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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).

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 Providence 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.

Scott Acord, Communications and External Affairs Manager

Scott spent more than 20 years in entertainment as a communications executive for Viacom and DreamWorks TV. It was there he learned how the power of storytelling can enrich and add deeper meaning to our lives. As manager of the Institute’s Hear Me Now program, Scott seeks to leverage the healing properties of storytelling to help transform and humanize health-care culture.

Ron Adkins, Senior Program Manager, Palliative Practice Group

Ron is a native of the Pacific Northwest and has held various leadership roles in healthcare in operational improvement, from support services for family medicine to clinic specialties. Ron, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration, is passionate at delivering better care and support for patients, families and caregivers through proven best practices. Skilled at implementation of Toyota Lean methodology and certified in Change Acceleration Process (CAP), he has helped organizations improve processes and implement meaningful change.

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.

Joseph Dao, Regional Program Manager, Caring for the Whole Person Initiative

Joseph has held leadership roles in local and national church ministry and in Catholic health care mission. He now serves the Caring for the Whole Person Initiative in California to provide education and training around serious illness and care through the end of life to church communities across the state. He is passionate about helping local communities and health-care providers deliver more compassionate care.

Cynthia Derksen, RN, BSN, Senior Clinical Data Analyst

Cynthia has more than 25 years of health care experience, with a career that transverses from an emergency room staff nurse to clinical quality reviewer. As the electronic medical record emerged, she advanced to become an EPIC application analyst and a highly skilled, high-performing clinical data analyst with LEAN and Six Sigma bona fides. She strives “to tell a patient’s story with data” to drive improvements in patient safety and clinically quality of care.

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.

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 Providence St. Joseph Health in California. Suzanne is dedicated to improving the health care experience for patients, families and providers.

Sara Epstein, MPH, Senior Program Manager

Sara joined Providence in 2018 with a passion for public health. Her research has centered on the ways in which our environments and communities impact health. Specific projects and roles have focused on social mobility and perceptions of discrimination, healthy aging, and oncology. Most recently, Sara supported the Providence Cancer Institute’s survivorship and medical/surgical oncology initiatives. Sara earned her bachelor’s in cultural anthropology and Spanish from the University of Oregon, and her master of public health from Portland State University.

Melissa Forbin, Program 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.

Adie Goldberg, Ph.D., LICSW, Palliative Care Social Worker

Since 2018, Adie has served as a clinical social worker at Providence Sacred Heart’s Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant program in Spokane, Wash. A published author and sought-after public speaker, she has earned multiple academic and clinical accreditations, including a doctorate in social work – her dissertation focused on delivering palliative care in rural communities. Having worked in medical settings throughout her career, she was a founding member of Asante Regional Medical Center’s palliative care team in Medford, Ore., where she received the SWHPN-Social Work and Hospice Network 2018 Clinical Social Worker of the Year award.

Matthew Gonzales, M.D., FAAHPM, 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.

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.

Vivian Lei, MPH, Manager Administration & Operations

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.

Liz Jung Hwa Hur, Clinical Data Analyst

Liz comes to the Institute by way of MedPoint Management in California, where she has worked as an operations/data analyst since 2019. She has experience using data working in finance, information technology and healthcare, analyzing and visualizing data to provide actionable insights. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Southern California and has a graduate diploma in data science from Monash University in Australia. She also is a certified public accountant in California.

Joshua Matlock, Senior Clinical Data Analyst

osh arrives to the Institute via the Swedish Health Services analytics team in Seattle, where he has worked on several analytics projects and data visualizations focusing on patient throughput, physician key performance indicators and safety compliance. He has a master’s in health administration from the University of Washington and is working on a master’s in data analytics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In his spare time, Josh enjoys kayaking, fishing, barbequing and video games.

Sarah Beardsley Merrifield, M.D., FAAHPM, Faculty

Dr. Merrifield is the medical director for Providence Palliative Care Services in SW Washington, leading an interdisciplinary team of more than 30. She’s responsible for clinical quality of consult teams at two hospitals and an outpatient clinic. A passionate advocate about goals-of-care conversations with seriously ill patients, she teaches serious illness communication to members of her team, Providence St. Peter family medicine residents, University of Washington medical students, and colleagues in her community and around the country with VitalTalk.

L. Bentley Moses, BA, MPH, Program Manager

Bentley (pronouns: they/them/theirs) comes to the Institute from Providence’s Center for Outcomes Research and Education, where they oversee health policy, health systems transformation, population health, and data strategy projects. Previously, Bentley spent 10 years leading health equity, policy and systems change initiatives for local governments and nonprofits. Bentley holds a BA in communication from University of San Francisco, a master in public health from Oregon Health Sciences University/Portland State University and is a doctorate candidate in health systems and policy at OHSU.

