VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
Veteran leading VAGLAHS
Leading one of VA's largest and most complex healthcare systems is an Army Veteran with more than 32 years of leadership experience. Steven E. Braverman, M.D., a native of Baltimore, Md., retired from the Army on October 31, 2016 after serving in the Army Medical Corps as a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician. He has command level experience and deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After his active duty service and three years as the Hospital Director of the Edward Hines Jr. VA, Dr. Braverman and Susan, his wife of 33 years, chose to come to VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (VAGLAHS) not because the task would be easy, but because the work would be hard. The challenge of addressing the homeless situation and improving hospital care, while working with committed employees and an engaged community and political constituency, brought them to VAGLAHS.
"One of the things about my career is I always drove toward more challenges. I accomplished many of the goals that I sought to accomplish in Chicago, so I wanted to take the opportunity to lead a group that had a lot of promise and take care of problems that were different than what I experienced in Chicago."
As an Army leader, Veteran, former director at a VA hospital, and physician, Dr. Braverman comes to VAGLAHS with a solid resume.
"As a physician, I can tap into the clinical soul of the organization and make sure all the decisions made primarily benefit our Veterans."
On November 5, 2009, at Fort Hood, Texas, that leadership was tested during a deadly shooting attack that left 13 people dead and more than 30 injured. Trauma patients were being treated at the Fort Hood Medical Center (Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center), and the commander of the hospital at the time of the shooting was Dr. Braverman.
"The Soldier Readiness Processing Site where the shooting took place was under my command and MAJ Nidal Hasan, the convicted shooter, was my Soldier and psychiatrist. Our staff responded in heroic fashion taking care of the many wounded Soldiers shot that day. The ED and OR teams treated 22 trauma patients in the span of a few hours. Restoring the community's trust in Army Medicine while providing medical and behavioral healthcare to our service members and families in the aftermath of the shooting remains our most enduring contribution during that time."
Looking ahead at 2020, the new director wants to keep moving forward with the goal of ending Veteran homelessness and getting to zero patient harm. Reviewing fundamental processes, improving patient care, increasing input from the front line and mid-level supervisors in the decision-making process, and amplifying transparency are on the horizon for next year.
"Who wouldn't want to go and lead that kind of organization? There are people who think of challenges as opportunities to fail, and there are other people who look at challenges as an opportunity to succeed."
Changing VAGLAHS to a culture of improvement and not a culture of blame is also key. Early on, staff were introduced to a combination of four elements that can lead to success: communication, care of Veterans, customer service and common sense. The "Four Cs" encourages staff to treat everyone with dignity and respect, be responsible and accountable, while recognizing and rewarding good performance.
"I've used these since my days as a hospital commander in the Army. It works if we all keep those things in mind."
With less than two-months on the job, Dr. Braverman has visited most of the sites except for Bakersfield, Lancaster and Oxnard Community Based Outpatient Clinics. He plans on visiting those clinics after the Thanksgiving holiday. Learning the job these past few months has kept Dr. Braverman behind his desk but he admits, he's not one to sit around much.
"It's important to walk the landscape and it's important to be visible. If you can't go out and talk with folks and see what's going on with your own two eyes, then you're not always getting a true picture of what's happening."
Uncharacteristic of previous VAGLAHS directors, Dr. Braverman is also a patient, which puts him in a unique position to experience the healthcare system as a consumer.
"Because I'm new, I can be a secret shopper of sorts when I get patient care. To date, the patient care has been excellent, but the administrative processes to get that care hasn't been as smooth functioning as they should. But I want to point out, it would be insincere of me to say that I have confidence in our medical care and then seek that medical care somewhere else. So, I will get medical care here as an example of that confidence."
Part of Dr. Braverman's goal serving in his new capacity and coming to Los Angeles is to continue making a difference in the community whether that is through improving the capability to care for Veterans or through additional community engagement.
"I had a successful Army career, and good leaders aren't afraid to fail, good leaders are confident of success. This is a personal mission as well as a professional one."
For more information on Dr. Braverman, please visit VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System leadership team page.