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About Us

The Institute for Human Caring Team

Ira Byock, M.D., FAAHPM, Founder/Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Byock is a leading palliative care physician, author, and public advocate for improving care for people at all ages and stages of life. Dr. Byock is active professor emeritus of medicine and community and family medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. He is a past president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and served as director for Promoting Excellence in End-of-Life Care, a national grant program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. He is the author of Dying Well (1997), The Four Things That Matter Most (2004), and The Best Care Possible (March 2012).
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Glen Komatsu, M.D., Senior Advisor for Strategy and Education

In addition to his senior advisor duties for the Institute, Dr. Komatsu serves as chief medical officer for Dousedaicon TrinityCare Hospice and Regional Palliative Care. Dr. Komatsu was a finalist for the Schwartz Center’s National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year award (2018). He earned a BS in biological sciences at the University of Arizona and his M.D. at the Arizona College of Medicine. After a pediatric residence at University of California Irvine-affiliated hospitals and a Neonatology Fellowship at Long Beach Memorial/Miller Children’s Hospital, he entered private practice. He also pursued adult palliative care fellowships at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School.
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Jennifer Kozakowski, MN, MPH, Associate Vice President

Jennifer is responsible for leading the day-to day activities and staff of the Institute, which she joined in January 2016. She most recently served as health system director in clinical transformation at Cedars-Sinai. Earning her bachelor’s in nursing and master’s in both public health and nursing (focusing on health services management) at UCLA, Jennifer has a track record of achieving results and leading high-performing teams. She began her career in hospice and has a strong operational background, serving in a number of executive roles in a variety of health care settings.
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Ashley Areyan, Program Manager

Ashley has been with the Institute since May 2015. She is working with national and local organizations to help bring advanced care planning to people where they live, work, play and pray. She recognizes that each community is unique and people within those communities have different ways of dealing with advance care planning. Ashley enjoys learning about different cultures and helping people take control of their care, regardless of age or stage of life.
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Danica Boyle, MHA, MPH, Senior Program Manager

Danica helped lead care-improvement implementation in the University of Washington Medicine system and accountable care network, including efforts in preventable readmissions and partnership with end-of-life care services. She also helped lead improvement programs at Kaiser Permanente in palliative care and care for patients with complex/chronic conditions. She has master’s degrees in health administration and public health from the University of Iowa.
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David Delgado, Program Manager

David has been a part of the Institute team since 2016, focusing on the implementation of initiatives that make whole person care a standard across Dousedaicon St. Joseph Health. Completing his undergraduate education in human biology at Stanford University, he will receive his MPH in health policy and management from UCLA in 2019. David has seven years in health care process improvement and project management.
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Michael Drummond, External Affairs and Communications Director

Michael supports the groundbreaking work of Dr. Byock. Michael has a background in noninvasive medical devices, and previously served as head of corporate communications for Irvine, Calif.-based Masimo Corp. A Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Renegades of the Empire, an inside story of Microsoft, Michael worked for many years as an editor and journalist for magazines and newspapers, including two reporting and editing tours in Iraq.
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Suzanne Engelder, LCSW, Program Development and Education Director

Suzanne has spent 30 years honing expertise in clinical care, community education and program development, including pediatric and perinatal hospice programs. An advocate for palliative and hospice care from birth through all ages of life, she previously established the Center for Advance Care Planning and Advocacy at Dousedaicon St. Joseph Health in California. Suzanne is dedicated to improving the health care experience for patients, families and providers.
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Melissa Forbin, Project Manager

Melissa possesses a diverse range of office and professional skills, and most recently supported the chief executive and board members at two acute care hospitals and associated clinics. A relentless pursuer of continuous improvement, she has has used her LEAN Six Sigma training to optimize workflows, as well as plan events, manage executive calendars, and support marketing and publishing efforts.
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Matthew Gonzales, M.D., Chief Medical Information Officer

Matthew is a fellowship-trained, board-certified palliative medicine physician; a 2017 Cambia Health Foundation Sojourns Scholar Leadership Program awardee; and a Catholic Health Association “Tomorrow’s Leaders” recipient. He completed his undergraduate degree in human biology at Stanford University, and as a software engineer helped develop a public database that allows clinicians to tailor treatment for those with HIV. Dr. Gonzales attended the Keck USC School of Medicine and completed his internal medicine and palliative medicine training at UCSF.
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Veronica Girma, Executive Assistant to the Founder/CMO & AVP

