As the new director of VA Montana Health Care System, Christine Gregory said she is committed to leading an organization that embodies open communication and transparency.
Gregory, a Miles City native, began at Fort Harrison on March 4.
She replaces Robin Korogi, who in August 2012 was reassigned to Denver following turmoil about her lack of leadership at the Fort Harrison hospital.
Gregory said the open communication will extend to employees, veterans, their families and is critical for the organization to move forward from the negativity that has shrouded the hospital.
“A lot of people in Montana are interested in veteran care,” Gregory said. “They love our veterans so we need to communicate what we’re doing.”
Montana is home to the second-highest number of veterans per capita of any state.
Gregory oversees health care delivery to nearly 35,000 veterans and an operating budget of $226 million.
Gregory said she will focus on four things: assessment and organization of veteran services; workforce development; performance improvement; and a solid internal and external communication plan.
“Developing the workforce is a special interest area of mine,” Gregory said. “We want to have highly qualified staff that can meet the needs of the veterans. We’ll try some things on for size and if they don’t work we’ll try something different.”
Gregory has spent much of her first six weeks on the job traveling to outpatient clinics in Billings, Miles City, Glendive, Great Falls, Missoula and Cut Bank, listening to veterans, their families and employees.
The outpatient clinics provide primary, preventive and mental health care services. She said she wants to hear what’s on people’s minds and respond.
“The VA really is established to honor and serve veterans and their families,” Gregory said. “That’s my goal. That’s our mission.”
She said she also is committed to meeting routinely with Montana’s congressional delegation — or their representatives — to exchange information and keep them informed.
During Korogi’s tenure, the issue of high turnover and low staff morale caught the delegation’s attention, especially that of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
The strife and Korogi’s inability to recruit three full-time psychiatrists to staff the eight-bed, acute psychiatric wing of the mental health facility at Fort Harrison even captured the attention of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Gregory also has met with Anna Whiting Sorrell, director of the Billings Area Indian Health Service. The two are discussing ways to collaborate on improving service for Native American veterans.
“That’s been really exciting,” she said.
Montana’s VA system covers the largest geographic area in the contiguous Unites States. More than 1,000 people are employed at the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center, the 12 outpatient clinics and three Primary Care Tele-Outreach Clinics.