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Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System

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Meet SLVHCS' new chief of staff

By Karla Marshall

Recently I sat down with Dr. Ralph Schapira, the new Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System chief of staff, to learn about his move to New Orleans and more importantly, his vision for the future of Veterans health care in southeast Louisiana.

 

Q: You’ve been in New Orleans for a couple of months now. What made you leave your old job as chief of staff at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center?

A: Actually, I wasn’t thinking about changing jobs and was happy as chief of staff in Philadelphia. One afternoon, a colleague called me to ask if I knew of an experienced chief of staff who might be interested in taking on the challenging role of chief of staff for Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System. I was so taken with hearing about the opportunity that I quickly thought to myself that the position could be career defining for me. So much so, that I thought I would like to apply.

Q: What opportunities got your attention?

A: There are a few. The opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary team to contribute to the activation of a new medical center is one that rarely becomes available. The fact that it was in New Orleans was even more attractive given the devastation of Katrina and the community’s dedication and commitment to rebuild, including its health care system. The successful opening of the new medical center could add to the well-being of the greater community. When I interviewed, I was immensely impressed with the spirit of the employees I met and knew that I wanted to have the chance to be part of the team to accomplish a goal that would have such a positive impact. When I interviewed with Mr. Rivera, he shared with me what motivated him to return to New Orleans while serving as a VISN director in Washington D.C. His heartfelt commitment to New Orleans and the community in which he grew up was compelling.

Q: Why did you choose medicine for a career?

A: I grew up in New York City, though I left at age 20 and have since experienced life in different parts of the country. My parents are both first generation Americans and they instilled in me a sense of passion for contributing to community and supporting those who came from difficult life circumstances or life events. I liked taking care of people and medicine was a good fit, especially the VA with its broad-based missions of contributing to the wellbeing of Veterans.

Q: Where did you go to medical school?

A: I went to medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas. I graduated in 1984 and did an internal medicine residency at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia followed by a fellowship at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina in pulmonary disease and critical care medicine. After a long hiatus in Wisconsin (my wife is from Michigan and our three children were born in Wisconsin), I moved to Philadelphia in 2011 and then of course, to New Orleans a couple of months ago.

Q What is your favorite part of being a doctor?

A: I am grateful for the opportunity to help people make their lives better. Not just their immediate or critical health care needs, but the entire spectrum of health care. Helping people recover from illness and lead healthy, productive lives is immensely gratifying. I also find the interdisciplinary approach to health care rewarding – working with the entire spectrum of individuals in the workplace to meet the goals of providing great care. Who you work with on a day-to-day basis can be one of the joys of life. It makes all the difference, especially in health care when even the best of days bring new challenges.

Q: What do you see as your biggest challenge at SLVHCS?

A: Activating the new medical center while delivering high quality and Veteran-focused care is the biggest challenge, but also the reason I took the job. I’ve worked in two large tertiary care VA medical centers and transforming SLVHCS into a 24 hr/day referral medical center is going to take lots of thoughtful planning from every employee. And, we aren’t moving from one active hospital into another, but starting a hospital where none currently exists. Much has changed in the delivery of health care in the years since New Orleans has had a VA hospital, so it is going to look a lot different than what existed. There are other challenges, too, such as redefining and rebuilding the relationship between SLVHCS and its academic affiliates (LSU and Tulane) and developing new affiliations with a range of community institutions and organizations. It is a great time to be in New Orleans, especially for those of us who have the honor of serving Veterans. Excellent, patient-centered care is what we do here and I’m proud to be a part of this team.

 

 

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Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System

1601 Perdido Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
800-935-8387
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