Juneau gets to know the Bartlett CEO candidates

One of the two finalists to be the next CEO of Juneau’s Bartlett Regional Hospital could get a job offer as soon as tonight (Monday).

Christine Harff of Thief River Falls, Minnesota and Liz Woodyard of Petersburg, Alaska went through a rigorous three-day assessment center last week. It involved interviews with city and hospital staff, “real-life” exercises, and meetings with the general public.

The city-owned hospital’s board of directors meets at 5:15 p.m. to talk about the candidates, and possibly offer one the job.

KTOO’s Casey Kelly has more.


Liz Woodyard has been CEO of Petersburg Medical Center for almost a year. It’s her second stint as a CEO and her second tour in Alaska. She spent about 10 years as an administrator and nursing officer at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital before being hired as CEO of Northern California’s Banner Lassen Medical Center in 2008.

Liz Woodyard

Bartlett Regional Hospital CEO candidate Liz Woodyard (left) talks with Mo Hicks at a Friday evening meet and greet. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Woodyard says she’s happy in Petersburg, but the opportunity to lead Bartlett is too good to pass up.

“Because it’s a regional hospital, and I feel really strongly that Bartlett has a lot to offer Southeast Alaska,” says Woodyard. “I feel we can partner very well with the other hospitals in Southeast.”

Woodyard says being familiar with the hospital and Juneau would help her hit the ground running. She says she learned of some opportunities for growth at Bartlett during her initial interview and the assessment center. One she’d be interested in exploring if she gets the job is an oncology center, where Southeast residents could receive cancer treatment.

“Just based on the fact that people leave and they go to Seattle or Anchorage, it’d be really nice to allow people to stay closer to home,” she says. “To avoid the stress of having to leave their family and their jobs, if services were offered locally, I think it would be great.”

Woodyard has a Master’s degree in Education from William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri and a nursing degree from the University of Phoenix.

Like Woodyard, Christine Harff got her start in nursing. She also has an MBA from the University of Minnesota and a law degree from William Mitchell College.

She currently serves as CEO of Sanford Medical Center in Thief River Falls, Minnesota – an 8,500 person town in the northwest corner of the state. She says the hospital is similar in size to Bartlett. But instead of being community-owned, it’s part of the Sanford Health system.

“Same challenges, though, we need to work at driving costs down,” Harff says. “But that’s a national problem for every hospital, and we kind of owe it that to our country to do a better job.”

Christine Harff

Bartlett Regional Hospital CEO candidate Christine Harff (middle) talks to LaRae Jones and BRH Board Member Kristen Bomengen at a Friday meet and greet. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Harff says she’d need to become more familiar with Bartlett before making any specific recommendations. She says it helps that the hospital is doing well financially, but like hospitals everywhere it can’t continue to raise prices for patients. She says there are ways to be more efficient, and often it’s as simple as listening to your doctors and nurses.

“Sometimes your front line staff know more ways than not,” says Harff. “But again, like I said, after one or two days I would not make any recommendations until I really did a full assessment and learning plan. And there’s a lot of people here I bet with a lot of great ideas. I’ve only met a few of them.”

The Bartlett board late last year decided to hire its own leadership team. After more than 20 years of an outside management company bringing in its own chief executive and chief financial officers, the board wanted the hospital’s top officials to be more responsive to the local community.

Board member Kristen Bomengen says the assessment center provided a glimpse of each candidate’s leadership style.

“We’ve got some good, solid information now as to how they think on their feet, and are able to pull the information together that we’ve provided them about our community and our hospital to come up with a vision for our future,” Bomengen says.

Harff and Woodyard were selected as finalists after a six-month search that started with a list of more than 500 candidates compiled by recruitment firm Quick Leonard Kieffer. A third finalist, William Comer, took his name out of consideration before the assessment center began.