In September, Bartlett Regional Hospital announced a pair of resignations. In October, Jerel Humphrey stepped in as the interim CEO. He is the fourth chief executive officer — and the third person to hold the position on an interim basis at the hospital this year. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

In September, Bartlett Regional Hospital announced a pair of resignations. In October, Jerel Humphrey stepped in as the interim CEO. He is the fourth chief executive officer — and the third person to hold the position on an interim basis at the hospital this year. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Interim CEO: ‘Incredibly dedicated hospital staff works through pandemic stressors’

Humphrey not sure how long he will stay on job

Following a flurry of unexpected resignations at Bartlett Regional Hospital earlier this year, the hospital’s Board of Directors named Jerel Humphrey as interim Chief Executive Officer in early October.

Four weeks after putting his boots on the ground, Humphrey said his top priority is meeting the region’s health care needs and helping the staff recover from the enormous stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All of health care is facing challenges right now and BRH is no exception,” he told the Empire in a Thursday afternoon phone interview.

For the last 10 years, Humphrey has worked at hospitals around the country, stepping in to serve on an interim basis. He said he’s happy to bring his 35 years of health care experience to Bartlett.

Originally from southern Indiana, Humphrey has worked at hospitals in Texas, Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

“I like the opportunity to help hospitals in transition,” he said. “I enjoy learning about the programs provided in different settings.”

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Humphrey said he had never been to Juneau or Alaska before taking the job and that the opportunity to learn more about the community and the region was one of the reasons he found the position appealing. He said that he’s looking forward to hosting his wife and three grown children in Juneau during his tenure so they can get a glimpse of the area.

Humphrey is the fourth chief executive officer — and the third person to hold the position on an interim basis at the hospital this year.

Humphrey replaced Kathy Callahan, who came out of retirement to temporarily serve as interim CEO after the abrupt resignation of Rose Lawhorne last month. Callahan’s last day was Oct. 25.

Lawhorne was named to the position permanently earlier this year and resigned in September amid news of an inappropriate personal relationship with a subordinate staff member, violating city policy.

Before Lawhorne took the job, chief financial officer Kevin Benson served as interim CEO after Chuck Bill retired.

Humphrey said he doesn’t know how long he will be in the role.

“I approach all of these assignments as if they are permanent,” he said. “It’s pretty open-ended.”

Humphrey said the plan is to transition out of the CEO role once the board selects a new leader.

“It’s not clear to me how long that will take,” he said, pointing out that the holiday season is not usually conducive to the hiring process.

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Challenges

Humphrey said that all health care services and the people who work in health care are under stress due to the pandemic.

“The stress of COVID-19 is the main thing. It’s enormously draining. We are doing everything we can to relieve the strain on the staff,” he said, pointing out that the pandemic is ebbing somewhat.

Humphrey said that 10 federal workers from the Disaster Medical Assistance Team are onsite at the hospital and regularly working 60-hour weeks as nurses and surgical techs to help relieve strain on the staff. The workers will remain at Bartlett Regional Hospital through Jan. 18.

Humphrey said that COVID-19 has challenged the health care system. But, that the hospital is committed to meeting the needs of Southeast Alaska now and in the future. He said that in the long run, that might mean new programming and new physicians.

Humphrey said that despite the stress of COVID-19, everyone at Bartlett Regional Hospital — from the medical team to the cleaning crew to the foodservice staff — is committed to the welfare of the patients.

“The employees here are incredibly dedicated to this community and I am very proud of them,” he said. “They are committed to providing care and are gonna grind it out and put all this COVID stuff behind us.”

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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