New Bartlett CEO ready to learn ‘lay of the land’

The new CEO for Juneau’s Bartlett Regional Hospital doesn’t plan to make major changes right away.

Chris Harff was named to the city-owned facility’s top post Friday by the hospital’s board of directors, which is appointed by the CBJ Assembly. She’ll start in mid-August, and says there will be a learning curve as she transitions into the job.

KTOO’s Casey Kelly has more.

Chris Harff says quick changes aren’t her style. She says she’ll need some time to get up to speed and used to things at Bartlett.

“This is going to be a big adjustment, just with new leadership alone,” says Harff. “But I think the lesson of the day is to learn as much about Bartlett, the community of Juneau, learn the lay of the land before any changes are made. Because I don’t think coming in and changing anything for change itself does any good.”

Based on what she knows from interviewing for the job, Harff believes Bartlett is a solid organization in a stable financial position. But in general, she says the health care community owes it to the country to reduce costs and be more efficient.

“All rocks need to be lifted and uncovered,” Harff says. “And you got to look at it and kind of figure out where it is in particular for Bartlett.”

Harff has a nursing degree and an MBA from the University of Minnesota, and a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The 50-year-old has been CEO at the 25-bed Sanford Medical Center in Thief River Falls for the past seven years. The small hospital also has a 10-bed behavioral health unit and two outpatient clinics. By comparison, Bartlett has 43 acute care, 12 Mental Health, and 16 chemical dependency beds.

Before Sanford, Harff was chief operating officer at another hospital in Minnesota. She’s also been director of nursing at two facilities. Early in her career she was a trauma nurse at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, where she says she learned the value of connecting with patients and families on a personal level.

“After the patient is stabilized, then it’s working with families and getting the pieces picked up so they can go back to as much of a normal life as possible,” says Harff.

Kristen Bomengen, who led the hospital board of directors’ search committee, says members wanted a CEO who had worked in a clinical setting.

“We were hoping to get in someone who was experienced at balancing the many different factors that a CEO will have to balance,” Bomengen says. “And someone who could speak the language so to speak about the clinical experience. We were able to find both of those in this particular candidate.”

The Bartlett board decided late last year to hire its own CEO after more than two decades of an outside management company running the hospital. Bomengen says the board wanted the hospital’s leadership to be more responsive to the local community.

Harff was one of three finalists for the top job. The other candidates took their names out of consideration before the hiring process was complete. Still, Bomengen says Harff really impressed the board during the final assessment center interview, where she was asked to solve simulated problems in a real life setting.

“We knew that all of the candidates were well-qualified and were reasonable for us to consider,” says Bomengen. “And then it was simply a matter of getting to know more about their style and their approach to things to determine what the best fit would be. And I think we have the best fit.”

Harff and her husband have two daughters in high school and a son in college. She’ll be paid $262,000 a year, which Bomengen says is about average for a hospital CEO in Alaska.

Recent headlines