It’s hard to get Jackie Forba to talk about herself.
She’s more apt to discuss the families that have benefited from the insurance program she now helps direct, or to touch upon health care policy, or to sing the praises of the people she’s worked with over the years.
Forba is set to retire as the director of the Healthy Montana Kids Plan at the end of the month, ending a career that has centered upon the lives of others. Though she enjoys talking about the work, she’s not sure what led her down the path that got her to that point.
“I don’t think I could put it down to just one thing that pulled me into the field,” she said.
A Pennsylvania native, Forba graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in individual and family studies with an emphasis in health care planning. From there, she went on to work at an adolescent health clinic in New York and then the women’s health section of a Denver clinic. In 1999, she became one of the first employees for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHIP. She ended up in Helena because of her husband, Russ, who came here for his work with the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2005, Forba took over the head position within CHIP, which was combined with children’s Medicaid four years later to become the Healthy Montana Kids Plan. These days, the phone in her basement office rings constantly. She estimates that she receives between 100 and 200 e-mails a day.
But she sees evidence of the work her office is doing. She has file folders filled with photos and notes from families who have benefited from the program, which provides medical insurance to children who wouldn’t have it otherwise.
“That’s what strikes me the most is how much people appreciate this. People don’t take this for granted,” she said.
And, for her, that’s one of the most appealing aspects of the job.
“I feel like I make a difference,” she said. “I feel like what I do every day impacts a family.”
Forba’s passion is apparent to her employees. Healthy Montana Kids Supervisor Katherine Buckley-Patton gets emotional when she talks about Forba’s departure, saying it will be a huge loss to the Department of Public Health and Human Services. She said Forba is a remarkable person who was always a strong advocate for the families the program aims to assist.
“She is a true visionary,” Buckley-Patton said.
Healthy Montana Kids Community Relations Manager Michael Mahoney said he’s worked for a lot of different people over the course of his career, but Forba has been the best.
“She’s a terrific boss,” he said. “She’s more than a boss. She’s been a terrific mentor and just an outstanding leader.”
And, he adds, she’s hard to keep up with.
“She literally runs from meeting to meeting and from appointment to appointment,” he said.
Forba grew up surrounded by people. She was one of six children, the fifth of five girls. Her father was a business owner and her mother was a “full-time homemaker.” There was always someone to laugh with, Forba said, and always someone there to help through the tough times.
Her siblings have gone into a variety of professions — from dentistry to law — but Forba said they’ve all followed the same philosophy: “Do work that benefits others and do something that you love.”
Because she came from a large family, Forba learned about maintaining relationships and building bonds. Her future plans are rooted in family: visiting with her three grown children, helping her husband install solar panels with his new business. And when she considers what she’s leaving behind, it’s the people, again, that bring tears to her eyes.
“What’s going to be really hard is leaving the people here,” she said. “The people here are amazing — both the management and the staff always keep families as the priority.”
Reporter Allison Maier: 447-4075 or email@example.com