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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.

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.

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.

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.

David Delgado, MPH, 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 Providence 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.

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.

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.

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, 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.

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.

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, Senior Clinical Data Analyst

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.

Paul J. Park, Senior 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.

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.

Julianna Siegel-Hawley, MSW, Program Manager

Jules spent much of her career as an organizational effectiveness advocate and change agent at Doctors Without Borders, leading the implementation and scale-up of complex initiatives in more than 15 countries. Most recently she was a program manager at COPE Health Solutions in Los Angeles, specializing in health-care workforce development. Jules earned her BFA from New York University and her MS in clinical social work from Columbia University.

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.

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.