New director focuses on experiences
Senior Staff Writer
Kevin Forrest has been running the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center for about a week now, and so far he said it feels a lot like home.
Forrest said the Roseburg VA reminds him of the Manchester, New Hampshire VA, where he most recently served as associate director. The Manchester VA takes care of 26,000 rural veterans, who are very engaged with the VA and how it delivers health care. Forrest said that’s a good thing.
“It’s their healthcare system, so we need to make sure we’re meeting their needs,” he said.
Forrest replaced Dave Whitmer, the previous interim director. Whitmer returned to Florida after about a year and will resume his work with the regional organization that oversees several large hospitals in the Southeast.
A permanent director has been selected, but his identity has not yet been announced, and he’s still undergoing the VA’s lengthy vetting process. Forrest said he’s been told he could be running the Roseburg VA for as many as 120 days.
Forrest is a veteran who spent 25 years in the Army Medical Service Corps. He first enlisted in the Army Reserves while taking a break from his college studies. He earned the money to finish his schooling and also gained medical laboratory training. After that, his path was clear.
“I knew that I wanted a career in the Army. I just loved it,” he said.
He finished school as an ROTC candidate and went on active duty after receiving his degree. He became a clinical laboratory officer, managing Army hospital labs and blood banks. Halfway through his career he attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts, where he studied clinical lab science and health care administration.
“At that point I knew I wanted to do some more general administration in hospitals,” he said.
During his career he worked with the TriCare program that provides the military’s health insurance, and provided oversight for Army dental clinics in Europe before taking a post at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Brooke is one of the Army’s flagship hospitals and operates as a burn center that has received many soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After that, he became deputy commander of the Winn Army Community Hospital at Fort Stewart in Georgia.
Forrest grew up in New Hampshire and was eager to return to New England, so upon leaving the Army he joined the Boston VA Medical Center administration until the associate director position opened up in Manchester. It was his dream job.
“It’s where I grew up. It’s where I came back to. It’s where I choose to get my care in the VA. To be able to come back and help lead that organization and take care of New Hampshire veterans is a true honor and blessing, to be honest with you,” he said.
For Forrest, the stint of directing the Roseburg VA is an opportunity to figure out if he’d like to advance to becoming the director of a VA hospital.
While he’s here, Forrest said his top priority is to focus on the experiences veterans have at the VA.
“Are they treated with dignity and respect? Are they finding it easy to get their appointment? Do they get called back if they have a question?” he said.
Forrest also wants to focus on employee engagement. He noted the top three concerns employees themselves said they had are communication, workload and accountability. He said it’s important that employees look forward to coming to work, and that they feel psychologically safe there — including feeling safe to bring up problems, especially with patient safety.
“Everybody needs to be comfortable in bringing up the hard issues. That’s the only way we can tackle them and fix them,” he said.