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Governor Shapiro Honors 56 Commonwealth Employees for Exceptional Achievements in 2023 and Continued Dedication to Public Service

06/17/2024

Commonwealth employees received the Governor's Awards for Excellence for their public service contributions to key efforts like the I-95 reconstruction, the Chester County manhunt, protecting consumers from financial loss, clearing backlogs for workers' benefits, and more.

Harrisburg, PA – Today, Governor Josh Shapiro joined Secretary of Administration Neil Weaver to present the Governor's Awards for Excellence to 56 Commonwealth employees from 12 state agencies and thanked all state employees for their dedication to public service.

“I believe government can and should be a productive force for good. We have a profound responsibility to make Pennsylvanians' lives better, solve problems, and get stuff done to deliver real results – and today I'm proud to recognize the many public servants who go to work every day ready to serve and deliver real results for the people of Pennsylvania," said Governor Josh Shapiro. “Whether it was the Unemployment Compensation Team at L&I who took on an enormous backlog of 40,000 claims in just seven months, or the I-95 Reconstruction Team who worked around the clock to get such an important roadway back open in just 12 days, or the brave men and women of the Pennsylvania State Police who put their lives on the line to keep their fellow Pennsylvanians safe – these outstanding public servants demonstrated initiative, leadership, creativity, and teamwork. Pennsylvania truly has the most dedicated group of public servants in the nation, and I am humbled to work alongside our Commonwealth employees as we continue to get stuff done for Pennsylvania."

The annual Governor's Awards for Excellence recognize exemplary Commonwealth employees or groups of employees for initiative, leadership, innovation, and increased efficiency. Thirty-two state agencies submitted a total of 213 nominations prepared by their employees, with four individuals and six group nominations selected as recipients for this year's awards. 

“Commonwealth employees do their jobs each day with professionalism, integrity, and dedication. The recipients of the Governor's Awards for Excellence are the epitome of public service, and we are honored to recognize them for their exceptional service for the people of Pennsylvania," said Secretary of Administration Neil Weaver, whose office administers the awards program. “Their accomplishments exemplify the many ways that people can serve in state government and make a positive difference in people's lives."

This year's award recipients are:

Money Transmitter Closure Response Team – Department of Banking and Securities

Rosemarie Caligiuri, Quiana Davis, Theresa Jones, Lynne Rupp, Lisa Shymanski, and Jonathan Smith

For providing relief to consumers following the closure of a money transmitter that had issued approximately $1.4 million worth of unfunded money orders. Money orders are typically used by the unbanked in Pennsylvania for paying bills, rent, and loan payments. Following the closure of the money transmitter, the Consumer Services and Non-Depository Financial Institutions teams put together a relief plan and worked long hours to ensure this vulnerable population received refunds and were not further harmed by the situation, through eviction, utility shutoffs, late payment fees, or other unfortunate outcomes. All consumers affected by the closure received relief and were made whole within four months of the Department of Banking and Securities (DoBS) team receiving the first complaint.

Michelle Lipko – Department of Corrections

For establishing a Certificate in Business program in partnership with Lackawanna College for inmates at State Correctional Institution – Waymart. The program offers 15 credits that are transferable to more than 40 colleges and universities so students can pursue an associate or bachelor's degree upon their release. Educational opportunities have been proven to reduce recidivism rates, and this program, along with several others that Ms. Lipko coordinated at SCI-Waymart, will give re-entrants the tools necessary for better, more productive futures.

Moriah Harding – Office of State Inspector General

For vigilance on the job, which resulted in identifying and preventing a potential violent crime from occurring at a school. Special Agent Harding, while on duty at a County Assistance Office, engaged with a person of suspicion and heard unusual clicking noises coming from beneath their clothes. When the individual began to walk in the direction of a nearby high school, Special Agent Harding notified police, who arrested the suspect and found a gun and several rounds of ammunition. Thanks to Special Agent Harding's awareness and swift action, lives were undoubtedly saved, and students and the community were protected from a horrific crime.

Street Medicine Policy Team – Department of Human Services

Wanda Balmer, Margaret Christie, Summerann Clarke, Evangeline Cullers, Melody Hertzog, Pamela Machamer-Peechatka, Shivani Patel, Rebecca Robey, Maki Traynor, and Benny Varghese

For developing policy to implement street medicine in Pennsylvania. In a phased approach, this team paved the way for physicians, certified nurse midwives, certified registered nurse practitioners, physician assistants, psychologists, and mental health treatment providers to, via Medicaid, provide and bill for street medicine in July 2023. Policy was further expanded in October 2023 to include dentists, podiatrists, rural health clinics, peer support services, and tobacco cessation providers, among others. The new policy allows individuals who are experiencing homelessness to access healthcare in their living environments. Pennsylvania is now one of only three Medicaid programs in the nation to reimburse for street medicine.

