Whidbey General’s new CEO hits ground running

Geri Forbes

Whidbey General Hospital’s new CEO Geri Forbes demonstrated a new brand of leadership this past weekend when she attended a community event at Fort Nugent Park.

The event introduced portable defibrillators to a youth football team and their coaches to be used in an emergency.

“This will save lives,” Forbes said at the event.

For Forbes, being accessible to the community is a main pillar of her leadership style.

“Part of my role is to be the face of the hospital,” Forbes said in a Monday interview. “I take that very seriously. Will I make it to every event? No, but I’ll try to make as many as I can.”

Forbes, who started in her new role three weeks ago, takes the helm of a hospital that has been troubled financially and has taken hits to its reputation. The hospital has operated in the red for the last few years and the 2015 budget adopted in November estimated a $5 million shortfall.

Forbes said the financials are looking better this year than last year and that it is a main goal to bring the public hospital back up to a “neutral” or break-even status.

“We’ll have peaks and valleys but as long as the trend is moving up, I’m satisfied,” Forbes said.

Hospital critics have also complained over the years about the inaccessibility of former CEO Tom Tomasino and his administration. The hospital district was further rocked in 2014 when its chief nursing officer was accused, and then acquitted, of assault on a mentally ill patient.

In her first three weeks, Forbes has been spending a lot of time “rounding” or spending time getting to know the nurses and doctors on staff, according to Anne Tarrant, president of the hospital’s board of commissioners.

Forbes describes herself as a “collaborative” type of leader who aims to listen to staff on the front lines in order to build strong teams that can initiate improvements. Forbes’ hope is that between outreach to staff and the community, she’ll be able to find ways to best improve services.

“We’re a small hospital,” Forbes said. “We need to be there for the community, not just when they’re sick but also to keep them well.”

Forbes said she has already begun efforts to reach out to other community organizations like Island County Public Health, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Naval Hospital Oak Harbor. Her aim is to initiate programs that encourage health but also help the publicly-funded agencies do more with less.

“The base is going to be growing,” Forbes said of the new squadrons arriving over the next couple of years. “We’ve all got to have a program for that.”

Given the county’s large retirement population, Forbes would like to see more services geared toward the elderly. In her experience, said Forbes, very few adults want to move into a retirement home as they age and would rather stay in their homes.

In keeping with the “age in place” trend, Forbes said she believes there are more things the hospital can do to help make that happen.

Tarrant said the board agreed at their Monday meeting that Forbes’ “fresh perspective” will be a boon for the hospital.

“It’s nice to have someone who doesn’t have a history,” Tarrant said. “She can look at the organization as a whole [and] offer a whole new set of solutions. And she’s doing that.”

Tarrant said the new CEO is also playing close attention to the upcoming construction of the new wing.

“She’s been through this before” at previous hospitals, said Tarrant, adding that she’s been impressed with Forbes’ “total grasp of our project even though she’s only been here three weeks.”

“Overall, we we’re just pleased to have her on board as our CEO,” Tarrant said.