Serendipity comes in many forms. Just ask Jamie Forrest.

As Forrest was completing a master’s degree in health care administration at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, her adviser commented that if Forrest was going to live in Melbourne, Health First would be the place to work.

So, Forrest followed up on the advice, and when a manager’s position became available, she shifted her sights from hospital to health insurance. As it turned out, in a career of many smart moves, that was a particularly good one for her. She joined the company in 2012 as director of Medicare Sales & Service.

“Health Insurance — I remember thinking this was not the path I envisioned, but little did I know that by taking the road less traveled, I would have such a fulfilling career,” said Forrest, today chief operating officer at Health First Health Plans Inc., a role she began in August 2019.

As Brevard’s largest health care provider, Health First operates Holmes Regional Medical Center, Cape Canaveral Hospital, Viera Hospital and Palm Bay Hospital, along with three merging “wellness villages” to be located in Melbourne, Palm Bay and Merritt Island. Now beginning construction, the villages will offer services such as outpatient procedures, imaging and diagnostics, plus walking trails and community events, among other components.

Photography by Jason Hook

“Across every industry, organizations are experiencing change on varying fronts. And perhaps nowhere is the need for change more pronounced than in healthcare,” Forrest explained. “That is why Health First is focused on changing the health model from ‘sick care’ to keeping our community well.”

Forrest isn’t leading those changes by accident.

“I consider myself a natural leader,” she noted. “I’ve been thrown into the deep end of the pool a few times at work, which is not the time to learn to swim. So, I think thriving in those instances is an indication of instinct and the ability to lead.

In addition, constant changes in her industry have helped Forrest to steer her own company.

“I am an organized, thoughtful planner, but in life and especially the healthcare industry change is constant, and I learned how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable,” she explained. “Whether it is a new position or responsibility, I learned that the uneasiness of something new will subside, and that I am capable of navigating whatever change lies ahead.”

A multitude of role models have made a difference, too.

“Along my journey, I’ve learned from so many talented leaders, friends, colleagues and family members. A key leader once shared that no one was perfect, and he hoped that I recognized and applied the best leadership qualities from others,” Forrest said.

“I have created a toolbox of leadership traits from those I admire whether they are in the healthcare industry or not.”

Further, it can be said that Forrest is quite the juggler — the wife of a working spouse and mother of two young children. She described herself with a bit of jest: “I often feel like I wear the hat of a juggling circus clown.”

Indeed, Forrest isn’t all business. She grew up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and remains a beach lover who was part of a relatively small community. There is much of the same in Brevard, where she has now lived for 15 years.

Not coincidentally, she believes in the saying that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

“The first time I heard this quote, it really resonated with me,” Forrest said. “Strong leadership and engaged associates help an organization perform its best, which allows the organization to best serve its customers.”