Lindsi Swartz – Pennsylvania Insurance Department

For efforts to ensure that health insurers are covering mental health benefits fairly and as required by law. Following Governor Shapiro's direction to make mental health parity a true reality in Pennsylvania, Ms. Swartz developed and oversaw a new front-end review process for health insurance policies sold in the individual and small group markets in the Commonwealth, that helped to address parity compliance issues before they became complaints. Building on this, the Insurance Department issued a bulletin requiring all commercial insurers in Pennsylvania to consistently define Autism services as mental health benefits and therefore subject to parity requirements. Ms. Swartz's parity work has garnered national attention and solidified Pennsylvania's standing as a leader in mental health parity review.

Pandemic UC Backlog Team – Department of Labor & Industry

Hanima Amara, Susan Dickinson, David Dodson-Andrews, Sally Piatak, William Piatak, Shawn Price, Nsungwe Shamatutu, and Melissa Stover

For resolving the pandemic-era unemployment compensation (UC) claim backlog. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania's UC system experienced a surge unlike any other in its 107-year history. Under the UC team's leadership, a workload of 40,000 claims filed between March 2020 and November 2021 that required individual examination and adjudication was eliminated within seven months. In addition, 34,000 outstanding fraud reports were resolved by August 2023. This team also worked to improve the UC system overall, hiring more staff, upgrading the online system, and extending indefinitely a program that connects UC claimants with in-person assistance at PA CareerLink® locations.

Nikos Bilianis – Pennsylvania State Police

For saving at least two children, and even more potential victims, from sexual abuse situations. Following lengthy, difficult investigations, Corporal Bilianis was able to identify, locate, and effectuate the arrests of multiple individuals from at least four different states who were actively sexually abusing young children and producing and distributing child sex abuse material. In addition, under his supervision, the Southeast Computer Crime Task Force Unit initiated 113 criminal investigations, arrested 30 individuals for child sexual abuse-related crimes, and investigated 110 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children cyber tips in 2023.

State Police Aviation Maintenance Section – Pennsylvania State Police

Brian Cavada, Carl Swiger, and Mitchell Walker

For working to inspect the six State Police helicopters to ensure that the fleet is safe, legal, air-worthy, and mission-capable, for use in several high-profile incidents in 2023. Most notably, the Chester County convict search in September involved almost all the helicopters and more than 180 hours of flight time during the 14-day operation. Through this team's effort, the fleet maintained a 78 percent operation rate in 2023 and saw a 20 percent increase in total hours flown from the previous year. In addition, by performing maintenance services in-house, the State Police has seen a significant reduction in costs for related contracted vendor services.

I-95 Reconstruction Team – Department of Transportation

Din Abazi, David Adams, Louis Belmonte, Charles Davies, Andrew Firment, Daniel Gleason, Daniel Graham, Francis Hanney, Krys Johnson, Brad Rudolph, and Harold Windisch

For the extraordinary emergency response and construction efforts following the I-95 bridge collapse in Northeast Philadelphia. Thanks to agency coordination and collaboration, prompt emergency declarations allowed for the use of emergency procurement procedures and emergency federal funds. Demolition and material procurement began less than eight hours after the tanker truck fire started, detours were put into effect to minimize the impact to travelers as much as possible, and 24/7 operations ensured productivity without sacrificing worker safety. With the nation's eyes on PennDOT's reconstruction efforts, I-95 was reopened in just 12 days. The swift and unprecedented response effort saved millions of dollars in potential economic impact and showed the world that “Pennsylvania Gets Stuff Done."

East Palestine Train Derailment Response Team – Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and Departments of Health, Environmental Protection, and Agriculture

Philip Barker, Michael Hajjar, Kevin Halloran, Paul Hoffman, Brian Holler, Charles Hughes, Michael Kane, Claudia Madrigal, Tisha Patinski, Walter Remmert, Carolyn Rivera, Anita Schilling, Arlene Seid, and Katie Sneeringer

For the response effort following the February 3, 2023, train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, affecting Pennsylvania residents living in Darlington Township and the surrounding areas. As part of the multi-agency response, a health resource center (HRC) was established to provide information and address concerns from those affected. Department of Health staff screened individuals with clinical health concerns and staff from the Departments of Environmental Protection and Agriculture were available to answer questions on air, water, soil, and agricultural issues. The HRC was staffed for more than three weeks, providing care, information, resources, and support for those in the community impacted by the derailment.

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