Lifetime of experience led Dr. Rob Henry to role as Eastern’s CMO

Dr. Rob Henry with Gov. Jay Inslee

Rob Henry took a unique path to becoming a doctor, so it’s no surprise that he did the same to become the chief medical officer at Eastern State Hospital.

Henry earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and although medical school was always a goal, he didn’t want to return to where his family lived in North Carolina hill country, so instead he joined the Navy and became a missiles division officer on a nuclear cruiser.

“I’m the first person in my family to complete college, and I used the Navy as an avenue out of North Carolina and find a new life,” he said.

Henry’s last two years in the Navy were spent in Bremerton, and enamored with Washington, he stayed in the state after his commission ended in 1989. He soon took a temp job as a medical health technician at Western State Hospital. In between two stints in the temp role at Western and while in medical school at the Western University of Health Sciences in 1993, Henry worked at Goodwill and LensCrafters and volunteered at the Puyallup Tribal Clinic and a Tacoma AIDS hospice.

“I just liked different experiences,” he said. “All those experiences just sort of came together when I applied for a job or applied for medical school.”

Henry landed in Spokane in 1999 during the last two years of his University of Washington medical residency, which included experience at Eastern.

In Spokane he found a “hidden gem” and he knew he wouldn’t move back across the Cascade Mountains.

“I immediately fell in love,” he said.

Henry worked as a psychiatrist at Eastern from 2001 to 2014 before spending three years working at the Spokane Veterans Affairs facility. He rejoined Eastern as a contract psychiatrist in 2017, a role he enjoyed because it allowed him to control his work schedule.

He continued in that role until being recruited to be the hospital’s medical director. Although initially reluctant to pursue the position because he enjoyed the flexibility of being a contractor, Henry took it in February 2018 and has worked to make Eastern a better place for both patients and staff.

His first goal was to eliminate the contract positions like he previously held to fill out a full medical staff. Henry said he also wanted to make Eastern a place where people wanted to come to work every day.

“Not just medical staff, this was hospital wide,” he said. “I wanted to address people’s apathy and fears of working in a state hospital.

“We’ve gone to great lengths to turn that around make it a place where people feel comfortable coming forward to make this a more enjoyable place to work.”

In addition to overseeing the medical department, Henry supervises the dental clinic, laboratory, pharmacy and psychology department. He has set out to make a medicine-based approach a key aspect of all those disciplines.

“It’s really been an effort to build and grow relationships, because without relationships you won’t get anything,” he said.

Now in the final stages of his meandering journey to chief medical officer, Henry said he will likely retire within five years. And while his to-do list isn’t fully checked off, he would like to eventually hand the reins to someone to carry on the work he has done over the last three years.

“My goal is to make this place better than it was when I got here,” Henry said. “I would love to see this place remain viable to the community it serves in all aspects. I’d like to take this place through whatever changes it’s going to go through during my last few years and hand it off to someone who can take the hospital forward.”

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