Cathy Barr ’98 M.B.A., started her health care career as a nurse. “I worked in a neuro step-down unit, which was great preparation for working at Bethesda,” she said. “Our patients needed prolonged care.”
Barr enjoyed her work, but she found herself gravitating toward administration early on, and soon she began her two-decade career in health care administration. Thirteen of those years have been with HealthEast. “It’s a wonderful organization, and I’ve had great opportunities,” Barr said. “I’ve had progressive leadership roles here.” Those roles have culminated in her current position as vice president/CEO at Bethesda Hospital.
As Barr was working in health care administration, she decided to pursue an M.B.A. in order to advance her career. She enrolled in the Executive UST MBA program, which was especially valuable to her for its cohort model and emphasis on a values-based focus. “I had already been in health care for many years. My classes allowed me to interact with others outside of health care. There were 18 people in my cohort. Three of us were from health care, but others were from fields like engineering, IT and retail. I appreciated the chance to learn from them.”
It is this desire to connect with a variety of people, to learn from them, help them grow and get things done that distinguishes Barr’s career. Dr. Sheila Riggs, chair of the Department of Primary Care at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, serves on the board of the Women’s Health Leadership Trust with Barr. Riggs is past president of the organization, and Barr is now president, so the two have worked closely together. Riggs notes that the position of president requires an ability to inspire members, and she believes that Barr is well up to the task: “She not only has great leadership abilities but also followership. I see health care leaders in this community respecting and appreciating where Cathy wants to take health care.”
Lynn Sadoff, senior P.S. specialist at HealthEast, noted, “One of her great strengths is that she will reach out, ask for your opinion and use it. Connecting happens wherever she is.”
Among the relationships Barr values is her connection with Ann Schrader, chief operating officer at HealthEast. Barr has reported to her for about 10 years and appreciates her directness. “She holds you accountable. She has great confidence in you and sees things in you that you might not even see in yourself.”
Barr tries to be that sort of mentor for others. “I am passionate about mentoring and coaching,” she said. “I believe that each of us can make a difference. I like to try to understand what others want and look for opportunities for them to succeed.”
A recent vacation provided Barr with insight into her role as a mentor and the importance of taking advantage of the time you have with a person. “I was walking on the beach, and I noticed the imprint my footsteps made in the sand, and how quickly the waves washed those footprints way. I realized that we only have a certain amount of time to make a difference, but we need to try. I wish people would talk about that more.”
Barr recently served on the Minnesota Legislative Commission on Health Care Access, which was charged with providing recommendations to the legislature on how to achieve the goal of universal health care. The team identified gaps in care and especially focused on transitions in care. Barr valued working with a group of people that included hospital representatives, providers, members of the mental health community and other stakeholders. She found the commission’s work very exciting.
“One person can have a voice if they extend themselves. They can make a difference,” she said. “I love thinking about reform, and I would like to be more involved in the future. We need to design sustainable health care. Health care will change. There is more work to do in areas such as community care and prevention, and I’d like to be a part of that.”
About Bethesda HospitalA part of the HealthEast Care System, Bethesda Hospital is one of only two long-term acute care hospitals in Minnesota. The hospital helps patients needing care for respiratory problems, brain injuries, complex medical problems and medical behavioral problems such as Alzheimer’s. The hospital emphasizes an integrated treatment of its patients – mind, body and spirit. Patients have come from as far as Florida because of the hospital’s outstanding reputation. “Of the patients who come to us from community hospitals with failed ventilator weaning,” said Barr, “75 percent are able to leave here weaned from a ventilator.” Barr declares, with evident pride, that Bethesda Hospital is “the best kept secret in town.”