Meet our Faculty


Mary Ersek, PhD, RN

Mary Ersek is a faculty member in the University of Pennsylvania Schools of Nursing and Medicine. She is also a Senior Scientist with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Ersek has been involved with palliative care education, clinical care, and research for over 25 years.  Much of her research is focused on pain and palliative care for nursing home residents, including those with dementia. In her earlier projects, she developed comprehensive palliative care curricula and resources for interdisciplinary teams in nursing homes. She has successfully partnered with over 70 nursing homes in Washington State, New York State, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

To understand Dr. Ersek’s commitment to improving care in nursing homes, read her opinion piece in the New York Times:

Bob Burke, MD, MS, FHM

Dr. Burke is a hospitalist at the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, and a researcher interested in improving the outcomes of older adults receiving post-acute care in skilled nursing facilities.  He also works to improve health policy and payment reform in this setting.  He has skills in analyzing databases, conducting interviews, observing, mapping, and improving care processes, and implementing new interventions.  An example project he is interested in working with Collaborative members on would be an intervention to improve transitions of care from the hospital to nursing facilities.

Ashley Ritter, PhD, CRNP

As a Geriatric nurse practitioner, Ashley has worked with older adults across the spectrum of care settings. Her current clinical practice focuses on post hospitalization care for individuals with complex disease processes in a short-term rehabilitation facility. In this role, she focuses on advance care planning to promote wellness and quality of life. Her research incorporates her understanding of regulatory models and clinical practice to study and design care delivery systems that promote health for older adults. Previously, she coordinated the implementation of state and national initiatives to advance care delivery for older adults, including POLST (Pennsylvania Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment and the national NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders) Program.

Joan Carpenter, PhD, CRNP, ACHNP, FPCN

Joan is an advance practice nurse and researcher with over twenty years of experience working with individuals and families facing serious and complex illness. Her clinical practice providing palliative care consultations in nursing homes focuses on improving the quality of life, reducing symptom burden, and enhancing decision making of people and their family caregivers living with advanced serious illness. Joan’s research centers on developing and testing palliative care models in the post-acute skilled nursing facility setting.

Liza Behrens, PhD, RN

Liza Behrens is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, NewCourtland Center for Transitions and Health.  Dr. Behrens’ research interest is in the implementation of preference-based, person-centered care in nursing homes to improve the physical and psychological well-being of residents living with dementia. Her dissertation focused on exploring how nursing home staff perceive risk associated with honoring residents’ preferences for activities of daily living and care.

Dr. Behrens has more than 20 years of progressive experience providing nursing care to older adults in multiple care settings including psychiatric and medical hospitals, out-patient clinics, nursing homes, and home-based care. She has held many leadership positions in nursing and in clinical research, most recently as the Project Director for Implementing EIT-4-BPSD for Nursing Home Residents with Dementia Study.

Norma Coe, PhD

Norma B. Coe is an Associate Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine and Co-Director of the Population Aging Research Center (PARC). Her research interests are in health economics and public finance. Her work strives to identify causal effects of policies that directly and indirectly impact health, human behavior, health care access, and health care utilization. One focus of her research has been long-term care and long-term care insurance, trying to answer questions such as what is the relative quality and costs of care provided at home vs. in a nursing home, and how the changing landscape of long-term care delivery options (assisted living, home health) is changing the nursing home population, including payer mix and demographics.

Marie Boltz, PhD, RN, GNP-BC, FAAN

Marie Boltz is a Professor and the Elouise Ross Eberly and Robert Eberly Endowed Chair at The Pennsylvania State University College of Nursing. Her research focuses on dementia-capable models of care and family-centered interventions.  She serves as the Principal Investigator on a RO1 study that examines a nurse family partnership that promotes the post-acute functional recovery of hospitalized persons with dementia, and MPI of a NIA funded pragmatic trial testing function focused care in hospitalized persons with dementia.  She is an advisory member on a national NIA-funded  IMPACT Collaboratory dissemination and implementation work group, and Co-Project Director on a HRSA-funded Pennsylvania Collaboratory for Age and Dementia Friendly Care.

