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Who We Are

UTHealth Houston

The Gulf Coast Regional Extension Center (GCREC) is a program within the UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics that provides health information technology (HIT) and care transformation services to medical practices in Southeastern Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. The GCREC region encompasses almost 11 million patients, comprising 44% of the Texas population. RECs were originally funded by the Office of the National Coordinator to promote the adoption, implementation, and meaningful use (MU) of electronic health records (EHRs) in the underserved, primary care provider settings. The GCREC has successfully helped over 2235 clinicians achieve their Meaningful Use goals and qualify for financial incentives. Currently, the GCREC has evolved to provide professional HIT consulting to clinicians and hospitals on a fee-for-service basis. The GCREC has a proven track record of working with Texas clinicians, FQHCs, and small hospitals to improve practice workflows, patient care, and patient safety through the optimized use of EHRs. Consultants provide project management assistance to enable practices to use the EHR to meet MU and Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) guidelines, as well as utilize quality measures both for regulatory reporting and to improve preventive care delivery. GCREC is working closely with providers to educate and align for preparation to attest to MIPS guidelines for the upcoming years.

Our Expertise

Our consultants are backed by years of experience and training, including the following professional designations:

  • Health IT technical support certification
  • Master of science degrees in health informatics
  • EHR vendor certification
  • Security Certification

Our Team

Susan Fenton, PhD, RHIA, FAHIMA
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Assistant Professor
Principal Investigator for the Gulf Coast Regional Extension Center
Direct: 713.500.3591
Email: SBMIAcademics@uth.tmc.edu

Susan Fenton

Susan Fenton, PhD, RHIA, FAHIMA, joined UT Health School of Biomedical Informatics (SBMI) on June 1, 2013 as an assistant professor of biomedical informatics. She came to SBMI from Texas State University in San Marcos, where she was an assistant professor and co-director of the Institute for Health Information Technology. In August 2014, Dr. Fenton transitioned into the role of associate dean for academic affairs, taking over the management responsibilities for the Office of Academic Affairs and helping the school acquire health informatics and information management education accreditation from CAHIIM for the applied health informatics program.

Dr. Fenton’s research interests include workforce development, data management, ICD-10 implementation and health care associated infections. Her interest in workforce development was limited to health IT professionals, but she sees a huge need to develop new methods for healthcare professionals to learn how to use information technology effectively. Her work with the ICD-10 is limited because her research is focused on various impacts related to its implementation, which will no longer be relevant in a few years after implementation is complete. As for health care associated infections, Dr. Fenton has a new project working with an industrial engineer who identifies failure points that result in HAIs. After the failure points are identified, they will determine the impact of the failure points on EHRs and documentation.

Jiajie Zhang, PhD
Dean/Past Principal Investigator
Direct: 713.500.3922
Email: jiajie.zhang@uth.tmc.edu

Jiajie ZhangJiajie Zhang, PhD, is the dean and Dr. Doris L. Ross Professor at UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics (SBMI). He serves as director of the National Center for Cognitive Informatics and Decision Making in Healthcare, for which he is principal investigator of the Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects Program’s patient-centered cognitive support initiative. Zhang has spent the past two decades conducting research in biomedical informatics, cognitive science, human-centered computing, decision making and information visualization. He has authored more than 120 journal articles, book chapters, and peer-reviewed proceedings papers. As an educator, he has taught courses in human-computer interaction, electronic health record usability, information visualization and technology-mediated social dynamics.

LaSonya Knowles, MS
Administrative Director
Direct: 713.500.3658
Email: Lasonya.D.Knowles@uth.tmc.edu

LaSonya Knowles

LaSonya Knowles is the Clinical Informatics Consulting Manager for the Gulf Coast Regional Extension Center (GCREC). In this position, she manages the consulting team for the gulf coast region. She holds a Masters of Science in Health Informatics from the University of Texas Health Science Center Houston and a Bachelors of Business Administration in Information Systems from Prairie View A&M University. Prior to joining the GCREC, LaSonya worked for MD Anderson Cancer Center for 10 years. She has experience in various areas of information technology, informatics and project management in the healthcare industry and brings 18 years of experience to the Regional Extension Center.

Our Team

  • Leadership

    Susan Fenton, PhD, RHIA, FAHIMA
    Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Assistant Professor
    Principal Investigator for the Gulf Coast Regional Extension Center
    Direct: 713.500.3591
    Email: SBMIAcademics@uth.tmc.edu

    Susan Fenton

    Susan Fenton, PhD, RHIA, FAHIMA, joined UT Health School of Biomedical Informatics (SBMI) on June 1, 2013 as an assistant professor of biomedical informatics. She came to SBMI from Texas State University in San Marcos, where she was an assistant professor and co-director of the Institute for Health Information Technology. In August 2014, Dr. Fenton transitioned into the role of associate dean for academic affairs, taking over the management responsibilities for the Office of Academic Affairs and helping the school acquire health informatics and information management education accreditation from CAHIIM for the applied health informatics program.

