Get to Know Our Leadership

Michael S. McDonald Jr. - staff memberMichael S. McDonald Jr.
Regional Vice President and CEO of Friends Hospital 

Michael S. McDonald Jr., Regional Vice President and CEO of Friends Hospital, began his healthcare career almost 15 years ago as a Mental Health Tech at Friends Hospital.  Through this direct care experience, Michael learned firsthand the responsibility entrusted to those who work in behavioral health hospital to protect patient dignity and this experience shaped his patient centered philosophy.  Michael held many leadership roles at Friends Hospital including COO.  In 2009, Michael moved to take on CEO roles in the southern United States including Florida and North Carolina.  Today, Michael has come full circle back to Friends Hospital and is a group director in the Philadelphia market.

Tyler Sturgeon - staff memberTyler Sturgeon
Chief Financial Officer

As the CFO of Friends Hospital, Tyler provides comprehensive support and solutions to the organization and serves as a strategic partner and advisor to the CEO.  His primary focus is to create and manage the financial operations of Friends Hospital to ensure cost containment and continued growth.  Tyler joined Friends Hospital in June of 2015.  Prior to that, he spent six years of his career with HCA, most recently as the Controller of Tulane Medical Center.  He received both his Bachelor of Science in Accounting and MBA from the University of Tennessee.  Additionally, he is a Certified Public Accountant and obtained a Lean Six Sigma certification from Dartmouth College.

Elizabeth W. Uffner - staff memberElizabeth W. Uffner
Director of Business Development 

Elizabeth (Liz) Uffner started her career at Friends Hospital in 2001.  She has held many positions at Friends from Mental Health Technician to Court Coordinator to Director of the Crisis Response Center, all contributing to her wealth of behavioral health knowledge and awareness of resources.

In her role as Director of Business Development, Liz leads the coordination and implementation of Friends Hospital’s strategic marketing plan. She drives the execution of a comprehensive organic growth strategy.  As a senior leader, she is responsible for increased revenue through census development, identifying potential clients, cultivating relationships, and expanding existing customer opportunities.  Liz serves as the primary contact or spokesperson for the hospital related to media and public relations, and community outreach.  She has a proven track record of maintaining effective partnerships with internal and external stakeholders.  Liz manages of team of individuals who work closely with other providers ensuring proper and efficient access to care and education of serves offered.

Robin Burkert - staff memberRobin Burkert
Performance Improvement Director

Robin Burkert joined the Friends Hospital team as the Performance Improvement Director in 2016.  She started her career at First Home Care, a therapeutic foster care agency, in 2013 as the Director of Quality and Risk Management.  In 2015, Robin moved to Foundations Behavioral Health as the Director of Performance Improvement while still maintaining oversight of First Home Care’s quality and risk program.  In her role as Performance Improvement Director, Robin’s top priority is to work closely with all staff to ensure patient safety and quality of care. Working collaboratively with all departments, she ensures Friends Hospital maintains accreditation status by The Joint Commission, as well as uphold standards set forth by the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services, and the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services.

Robin, a native of Philadelphia, started her career at the Philadelphia Department of Human Services and spent 13 years in various roles, primarily in program development and managing quality initiatives.  She is a licensed Social Worker and obtained her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania.  Robin has a comprehensive knowledge in both the compliance and regulatory standards for governing health plans and patient care. She has extensive experience in program development, program evaluation and quality improvement.

Dr. Peter Vernig - staff memberDr. Peter Vernig
Director of Clinical Services

Dr. Vernig received his doctorate in clinical psychology from Suffolk University in Boston, where he focused his studies on substance misuse, behavior change, and acceptance-based behavioral interventions. He is a graduate of the clinical psychology internship program at Friends Hospital, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Anxiety Treatment Center of Austin. Dr. Vernig is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, and is a Registered Health Service Psychologist. He has worked in a wide range of clinical settings, including community mental health, homeless services, residential programs, therapeutic camps, inpatients facilities, and the VA. He is a member of the clinical faculty at Drexel University’s College of Medicine and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. In his role at Friends Hospital, Dr. Vernig is responsible for supervising the clinical services departments, including social work, psychology, expressive art therapy, peer support services and spiritual care. He works with the staff and students of these departments, alongside the medical and nursing departments, to implement interventions which are individualized, evidence-based, and recovery-focused.

Danielle Fanelli
Director of Human Resources

Danielle Fanelli joined Friends Hospital as the Assistant Director of Human Resources in April 2016 and was promoted to Director of Human Resources in 2018. Prior to joining Friends, Danielle spent seven years in progressively responsible HR roles at The Horsham Clinic. Danielle holds a B.A. from Arcadia University and an M.S. in Human Resource Development from Villanova University.

Vance Barto
Director of Plant Operations

Vance has been employed at Friends Hospital since January 2017.  Prior to Friends, he served as the Director of Plant Operations at Fairmount Behavioral Health System from 1997-2011.  In 2011, Vance was promoted and served as the Regional Director of Plant Operations, overseeing the physical plant and construction operations at both Friends Hospital and Fairmount Behavioral Health System.  Vance also served as the hospital safety officer at both facilities to ensure the safety of all patients and employees. He has completed 10 successful JCAHO inspections.

Throughout his tenure, he has overseen the departments of maintenance, housekeeping, dietary, security, grounds, communications and transportation.

During all major and minor construction projects, Vance manages and serves as the liaison between architects, civil engineers, mechanical engineers and general contractors on all projects assuring buildings meet codes (AIA, NFPA, etc.) and company guidelines/regulations. Vance has been a member of the NFPA for over 20 years.

Prior to Fairmount, Vance was employed by ServiceMaster Management Services where he was awarded the ServiceMaster PRT Award in recognition of outstanding operational achievement. Vance’s engineering background stems from his training in the U.S. Navy as a machinist mate aboard a nuclear submarine. In this capacity he acquired several Naval Engineering Certificates and four Letters of Commendation for his tireless dedication while onboard the USS Sunfish.

Maryfrances Watchous - staff memberMaryfrances Watchous
Chief Nursing Officer

Maryfrances Watchous brings over 30 years’ experience as a psychiatric nurse to her role as Chief Nursing Officer.

Prior to joining Friends Hospital she worked primarily in inpatient settings in PA, MA, KY and TN. A native of southeastern Pennsylvania most recently worked as a manager within a behavioral health network working both in both the Bethlehem and Quakertown campuses for the past 22 years.

She is known for her commitment to quality and compliance and transformational leadership style motivating nursing staff to use evidence based practices to help patients have excellent outcomes. She has extensive knowledge of quality measures and performance improvement initiatives in the behavioral health nursing.

In her current role Maryfrances oversees the entire nursing staff, infection control the lab and educator.

She graduated from St Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing and received her BSN and MSN in Nursing Administration from Moravian College.

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Help is a Phone Call Away

We’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide a no-cost mental health assessment for you or your loved one. Call us at 800-889-0548 or visit our facility to get started. In the case of a medical emergency or crisis, please dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.