When Rose Lawhorne was a teenager, a career in health care seemed unlikely. She passed out on three separate occasions while visiting Barlett Regional Hospital, overwhelmed by the sights and smells. This week, she’s taking over as the chief executive officer there.
Despite her experiences as a visitor, the organization’s stability attracted her to work at the hospital. As the CEO, she plans to double down on the strength that initially attracted her to the organization 28 years ago. Lawhorne succeeds recently retired CEO Chuck Bill.
“My goal is to lead through the challenges of the coming years with sustainability and stability,” she said. “We need to support our healthcare teams and the challenges they face and recognize how daunting the last year has been.”
As she looks to the future, Lawhorne is open about how COVID-19 related stress has affected frontline staff and the hospital’s finances. She also acknowledged that another season without cruise ship staff or passengers visiting the facility will pressure revenue.
Long tenure leads to the top job
Lawhorne started her career at the hospital in 1993 when she joined the accounting staff. She’s been working her way up through the ranks ever since.
“I was young, and I had a focus on accounting because I was taking accounting classes,” she said in an interview this week.
It turned out to be the first of many jobs at the hospital. Working the night shift as the hospital’s only registrar, she would help the emergency room nurse fill out paperwork.
“I was in my mid-20s and doing some soul searching about what I wanted to do, and the night-shift emergency room nurse told me I should become a nurse. So I got an associate’s degree in nursing,” she said.
That experience led her to get a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a master’s degree in nursing and a second master’s degree in health administration.
She’s spent her entire career at Bartlett. She has served as the chief nursing officer, assistant chief clinical officer, senior director, emergency department director, staff nurse and data entry/registration clerk along the way.
“I’m kind of driven,” she said. But, she acknowledged that she’s still slightly surprised to find herself in the hospital’s top job.
“It was never a specific goal,” Lawhorne said. “My goal was to serve the community. I’ve just taken opportunities and prepared myself to focus on advancement.”
In her new role, she will be keeping a special eye on the needs of the staff.
“In my role, my job is to care for the staff. My background has prepared me to understand the safety and the environment of care and to always keep that at the forefront of my mind,” she said.
Despite the challenges ahead, Lawhorne says that she’s committed to guiding the hospital through the rough waters. She expects her variety of experiences to serve her well in her new role.
“Coming through the ranks has given me a fairly good perspective on healthcare and the different jobs and how each position and role relates to patient care and how each process change feels when they reach each patient,” she said.
Lawhorne said she plans to make “little adjustments” to improve the hospital’s financial situation while focusing on the strong partnerships the facility has with local providers and looking for new ways to maximize revenue from the operating room.
“We need to be mindful of our volumes and responsible with our resources,” she said, citing caution when it comes to making changes to the physical plant as an example of an area where the hospital can play financial defense.
“My No. 1 goal is stability and taking care of our people,” she said. “I’m not coming in with big, sweeping changes. We will make adjustments to the steering to make sure we are on course. We are looking to be sustainable with a stable workforce and to maximize as we can.”
Her experiences have also provided insight into how stressful health care work can be — especially a year into a pandemic.
“The fact is that every patient who came in could have had COVID. The long-term stress on our teams has left people exhausted. People are just exhausted right now. We need to fill ourselves up and tend to ourselves, and the people here have my support to do that,” she said. “We have an incredible, dedicated team. Our staff is phenomenal. They truly are the Bartlett Heroes.”