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 Providence 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.

Tai Nakata, MS, Data Architecture Consultant

Tai combines a one-two punch of technical skills and business acumen to deliver data that leaders and teams can act on. From Tableau to SQL, from Epic to Excel, Tai possesses experience preparing pro formas and finding practical digital solutions to an array of analytical and reporting challenges. He earned his master’s in business analytics from Arizona State University, and has accounting and database certifications.

Tue Nguyen, MPH, Manager, Integration

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.

Lindsey Oldridge, Development Officer

Lindsey joined the Institute in May 2021 and has been with Providence since 2008. Previously, she served as chief philanthropy officer for Providence St. Mary Foundation in Walla Walla, Wash. During her successful tenure, she cultivated strong philanthropic support for healthcare in that region, including raising more than $1.1 million for COVID-19 response and launching “Honor a Healthcare Hero” to recognize caregivers during the pandemic and beyond. She has a heart for kids, community-building and advocating for those who are underserved.

Paul J. Park, Principal Clinical Data Analyst

Paul has managed computing and database teams and initiatives for Providence 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.

Will Rogers, Graduate Student Intern

After getting a film degree from Stanford in 2009, Will gravitated toward oral storytelling. He co-founded the True Story Podcast and coached students at the Stanford Storytelling Project, as well as many private clients. The convergence of storytelling and health brought him to nursing, especially palliative care, and he’s now a nursing student at UNC Greensboro. At the Institute, Will works to help patients, caregivers and communities feel heard and understood through the Hear Me Now storytelling program.

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 Providence 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.

Keshav Sharma, MS, Senior Clinical Data Engineer

Keshav uses his mastery of computing programs and platforms to mine health data for insights to improve patient care. Blessed with digital storytelling skills, he delivers complex information in compelling ways. Keshav has been with Providence since 2017, overseeing data queries and peer technical training. He earned his MS in bioscience from Keck Graduate Institute. When not improving the quality of health care, Keshav enjoys hiking, snorkeling and experimenting in the kitchen.

Robin Stahley, MSN, RN, SWSA Program Manager for Advance Care Planning

Robin is dedicated to improving goal-aligned care with seriously ill patients and their families through communication training. As a program manager for advance care planning, Robin connects with caregivers throughout Southwest Washington to make caring for whole persons the new normal. In a previous role, she developed curriculum, workflows and standardized processes to improve patient care. Robin has been a registered nurse for 30 years; she has a master’s in health systems leadership from Gonzaga University; and is Vitaltalk faculty.

Ryan Steppe, Graduate Student Intern

Ryan seeks to improve the quality of health care through analytic problem-solving and creative projects and policies. He is helping the Institute develop and implement whole-person care tools and resources for use across Providence. With interest in health care stretching from supporting Sub-Saharan Africa HPV vaccine hesitancy research to volunteering to assemble COVID testing kits in Los Angeles, Ryan currently is pursuing a master’s in public health at UCLA.

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

Dr. VandeKieft practices palliative medicine in Olympia, Wash. He has held leadership positions within Providence 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.

Martha Varela, Executive Assistant

Martha possesses an extensive background in healthcare and inpatient hospital settings, having dedicated years to support physicians and executives in providing quality care to communities. She uses her personal and professional experience to improve workflows, manage executive calendars, and support executives in the delivery of the organization’s mission. Martha is passionate about healthcare and using administrative work to support compassionate clinical care.

Amy Wilcox, Program Manager (Palliative Practice Group)

Amy has an advanced certification in palliative care and is nearing completion of a master’s degree in this field, focusing on psychosocial and spiritual aspects of care. Her previous work as an organ-donation coordinator, combined with experience in program management and dedicated frontline care, offer a perfect fit to support Providence’s Palliative Practice Group. A strong believer all people should be treated with dignity and compassion, Amy is passionate about the mission and values of the Institute for Human Caring.

Emily Williams, MPH, Regional Program Manager, Caring for the Whole Person Initiative

Emily is passionate about creating responsive, cost-effective, compassionate health care. To this end, she has spent much of her public health career implementing innovative domestic and international health research and programming initiatives within public, private, academic and nonprofit domains. She is thrilled to apply her knowledge to ensure the success of the Caring for the Whole Person Initiative. Emily earned her bachelor’s degree in developmental psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, and master’s degree in public health at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.