Dr. David Omura leads the Columbia Veterans Affairs Healthcare System and the Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Affairs Medical Center into the future, one patient at a time.
As director and CEO, Omura oversees a healthcare system that serves over 87,000 veterans, staffs almost 3,000 employees, and has an operating budget of $840 million. The healthcare system provides services to over two-thirds of the state's veterans at its Dorn medical center in Columbia and nine locations throughout the midlands and upstate.
Omura grew up with nine siblings two hours north of New York City in the Catskills area. His father, whose parents were originally from Japan, was in Hawaii before the start of World War ⅠⅠ. At its onset, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a fighter pilot. Inspired by his father's service, Omura decided he wanted to help people. He takes pride in helping the state's veterans and giving back to the community that has given so much, just as his dad did. His family has a long history of military service.
Omura holds an undergrad and a master's degree in Physical Therapy from Boston University and a master's in health care administration from the University of Florida. Omura then went on to receive his doctorate in physical therapy at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professionals.
His first jobs after college allowed him to experience both private and public healthcare systems. This exposure was invaluable as he learned the differences in how each type of healthcare system operates.
He became the associate director and chief operating officer for the Columbia VA in 2012. That role meant he worked in almost all facets of the facility, including budgeting, human resources, engineering, safety, privacy, logistics, and the business office.
At the Columbia VA, what you find may not be what one expects from a government-run hospital. There are not long lines and outdated machinery but innovative and modern approaches to health care that rival many private facilities.
"We have become a leader in innovation and in quality care. We're focused on providing the best healthcare possible for veterans," Omura said.
Recently renovated portions of the hospital will soon be home to a piece of the future, the da Vinci machine. This robotic surgery machine looks like something from science fiction, but its applications are genuine. Using a surgical system that uses a minimally invasive surgical approach, it cuts with incredible precision and accuracy. The da Vinci machine can see an area ten times smaller than the human eye is capable of seeing.
Omura refers to another portion of the facility as the "war room." At first glance, it looks just like any other office, but step inside and you'll find it houses what might be the facility's most precious resource, data. Here, data from every hospital department flows into computers, where the team analyzes it.
On a wall lined with floor-to-ceiling televisions, the data team analyzes up-to-the-minute information like wait times, appointments and the status of operations. Another computer screen displays a map of the state showing areas color-coded by vaccination rates which changes every time a veteran receives a vaccination from the VA. That information is used to determine where mobile vaccination centers should be sent. Using this critical data provides ways to increase the quality of care for veterans through pinpointing bottlenecks and effectively managing resources.
Across the United States are 171 VA healthcare facilities. Each works to provide top-level care for the nation's veterans. Omura says that to run a healthcare system of this magnitude, you must try to be the best, not for bragging rights, but for each veteran.
"If the Columbia VA strives to be the best in the nation; if every leader at every VA wants their VA to be the best in the nation- wow, think what a wonderful VA healthcare system we'll have," Omura said.
To be the best, Omura stresses the importance of partners like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District, who provide construction services for the facility. The director and the Corps work closely to ensure our nation's veterans receive the care they deserve.
"The experience has been very positive working with the Corps. I've been very happy with our engagement and the thoughtfulness," Omura said. "Because of partnerships like the Corps, we magnify the hands that help our veterans."
As Omura walks around the 97-acre campus of the Dorn VA Medical Center, one thing stands out; there is not a single person he does not say hello to or recognize. With a smile, he ensures everyone from nurses, patients and janitors are taken care of. He personifies the 'lead from the front' mentality and never forgets how fortunate he is.
"It's a great honor and privilege to be able to take care of our nation's heroes. Working here, you're part of a family, part of a team; nothing is done in isolation," said Omura. "It's not about trying to make a profit. It's about recognizing and taking care of those that have put their lives on the line for our country and have preserved our freedom."
When you speak with Omura and walk with him through the campus, it is difficult to grasp the sheer size of the operation he is running. When he smiles and offers a helping hand to everyone he sees, you can't help but think, 'how does he do it?' Walk with him for a little longer, and you will know the answer. He does it with pride, he does it with care, and he does it with love, all for the men and women who, like his father, put their lives on the line for our great country.