Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rohrer applies administrative skills to providing health care to veterans

John Rohrer

Thanks to John Rohrer and an integrated team of health care professionals, veterans in rural Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula are able to access medical services without having to drive hundreds of miles to a Veterans Affairs medical center.

The 1987 La Follette grad and Veterans Affairs administrator wrote the grant and led the project implementation team on a $6 million expansion of "telehealth" specialty clinic services delivered to rural veterans in mid and northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula. Clinical Video Telehealth enables VA clinicians, typically based at VA medical centers, to provide care using real-time video technologies to veteran patients who receive their health care from VA outpatient clinics in their local communities.

"Over the past three years, we have added tele-infectious disease, tele-cardiology, tele-rheumatology, tele-audiology, tele-pulmonary and tele-nutritional services to the tele-mental health services we have been providing for many years," says Rohrer, who was promoted in 2012 to associate director/chief operating officer of the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison.

John Rohrer stands in doorway facing into hallway with a lovely wood floor.

John Rohrer visits the new prep and recovery area under construction at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison where he is associate director/chief operating officer. The facility and a new operating room suite will open in December or January.

In that position, Rohrer oversees all administrative, financial and environmental aspects of the hospital, a 134-bed facility with more than 1,800 employees, five community-based outpatient clinics, one annex clinic, a robust research program and a budget of $250 million. Rohrer supervises senior managers in human resources, patient administration, engineering, environmental management, nutrition and food service, safety and occupational health, police and security, community relations and logistics.

He notes he has had the privilege of working with La Follette 2000 alum Abe Rabinowitz, who was the hospital's financial officer for several years and just joined a regional fiscal network of Veterans Affairs hospitals. "Fortunately, he is still located here in our building," Rohrer says. "We have helped each other along in our careers for many years."

Rohrer also relies on male colleagues to join him in his favorite volunteer activity, going several times a year to a Madison retirement community to dance with residents at the ballroom dances they hold.

Rohrer's career with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs began when he was a student at the La Follette Institute in the mid-1980s. His original plan was to earn dual degrees in public policy and law, but the Law School career placement coordinator told him the job market was poor for people graduating with law degrees.

"Around the same time a friend mentioned the health administration program, so I chose that route instead," Rohrer says. "I did a one-year internship at the Madison VA Hospital, which led to an additional year of training in the Medical Administration Service Trainee program at Madison, and then I moved to the Asheville, North Carolina, VA Medical Center for two years as the assistant chief of medical administration service. So the internship set the course for my whole career."

Rohrer has continued his training through various leadership programs. "One of the best experiences was this past year going through the Excellence in Government Fellows program, put on by the Partnership for Public Service in Washington, D.C.," Rohrer says "Each year, 200 or so individuals are selected from numerous government agencies to attend this particular leadership training, including 10 VA employees. The year includes some exceptional leadership benchmarking opportunities."

Although he did not intend to work at a public sector hospital when he started the health administration portion of his training, Rohrer ended up with a career in the public sector, mostly in Madison. "The base knowledge provided by my public affairs classes proved very helpful," he says. "In particular, my personnel classes and my budget classes gave me a glimpse of what to expect on the job. The La Follette School's great professors and bright students, plus an exciting campus, make La Follette a great place to build a foundation for a career in public service."

Rohrer notes that the ability to manage and use data has increased in importance during his career. "Nearly every decision we make in health care today is data driven, and the impact and outcome of our decisions are continually being monitored and measured," he says. "Here at the Madison Veterans Affairs hospital we are participating in a national data analytics pilot project, where several staff are receiving additional training on the tools and knowledge required to make data-driven decisions. I can say without a doubt that quantitative skills will be critical to nearly any position today's students will find themselves in post-graduation."

Rohrer urges anyone starting their career to find and pursue their passion. "Most of us spend a majority of our waking hours at work, so find an agency or a company that has a mission consistent with your beliefs and values and a service or product you can be proud of," he advises.

"There is no better feeling than working in a service industry where you can truly believe in your mission," Rohrer adds. "I cannot imagine a better job than providing quality health care to America's veterans — people who put their personal lives on hold and, too often, their lives on the line so the rest of us can enjoy the freedoms we have in this exceptional country we live in."