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Who We Are

The Institute for Human Caring Team

Ira Byock, M.D., FAAHPM, Founder/Senior Vice President for Strategic Innovation

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).

Matthew Gonzales, M.D., FAAHPM, Associate Vice President, Chief Medical and Operations 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.

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.

Essick Allen, Senior Data Engineer

Essick is a graduate of Morehouse College who is passionate about creating data-driven solutions. He has several years of experience working in data analytics and healthcare.
He hopes to use technology to proactively improve the lives of patients.
As a Los Angeles native, he enjoys snowboarding, surfing and playing basketball.

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.

Azizza Barnes, MPA-HA, LVN, Manager of Administration and Operations

Azizza is a servant and thought leader, sharing her passion of “leading with her heart.” With her master’s in public administration and license in vocational nursing, she is devoted to volunteering in her community and communities of others, including serving in Guatemala on a Mission trip. She specializes in process improvement and change management by utilizing innovative and forward-thinking strategies. As the first chair of the Providence SoCal Diversity & Inclusion Council and first Values in Action awardee for Integrity within the Providence Medical Institute, she has improved the caregiver and patient experience.

Vaishali Bhinde, Data Strategy Consultant

Vaishali joined Swedish/Providence in 2007 as a lead builder on the Epic electronic health record team. She has a bachelor’s in zoology and a higher diploma in management information systems. She embraces change and is unafraid of leaving her comfort zone by learning new things. Vaishali combines her advanced Epic knowledge and technical skills to find best solutions for stakeholders and customers. In her free time, she loves playing with her 8-year-old son, and enjoys gardening, music, motivational books, and the outdoors.

Halee Dams, LICSW, Telehealth Palliative Social Worker

Halee is passionate about improving access to high quality, person-centered healthcare. She has a background in inpatient palliative medicine and outpatient hospice care. She received her master's degree in social work at New York University and concurrently completed a fellowship in palliative and end-of-life care. After beginning her social work career, she completed a post-master's certificate program in palliative and end-of-life care at Smith College and is working on a fellowship in leadership in palliative and end-of-life care at NYU. When she's not working, she enjoys growing flowers and restoring her 1966 Ford pickup.

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.

Adaku Dimgba, Senior Administrative Assistant

Adaku earned her master’s of health administration, with an emphasis in management and public health, at the University of Laverne. She is a Randall Lewis Health & Policy fellow, and has since worked in providing administrative support to physicians and executives to ensure effective office workflows. Passionate in supporting the vulnerable, Adaku believes in applying the organization’s mission and values in our everyday work.

Michael Drummond, Chief Communications Officer

Michael supports the groundbreaking person-centered care work of the Institute for Human Caring and is co-founder of the Hear Me Now storytelling and listening program and associated podcast. 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, Executive Director, Program Development

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.

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.

Liz Jung Hwa Hur, GD, CPA, 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.

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, Executive 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.

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.

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.

Sashikiran Swarna, Data Architecture Consultant

Sashi has a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and a master’s in information systems. With more than eight years’ experience in data warehousing and business intelligence, he’s passionate about making healthcare more personal through data modeling and digital storytelling. He believes through innovation and research, we can find data-driven solutions to make human care easier. When not working, Sashi enjoys cycling and landscape photography.

Kate Talbert, MPA, RN, Director, Strategic Business Development

Kate has a passion for using novel solutions to improve healthcare delivery, drive system change and achieve sustainable financing. Previously, she led a $16 million mental health collaborative in Los Angeles and a CMS demonstration project to increase accountability for the social determinants of health in Baltimore’s major hospital systems. Kate is a registered nurse with more than 10 years experience working in community health settings. She holds a bachelor’s in nursing and nutrition from the University of Delaware and a master’s in public administration from the University of Baltimore.

Deborah Unger, M.D., Director of Medical Informatics

Deborah is a palliative care physician who has trained across a diverse range of clinical settings throughout the United States. She is a graduate of Vassar College and Texas A&M College of Medicine, and completed her internal medicine residency with the University of Miami in West Palm Beach. She pursued both research and clinical palliative care fellowships at Stanford University, before taking a position as an attending physician at the Nashville VA Hospital and faculty with Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She has a passion for how clinical informatics can promote a person-first approach to care, most recently serving on several national workgroups for the VHA’s office of Electronic Health Record Modernization.

Gregg VandeKieft, M.D., MA, FAAFP, FAAHPM, Executive Medical Director, Palliative Practice Group and TelePC

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, MS, Program Manager, Palliative Practice Group

Amy has an advanced certification and a master’s in palliative care, 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.