Rebecca Brown, MD, MPH

Rebecca Brown is a geriatrician and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. The overall goal of her research is to improve functional status and quality of life for socioeconomically vulnerable older adults. Her current work builds on these earlier findings to optimize function in both clinic and community settings. She currently has a Career Development Award from the National Institute on Aging focused on improving function and independence for older adults living in federally subsidized housing, as well as a VA grant focused on improving identification and management of functional impairment among older adults in primary care settings.

Nancy Hodgson, RN, PhD, FAAN

Nancy A. Hodgson, RN, PhD, FAAN is associate professor in the Department of Biobehavioral Health and Anthony Buividas Term Chair in Gerontology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. A nationally recognized nurse researcher, Dr. Hodgson’s career has been focused on the development, testing, and dissemination of person-centered and family-centered interventions for persons living with dementia. This work has helped to inform care practices for persons living with dementia and their caregivers through the development of palliative care protocols that address the leading symptoms in dementia that cause distress or impair quality of life. Dr. Hodgson is the co-founder of the Palliative Care Program at the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center (formerly the Philadelphia Geriatric Center) — one of the first nursing-home based palliative care programs in the nation.

Mary T. Hofmann, MD

Mary Hofmann is a geriatrician at the University of Pennsylvania and the Medical Director of the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center Community Living Center. She is a Certified Medical Director and is active in the American Geriatric Society and the American Medical Directors Association.

Dr. Hofmann has extensive experience in long-term care, having served as the medical director of Stapeley in Germantown, Rydal Park, Artman Lutheran Home, and Foulkeway in Gwynedd.

In addition to her clinical experience, Dr. Hofmann has been active in research in ageing, particularly in the long-term care setting and has published over 75 peer reviewed abstracts and manuscripts and has co-authored several book chapters.

Ann Kolanowski, PhD, RN, FAAN

Ann Marie Kolanowski is a professor emerita of nursing in the College of Nursing at Penn State, and a professor of psychiatry in the Penn State Hershey College of Medicine.

Her research focus is on the development and testing of non-pharmacological interventions for the behavioral and cognitive symptoms of dementia. She is currently a principal investigator on a NIH-funded project and is testing the effectiveness of an implementation strategy for helping staff integrate person-centered approaches for behavioral symptoms in long-term care settings. Dr. Kolanowski is also the principal investigator for the Recall Foundation grant: Geriatric Nursing Leadership Training Program for Optimizing Quality in Veterans Administration Long-Term-Care.

She has published numerous articles and received various honors, such as the Doris Schwartz Nursing Award and the John A. Hartford Geriatric Nursing Research Award.

Kira Ryskina, MD, MS

Kira L. Ryskina is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Penn. Her research aims to elucidate non-clinical factors that systematically influence physician practice of high– vs. low-value care. Dr. Ryskina is the recipient of a Career Development Award from the NIA to study physician specialization in nursing home care as a potential mechanism to improve the outcomes of patients receiving post-acute care in nursing homes. She completed clinical training in internal medicine and primary care at New York Presbyterian, Weill Cornell. She treats hospitalized patients at the University of Pennsylvania Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia, PA.

Justine Sefcik, PhD

Dr. Justine Sefcik received her PhD in Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania as well as a Masters in Bioethics from the UPenn School of Medicine. One her dissertation papers, titled “Nursing Home Residents with Advanced Dementia and Persistent Vocalisations: Observations of Surrounding Context”, was selected for the 2020 International Journal of Older People Nursing Award for Outstanding Methodological Innovation in Gerontological Nursing Research. Dr. Sefcik’s current NIH K23 Award entitled “A Person-Centered Environmental and Sensory Intervention for Nursing Home Residents with Dementia who Exhibit Persistent Vocalizations” aims to test the acceptability and feasibility of using a person-centered nature-based intervention in the nursing home setting.
Working with several interdisciplinary research teams to date, Dr. Sefcik has several publications on topics important to the field of gerontology including: behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, care of persons living with dementia and their caregivers, innovative interventions to support frail older adults and post-acute care decision-making.

Andrew Murray, BS

Andrew is a Research Project Manager in the Biobehavioral Sciences department at the University of Pennsylvania. His primary work involves improving Goals of Care Conversations for veterans living in Community Living Centers around the greater Philadelphia area .