    Dr. Fenton’s research interests include workforce development, data management, ICD-10 implementation and health care associated infections. Her interest in workforce development was limited to health IT professionals, but she sees a huge need to develop new methods for healthcare professionals to learn how to use information technology effectively. Her work with the ICD-10 is limited because her research is focused on various impacts related to its implementation, which will no longer be relevant in a few years after implementation is complete. As for health care associated infections, Dr. Fenton has a new project working with an industrial engineer who identifies failure points that result in HAIs. After the failure points are identified, they will determine the impact of the failure points on EHRs and documentation.

    Jiajie Zhang, PhD
    Dean/Past Principal Investigator
    Direct: 713.500.3922
    Email: jiajie.zhang@uth.tmc.edu

    Jiajie ZhangJiajie Zhang, PhD, is the dean and Dr. Doris L. Ross Professor at UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics (SBMI). He serves as director of the National Center for Cognitive Informatics and Decision Making in Healthcare, for which he is principal investigator of the Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects Program’s patient-centered cognitive support initiative. Zhang has spent the past two decades conducting research in biomedical informatics, cognitive science, human-centered computing, decision making and information visualization. He has authored more than 120 journal articles, book chapters, and peer-reviewed proceedings papers. As an educator, he has taught courses in human-computer interaction, electronic health record usability, information visualization and technology-mediated social dynamics.

    LaSonya Knowles, MS
    Administrative Director
    Direct: 713.500.3658
    Email: Lasonya.D.Knowles@uth.tmc.edu

    LaSonya Knowles

    LaSonya Knowles is the Clinical Informatics Consulting Manager for the Gulf Coast Regional Extension Center (GCREC). In this position, she manages the consulting team for the gulf coast region. She holds a Masters of Science in Health Informatics from the University of Texas Health Science Center Houston and a Bachelors of Business Administration in Information Systems from Prairie View A&M University. Prior to joining the GCREC, LaSonya worked for MD Anderson Cancer Center for 10 years. She has experience in various areas of information technology, informatics and project management in the healthcare industry and brings 18 years of experience to the Regional Extension Center.

  • Staff

    Megan Crossan
    Program Coordinator
    Direct: 713.500.3477
    Email: Megan.M.Crossan@uth.tmc.edu

    Megan CrossanMegan Crossan is the Program Coordinator for the Gulf Coast Regional Extension Center (GCREC). She holds a Bachelors of Science in Marketing from the University of Houston at Clear Lake. She has been with the GCREC since September 2010. In this position, she manages the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database for tracking providers’ milestone progress. She is responsible for tracking subcontractor/vendor's progress towards project objectives. She is also the financial analyst for the program.

  • Consultants

    Sheila Banyai, HIT Pro – TS
    Greater Houston Area, including Katy, Pearland, Pasadena, Richmond
    Direct: 281-799-4548
    Email: Sheila.K.Banyai@uth.tmc.edu

    Sheila BanyaiSheila Banyai is a Health Information Technology Consultant for the Gulf Coast Regional Extension Center (GCREC). In this position, she consults providers in achieving meaningful use and is the Security Risk Assessments lead for GCREC. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Computer Engineering from University of Houston Clear Lake. She is also certified in Technical/Software Support Staff Health Information Technology Professional by American Health Information Management Association. Sheila Banyai has more than 20 years of network/communication experience attained through working with ExxonMobil, several NASA Contractors, and the U.S. Navy.

    Alexa Poole, HIT & HIE Pro
    Greater Houston Area, including Port Author/Beaumont, Nederland, Orange, Conroe
    Direct: 713.500.3936
    Email: Alexa.P.Poole@uth.tmc.edu

    Alexa Poole

    Alexa Poole is a Health IT Consultant for the Gulf Coast Regional Extension Center. In this position, she consults providers in achieving meaningful use. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics from the University of Texas at Austin. She also holds a Health Information Technology Management and Exchange Specialist Certification from the Health Information Summer Program at the University of Texas at Austin and a Texas Business Foundations Program-Global Track Certification from the McCombs School of Business. Prior to joining the GCREC, Alexa worked for eClinicalWorks as a software training specialist, assisting providers in the implementation and go-live stages in the transition to electronic health records. She has experience in electronic health records, practice management, and work flow design.

    Tracy Swoboda, RHIA, CCS
    San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and surrounding areas
    Direct: 361.412.7878
    Email: Tracy.L.Swoboda@uth.tmc.edu

    Tracy Swoboda

    Tracy Swoboda is currently serving as a consulting Quality Improvement Advisor for the Gulf Coast Regional Extension Center assisting clinicians with meaningful use, physician quality reporting and the forthcoming Quality Payment Programs. Tracy is a Registered Health Information Administrator and Certified Coding Specialist. Tracy served in the hospital setting for nineteen years in diverse roles of health information and risk management, Performance Improvement, credentialing, accreditation, and inpatient coding positions. Tracy has been employed for several years’ in quality improvement, project management and resource consulting, and coaching providers on improving population health outcomes for Chronic Kidney Disease, Cardiac Health, facilitating practice transformation through Health Information Technology and Meaningful Use, Physician Quality Reporting System and Value-Based Payment systems.