SEMINOLE — A 17-year employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs has been named the new chief of the Bay Pines VA Medical Center, the agency said.
Suzanne M. Klinker, director of the VA medical center in Battle Creek, Mich., is expected to take her new post at Bay Pines in Seminole within 45 to 60 days, VA officials said.
The appointment comes a year after the retirement of Wallace Hopkins as Bay Pines director. The search for a new director was delayed when another candidate accepted the position only to later turn it down.
Klinker, unavailable for an interview on Wednesday, released a brief statement.
"I am excited to have the opportunity to serve at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System," she said. "It will be my privilege and honor to work alongside its employees serving the veterans of southwest Florida with integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, and excellence."
Klinker, 43, who holds a master's degree in management, has held a variety of posts at VA facilities in Kansas, Texas, Louisiana, New York and, most recently, Michigan, where she served as the director of a VA facility for about three years.
"Her sound leadership qualities and proven experience will be valuable assets for (Bay Pines), the employees, the volunteers and most importantly, for the veterans we are honored to serve," VA regional director Nevin Weaver said in a statement.
The delay in selecting a new Bay Pines director had drawn the attention of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, who had urged VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to speed up the process.
"Too often, temporary leadership brings with it the deferral of important decisions until a permanent director comes aboard, and I fear that this can create long-term problems for Bay Pines," Young said in the letter to Shinseki earlier this year.
Young was not immediately available to comment late Wednesday.
Bay Pines is the fourth-busiest veterans hospital in the nation. It oversees the health care of more than 97,000 veterans, has a budget of $600 million and a staff of 3,800 employees. The Bay Pines director oversees facilities from Palm Harbor to Fort Myers.
In a 2009 story in the Battle Creek Enquirer, Klinker was described as an orderly person who kept an immaculate desk.
Organization, she told the newspaper, "is my middle name."
William R. Levesque can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3432.