Alumna Named “Essential Worker of the Year”

By Erika Liberati '22, March 22, 2021
Emily Mallar ’03 provides critical support to healthcare providers and patients during the pandemic.

To recognize the important contributions of healthcare workers during the pandemic, the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce added an “essential worker of the year” award to its annual Fab5 Awards. And the award went to Ithaca College alumna Emily Mallar ’03.

The awards are given out every year to young professionals who work in Tompkins County and have made a significant impact on the community.

Mallar, a former health services administration major, works at Cayuga Health Partners as the director of care management. In her role, Mallar coordinates with a team of nurses and non-clinical employees to provide support and services to healthcare providers and patients in the area.

“The most rewarding part is just being able to play a role in not only keeping the community safe, but providing that comfort and reassurance and resource to people who are just scared, and not really sure which direction to go next.”

Emily Mallar ’03

Mallar and her team have played a critical role throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in assisting the Tompkins County Health Department and other local partners. Mallar said her team assisted the health department in making phone calls to residents who tested for the virus.

The health department made a commitment at the start of the pandemic to provide outreach and support to all patients as they awaited test results. At first, this process took anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

“You had people who were really scared and nervous and fearful, and googling and thinking the worst,” Mallar said. “We provided them that daily outreach until they were out of isolation and back then you had to be symptom-free for a certain number of days in order to even come out of isolation.”

As Cayuga Health’s testing capacity in and around Tompkins County increased, and positive cases began to rise across counties, Mallar and her team shifted to calling those non-Tompkins residents who tested positive for the virus as part of a first-line defense in the spread of COVID-19.

“We just wanted to be as responsive as we could in informing people and providing first-line isolation instructions, answering other questions they might have about family members or contacts,” Mallar said. “We wanted to play a role in that public health space where we could.”

Mallar and her team were confronted with a range of emotions from the people they spoke with. She said their main goal was to reassure residents and provide them comfort in a time of uncertainty.

“It's easy to go on the portal and see that you're positive, but when you're a single mother of three with kids under the age of four, and you find out you're positive there's a lot that goes through your head and questions,” Mallar said. “Just to be able to speak to a human and be reassured that you're doing the very best you can do is a sort of a big deal.”

Emily Mallar professional headshot

Emily Mallar '03, director of care management for Cayuga Health Partners

Even though the work she and her team have been doing is difficult, Mallar said she feels fulfilled in playing a part in keeping the local community informed.

“The most rewarding part is just being able to play a role in not only keeping the community safe but providing that comfort and reassurance and resource to people who are just scared, and not really sure which direction to go next,” Mallar said.

Mallar said she is extremely thankful to be honored with this award for the behind-the-scenes work she has been doing over the last year.

“When you think of essential workers, your head readily goes to words like tactical frontline, certainly the nurses, but also everybody in nutrition and dining and housekeeping and those folks who have gone into work every day and not hesitated to do their part to take care of people,” Mallar said. “It's nice to be recognized too. There's a lot that happened behind the scenes that's critical to the operations in the public health crisis.”

Mallar said her time at Ithaca College reinforced her desire to work in the public health field and stay in the Ithaca area that she fell in love with.

“It really was my experience with the college that ended up drawing me to this community,” Mallar said. “I already had an interest in healthcare, certainly the public health end of things, and it was reinforced by the experiences that the college and my professors gave me.”

When accepting her award, Mallar praised the rest of the local healthcare community for the work they all have been doing to assist the community during the public health crisis.

2020 has presented so many challenges to our public health system, and I just feel so fortunate to be a part of a community and organization that does something because it is the right thing to do,” Mallar said.