DANVILLE — When Japhet Rivera has a bit of downtime, he likes to stroll through the halls of the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System, chatting with veterans and employees.
“I want to be approachable,” the new director said. “I like to talk to veterans.”
Rivera, a native of Puerto Rico, has been on the job since March 9, replacing Emma Metcalf. He will oversee delivery of health care to more than 33,000 veterans in central Illinois and west central Indiana with an operating budget of more than $200 million.
Keeping in touch with veterans and staff is a top priority. By the end of this month, he will have visited all of the outpatients clinics, and this week, he will start making leadership rounds and spend an hour or so with each program or department.
Hilary Edgerly, assistant chief of social work, often goes to daily “huddle” meetings with Rivera and other administrators to address issues and problems.
“He pays attention to details and wants to know what’s going on in the facility,” she said. “Mr. Rivera is very kind, educated and knows the VA system. I think he’ll be a good leader for us.”
Rivera said he doesn’t plan any changes before assessing the organization — where it is and where he wants it to be. In the meantime, however, he’s impressed with the facility.
Rivera has served in large places, including as interim director at the VA in Wichita, Kan., as deputy director and interim director for the VA in San Juan, and as associate director for the VA system in Miami.
In San Juan, he was interim director of the VA Caribbean Health Care System, which is one of the most complex of the nation’s 153 VA medical centers.
He sees things happening in Danville that he didn’t see in the bigger places.