night wave/happy hour out on the sidewalk each week. Halloween on my street is also amazing. I got 400 trick or treaters last year! As to Albany in general, I like that it is a city that feels like a small community. It feels like everyone is connected in a good way.

Dr. Thea Dalfino, Chief Medical Officer of SPHP Acute Care

Where are you from? Where in CapNY do you live now?

CapNY native! I grew up in Clifton Park and currently live in North Greenbush.

How did you end up in this role?

It was a long road to become the Chief Medical Officer of St. Peter’s Health Partners Acute Care Hospitals. After graduating from Shenendehowa High School, I majored in Biology at SUNY Geneseo then went on to complete medical school at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. I met and married my husband while in medical school. He matched in neurosurgery at Albany Medical Center and I matched there in Internal Medicine. After completing residency I worked as a Hospitalist Physician at St. Peter’s before being promoted to the hospital’s first ever Chief of Hospital Medicine.

Over the next 13 years, the program grew from 10 providers to over 150 across 3 hospitals at its peak. I loved being able to split my time between the clinical practice of seeing patients in the hospital and running the hospitalist program, leading initiatives to improve the care of patients in the hospital, and learning about the business of medicine. In 2019 I graduated from Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College, with Master of Medical Management in 2019 and in 2021 became the first female Chief Medical Officer at St. Peter’s Health Partners.

Other rewards and recognitions include a 40 Under 40 from the Albany Business Review in 2011 and a Professional Achievement Award in 2012 from the SUNY Geneseo Foundation.

What’s challenging and what’s rewarding about your work?

Nothing is easy in healthcare right now. Colleagues who have worked for decades as physicians and nurses tell me they’ve never seen anything like it. What’s challenging is providing the highest quality care in the midst of a labor shortage. On a personal level, keeping up with the multitude of demands and projects is a daunting task.

There’s nothing quite as rewarding as making the right diagnosis or connecting with a patient or family and helping them through a difficult time. I don’t get to do frontline patient care as often as I’d like, but know that the work we’re doing with other leaders in the organization helps to improve care for the patients in CapNY. I love leading projects to create a safer, more efficient and compassionate work environment for our colleagues. The people are the most rewarding part of the job; I have the opportunity to work with some incredibly skilled leaders, physicians and nurses and learn from them every day.

What do you enjoy most about working for SPHP?

What I enjoy most about working for SPHP is the culture. Having been at numerous other hospitals throughout my training and career, I enjoy the compassionate, caring environment at SPHP. People not only care about patients, they care about each other.

What’s your favorite part about living and working in CapNY?

This is a tough question because there are a lot of things I love about the region. In the summer I love the close proximity to Lake George where we can go to our family’s house on the lake. In the winter I love the countless ski resorts near Albany. On a day to day basis I love that my children are receiving the same outstanding public school education that I received, that I don’t have any traffic on my daily commute and that I can live on 10 acres in the country and still make it to work in less than 20 minutes.

Dr. Catherine Adams, Chief of Pallative Medicine

Where are you from? Where in CapNY do you live now?

I am originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia and then did my medical school and residency training in Connecticut. Currently I am living in the hamlet of Slingerlands in Bethlehem. I wanted to settle down in an area with growth and leadership opportunities for me professionally as well as great schools for my son. I appreciate the variety of family events and activities available in Bethlehem as well as the short commute to work.

What are you future career goals & how do you feel you can make a different at SPHP?

While expanding palliative care services within St. Peter’s, Samaritan and Ellis hospitals, within the last year we have also developed a home-based palliative care program. It has been rewarding to be able to provide palliative care services to patients both earlier in their illness and in the comfort of their own homes. Both locally and nationally within the Trinity Health System, I am working on plans to expand the availability of this service.

What do you enjoy most about working for SPHP and living in CapNY?

I enjoy the family feel of working in a small community hospital while also having the opportunity to collaborate with palliative care leaders that are part of our larger Trinity Health system across the country. I also feel very fortunate that our Chief Clinical Officer Steve Hanks as well as the greater Trinity Health leadership understand and value the importance of palliative care.

My favorite thing about living in this region is access to the wide range of outdoor activities that help me make the most of my time away from work. From camping in the Adirondacks to fishing on Lake George, there are weekend activities within driving distance that I can enjoy with my family in all seasons.

Dr. Holly Payne, Pediatrician

Where are you from? Where in CapNY do you live now?

I’m originally from Cary, NC but my family and I are coming to New York from Kentucky, where we lived for six and a half years. We currently live in Clifton Park with our two young children.  I targeted the Northeast for a variety of factors, including culture and climate, and eventually narrowed my search down to New York state. When I saw this position available the area seemed like a great fit! There’s so much natural beauty here plus plenty of opportunities for my family.

Describe your role & how you ended up in pediatrics

I got into this kind of work because I enjoy helping families grow and watching children develop as individuals. There are a lot of challenges though, both general to any child and specific to some children, and that’s where families need a pediatrician to come alongside them and provide some assistance. I’ve found it’s better to teach healthy habits and lifestyles at a young age so children can keep those skills with them as they grow.  

People come from different backgrounds and experiences. There’s no one right answer for every child or every family, and that can be challenging to work through. Kids go through so many phases, not all of them easy! Helping to navigate through those difficult times and making a difference in their lives is rewarding.

What do you enjoy most about working for SPHP and living in CapNY?

There’s a wide network of specialists and referral options to make sure my patients are receiving the best and most appropriate care, hospital management has been respectful and collaborative, and I know I can rely on my partner in the practice. I feel like our patients are in good hands! As for CapNY, the parks! We have two energetic boys and having so many great options for outdoor play has been wonderful.