Chats with the Chief: South Texas Director Chris Sandles on VA’s fastest growing HCS


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Jon Jensen, host of “Chats with the Chief,” is VHA’s Chief of Staff. This week, he’s joined by Chris Sandles, director of the South Texas VA Healthcare System. In the video above, Jensen and Sandles talk about the fastest growing VA health care system in the country and standing up VHA’s Office of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion.

The chat covers Sandles’ VA career and his personal connection to serving Veterans, as well as his own service after receiving a commission to the Medical Service Corps in the Navy Reserve. As the leader of the South Texas Health Care System in San Antonio, Sandles says success is, “equal to a function of ability and motivation,” basically saying that anyone can be successful with some combination of ability and motivation.

 

Pandemic showed the value of every single employee

On the pandemic, Sandles said that “having to literally renovate the entire hospital to turn almost every unit into a COVID unit… really showed the value of every single employee, because it really takes everybody to be successful.”

On its workforce: Sandles said the system is unique in that it has both academic and DoD affiliations, as well as serving a diverse population. While about 33% of employees across VA are Veterans, 41% of South Texas employees are Veterans. That statistic hides a lot about its staff and Veterans with direct connections to military life, military spouses, parents, prior service, etc.

Unique understanding of having worn the uniform

San Antonio also is the epicenter for Army medicine.

“Our leadership team, especially on the clinical side, is just phenomenal,” he said. Chief of Staff is retired Air Force. Deputy Chief of Staff is retired Navy. Chiefs of medicine, surgery, behavioral health, and their CIO are all retired service with a unique understanding of what it means to wear the uniform.

On diversity and inclusion, however, he said “there’s still a lot of work to be done. We will continue to focus energy on that this year. [And] Sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and ending those things are other things that we’re focusing a lot and energy on this year [too].”

On leading

Sandles walks the talk. He leads from the front, living the culture change that shows in South Texas’ success.

“I’ve just had a great ride with VA. What’s really kept me here is just the amazing caliber of the people you work with,” he said. “Honestly, it’s families… I told you about my mother and father, but it’s the VA family that’s kept me here. When you work for the largest health care system in the country, there’s a lot of geographic opportunity. But that also creates opportunities to just make great connections.”

Author

Veterans Health Administration