White Mountain Community Health - Affordable Health Care, Conway NH
Open Monday through Friday
8:30am to 4:00pm
(603) 447-8900

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Jul 27, 2017

Health center welcomes new Executive Director, JR Porter


White Mountain Community Health Center is pleased to welcome its new Executive Director, Kenneth “JR” Porter, Jr.  Executive Assistant Siena Kaplan-Thompson sat down with JR, as he prefers to be called, to learn more about him and introduce him to the community.

Tell me about your background. You’ve been in the military most of your life?
I recently retired from 33 years of Naval service as a Command Master Chief in senior leadership positions and as a healthcare provider. I’ve provided care in combat and in peacetime in every continent in the world. I was trained as an Independent Duty Corpsman, equivalent to a civilian physician’s assistant (PA), and in fact, where the PA program started from during the Vietnam era. We provide medical care in remote and austere locations as well as combat attached to the Marine Corps, Special Forces, and other agencies worldwide.
So you’ve had a lot of hands-on experience providing medical care, as well as running clinics?
Yes, I was also the only medical provider on two ships with 300 crew members, as we deployed all over the world. It’s like being a small-town doc. You’re their primary care provider, and you get very close to them and their families and there are multiple times when someone just wants to “talk with the Doc” as well as just medical issues.
I also set up clinics for local populations in countries we were working in. It’s a good way to gain civilians’ trust – if you treat someone’s child, they’ll see that you’re on their side. And it’s what I got into the medical field for, to help people.
What have you been doing most recently?
In the last fifteen years or so I’ve been more on the policy and management side. I managed medical assets [personnel and supplies] attached to the Marine Corps Reserve at the national level. That was a learning experience. The Pentagon is such a large organization that it moves very slowly, so once you get something in place it might be four or five years down the line from when you started it, and sometimes it doesn’t make sense anymore.
For example, during the First Gulf War, a corpsman would serve as the “Doc” for reserve troops stationed in every state. When they went into combat, though, the Corpsman would stay behind while their Marines deployed. The theory was that they would be here to care for the wounded troops. But in the Gulf War, there weren’t a lot of casualties. I helped change this structure so that the corpsmen would follow their troop overseas. Then once we got into Afghanistan and Iraq it was a very different situation, there were a lot of casualties and those corpsmen were needed at home. But it took a long time to change things back.
How have your experiences overseas affected the way you work?
It makes it easier to relate to different people, easier to talk to anyone. In the end, everyone needs someone else’s help, and it’s about finding ways to work together even if you have different backgrounds so you can get things done. 
You also do get a look at how things are in other places, and you’re forced out of your jaded bubble. When you work in war zones and in places with a lot of strife, you see it can be much worse somewhere else. I was in Sierra Leone, a country that went from being a very prosperous country to just utter devastation. They used to have power and infrastructure, and then it was just gone. We were treating people for things you never see in this country, like typhoid and malaria, which was interesting as a provider but a horrible situation. We learn that we have to be at our best when everyone else is at their worst.
After doing so many things all around the world, what attracted you about White Mountain Community Health Center?
I like to be where the rubber hits the road. It’s the reason I got into medicine in the first place, I like to help people. In the end, I didn’t want to be working for a big machine, I wanted to take care of the people who need taking care of.
A lot of what I’ve done was setting up small clinics, doing what you could do with what you have. In the field you use whatever’s available – I’ve set up clinics using just what was in my backpack, and I’ve set up large clinics coordinating big organizations like the Red Cross and other NGOs. Every clinic has its idiosyncrasies, but really a clinic’s a clinic and I know clinics. So it’s a different setting, but I feel very familiar with what you’re doing here: using the resources you have available to provide care to the people who need it.
You’ve been living in Virginia – are you excited for all the snow you’re about to encounter?
No, I am not all that fond of snow! My girlfriend is a rider, so she’s been trying to get me into it. I’m more into water sports and hiking. But I’m from New England, my aunt lives in Glen so I’ve spent a lot of time here, and it’s good to be home. This is my 16th move in 33 years, and I’m looking forward to settling down and being in the same place for a while.
If not skiing, what do you do for fun?
I love food and culture. There’s this idea that you have to go all the way around the world to try different things, but every area has something interesting going on, you can go from North Conway to Conway Village and it’s entirely different.
Eating and drinking with people is when you really get to know them. Things get solved more socializing than in a board room. That’s something I’ve learned from interacting with people in different cultures, when you’re sitting at a table together it gets people at same level.
Do you have any big plans for the health center yet?
I want to thank Patricia for where she’s gotten it. We’re in an interesting time in this country with changes in health care. It’s a great time for transitions and bringing in new ideas. 
Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t cover?
I think people sometimes get the wrong impression when they hear “military.”  That’s my background, and I did do combat, but the medical field in the military isn’t about being a hardliner and stickler for rules – it’s the opposite actually, you have to be adaptable and meet people where they’re at.  If you’ve seen M*A*S*H you get the idea.
The biggest thing I’ve learned in all my experiences is that we’re all going to face stuff, no matter where you’re coming from, but it’s all doable. You might be a millionaire, or you might be living with a dirt floor, but either way you’ll still have worries and there’s always a way forward and there’s always an answer.  
Picture: JR_photo1.jpg