Kohorst hits the ground running at AARC

Monday, January 31, 2005

At first glance, Joan Kohorst’s pledge to follow in her predecessor’s footsteps as AARC homecare section chair seems like a modest goal. That is, until one discovers that she is filling the shoes of the well-respected Joe Lewarski, who oversaw major changes during his unprecedented five-year term.
Joan Kohorst

Yet those who know her - Lewarski included - say that Apria Healthcare’s St. Louis-based regional clinical manager is more than ready to meet the challenges of her demanding new position.

“Joan is an excellent choice as homecare chair for the AARC,” said Kohorst’s supervisor Vernon Pertelle, national respiratory manager for Apria. “She has been a valuable resource to me and is always available despite the many duties she has. She’s one of the best multi-taskers I’ve ever known. She helps to solve challenges.”

Kohorst has worked as an RT for 20 years, earning a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy from the University of Missouri in 1985. She served as a hospital-based RT at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis for 14 years, earned a master’s degree in education and taught at the university level for five years before joining Lake Forest, Calif.-based Apria in 1997 as an RT manager for the St. Louis branch. She has been promoted twice by the corporation - first to division clinical manager and most recently to regional clinical manager for four Midwestern states.

While she was climbing the corporate ladder, Kohorst also found time to make a mark in her profession, devoting six years to being an officer in AARC’s Missouri chapter, including a two-year stint as president and involvement with the Missouri Political Advocacy Contact Team (PACT), the chapter’s grassroots lobbying group. Her ascension to the AARC homecare chair in December is the culmination of her activities at both the state and national levels.

With more than 1,000 members, homecare is a significant section within AARC, though approximately 37,000 therapists belong to the Dallas-based RT society. Reorganization during Lewarski’s tenure created a seat for the homecare chair on the AARC Board of Directors, and Kohorst plans to use the position as a forum for her homecare agenda.

“I see my role as an information resource for members and to make sure we have homecare-related educational topics at the AARC International Congress,” she said.

Kohorst has made full use of her educator skills at Apria, helping to launch the corporation’s intranet-based E-Learning initiative for respiratory employees. Now ready for implementation, she designed the curriculum and worked with instruction designers and IT personnel to install the program on the electronic platform. As a result, one of her assignments at AARC is to work with the vice president of internal affairs on developing a Webcast homecare chat room for discussion of topics relevant to homecare RTs.

“Becoming homecare section chair is a great opportunity for me to share information with other therapists, owners and managers in the industry,” she said. “I take pride in doing my homework and backing up what I say. Over my career I’ve worked in a highly visible position and you have to know what you’re talking about.”

During her two-year term as chair, Kohorst hopes to build a coalition of trusted allies to strengthen the homecare RT network. Though she’s tabbed as the leader, she’s relying on her peers to help plot the section’s future course.

“This isn’t just Joan’s homecare section - I want this to be a team project,” she said. “I’ve had several members give me their business cards offering to help, and I plan to take them up on it.”

To instill trust with other team members, Kohorst said she’ll never be less than forthright in her relations with AARC colleagues. “I won’t tell anyone stories - ask me a question and you’ll get a straight answer,” she said.

Lewarski, vice president of clinical and government affairs for Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Inogen, helped Kohorst prepare for the job over the past two years and believes she is well-positioned to take the homecare section to the next level.

“Joan is a very bright person who will be dedicated to the section, and I’m convinced she’ll do an excellent job,” he said. “She represents a group that has a lot of smart and talented people, and she is wise to take advantage of those resources.”