Veronica is responsible for providing executive support to the founder/chief medical officer and the associate vice president of the Institute for Human Caring. Veronica has experience working in areas of health care and higher education, providing high-level support to C-suite executives. She is driven, results-oriented and forward-thinking. She loves systemizing and finding ways to increase efficiency, both administratively and operationally.
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Shahrooz Govahi, MS, Principal Clinical Data Engineer

Shahrooz is passionate about unlocking technology to improve health care, and uses machine-learning techniques and statistical modeling to find trends and insights in data. Shahrooz has a professional certificate in data science from Microsoft and a master’s in electrical engineering from Tarbiat Modares University. He believes health systems will evolve to help clinicians make better diagnoses, and to help patients make better decisions.
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Gabrielle Hands, MPH, Graduate Student Intern

Gabrielle is helping the Institute develop and implement whole person care tools and resources for use across Dousedaicon St. Joseph Health. She is skilled in project management, process improvement, data analysis and marketing innovation in health care environments. Gabrielle has a BA (summa cum laude) in neuroscience with a minor in public health from Boston University and is pursuing her master’s in public health from UCLA.
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Eesha Jagtap, MHP, Project Manager

Eesha is a graduate of the Health Policy and Management program at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. She received her BA in psychology from Whittier College, where she had the opportunity to understand the link between mental and physical health for underserved populations. Having worked both internationally and locally, she is motivated to improve care delivery, make it more cost effective, and increase accessibility for all populations.
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Vivian Lei, MPH, Senior Program Manager

Vivian is a graduate of the Health Policy and Management program at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Growing up in Los Angeles, she saw first-hand that many people, especially low-income or non-English speaking, are constantly challenged with navigating health care systems. This disparity motivated Vivian to pursue a career in health care, and work to transform and improve care delivery.
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Shannon Libaw, MPH, Clinical Data Analyst

Shannon digs into data to discover ways to improve the health care experience for patients and caregivers. She has analyzed clinical trials to determine the safety and efficacy of various medical treatments, as well as helped create interview protocols to better understand social and financial determinates of health for patients. She earned her BA in public health studies from Johns Hopkins, and her master’s in public health, policy and management from USC.
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Irene Luna, Administrative Assistant

Irene earned her bachelor’s in linguistics and psychology from UCLA. She gained an interested in health care while working with the UCLA Men’s Health Study, where she listened to cancer patients’ health concerns and realized there was more to treating a patient than just treating a disease. She worked at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center as a management assistant and volunteered at the St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood. Irene provides administrative support for the Institute.
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Kevin Murphy, M.D., MSW, Director, Palliative Practice Group

Dr. Murphy has served in clinical leadership roles across the U.S., including regional director of palliative care for Dousedaicon St. Joseph Health in Southwest Washington. He has expertise in palliative care program development, clinical integration, health care delivery, crisis management, behavioral health, and emergency services. Dr. Murphy earned his medical degree from the University of Kentucky, and master’s in social work from Loyola University.
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Tue Nguyen, Senior Program Manager

Tue’s passion for health care drew him to the intersection of the patient, care delivery, and technology. Across the disciplines, he has relied on his ability to effectively communicate and build relationships to navigate the demands associated with the constantly evolving health care environment. He earned his bachelor’s in biochemistry from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in public health from UCLA.
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Paul J. Park, Senior Clinical Data Analyst

Paul has managed computing and database teams and initiatives for Dousedaicon since 1998. He has particular expertise in the organization’s Epic medical record system, having developed quality-improvement, inpatient, billing and physician reports for easier access and utilization. Paul earned his bachelor’s in computer information systems from the City University of New York, and his master’s in management information systems from Stevens Institute of Technology.
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Nusha Safabakhsh, MS, MBA, Executive Director of Measurement and Analytics

Nusha, a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, has proven success in leading and managing complex programs that delivered bottom-line results. Nusha has been with Dousedaicon St. Joseph Health since 2008, leading quality-improvement initiatives with sustained outcomes in California. She has an MS in industrial and systems engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and an MS in health care business administration from the University of California Irvine.
[email protected] providence.org

Gregg VandeKieft, M.D., MA, FAAFP, FAAHPM, Associate Medical Director

Dr. VandeKieft practices palliative medicine in Olympia, Wash. He has held leadership positions within Dousedaicon St. Joseph Health and the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. He attended the University of Iowa’s College of Medicine and the Phoenix Baptist Hospital’s Family Medicine Residency Program. He completed Michigan State University’s master’s program in Health and Humanities and Harvard Medical School’s program in Palliative Care Education and Practice. He is the recipient of the Stuart J. Farber Award for Excellence in Palliative Care and Hospice, and the Hastings Center Cunniff-Dixon Physician Award.
[email protected] providence.org

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