Carrie Willetts takes over at WellSpan

By on February 4, 2016
“I learned early on to present yourself professionally but also, and more importantly, how you treat other people &tstr; you treat everyone, regardless of their role in an organization or in society, with respect.” Carrie E. Willetts, president of WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital

“I learned early on to present yourself professionally but also, and more importantly, how you treat other people &tstr; you treat everyone, regardless of their role in an organization or in society, with respect.” Carrie E. Willetts, president of WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital

Carrie E. Willetts hit the ground running when she took over last month as the new boss at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital.

Willetts, 41, who along with her husband are house-hunting in the Ephrata area, expressed a genuine appreciation for the region and Ephrata schools — where her two children are enrolled in 5th and 6th grade.

“I love the local area; It feels like home,” she said. “I’m staying here, the kids are staying in Ephrata schools.”

Willetts said she learned quickly how local WellSpan workers offer insight and mirror the strength of the community in general.

“The people here have the utmost integrity and a true passion for who they’re treating and who they’re serving,” she said.

As president of WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital and senior vice president of the hospital’s parent company, York-based WellSpan Health, Willetts arrives as the system expands through a $28 million project to broaden its surgical services and add space for physician offices.

Willetts, whose experience includes leading a hospital through an integration process with a larger health system, said she grew up in a large family in “small-town” Petersburg, W.V., the hometown of her father.

She clings to her small town sensibilities, remembering growing up in Petersburg, where “you had to drive two hours to see a specialist doctor.”

“I thought you had to dress up to go to the doctor. I thought you had to dress up to go shopping or to the mall,” Willetts said. “That’s the culture I grew up in and I think that’s something I’ve carried with me.”

But during high school, she realized bigger and better things might require a move to new territory.

“I wanted to be different,” she said. “Most of the people there go to West Virginia University — which I’m still an avid Mountaineer fan. I wanted to go to college out of state so I chose to go to James Madison University in Virginia.”

She stayed in Virginia after graduation and has spent the last 20 years there — the last year serving as vice president of operations at Sentara CarePlex Hospital.

Though she started as a chemistry major at James Madison she earned a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration. Willetts received a master’s degree in health services administration from Virginia Commonwealth University.

“I started working at the University of Virginia Health system as an intern and I ended up spending 10 year there in various roles,” she said.

So what attracted her to come here and leave Virginia after two decades?

WellSpan’s mission, which she said expands beyond helping the sick, to an emphasis on “prevention and wellness,” appealed to Willetts.

“I’m excited to be here,” she said. “The community is wonderful, the team at Ephrata is outstanding. WellSpan as a system is a very well-run organization and most importantly is its commitment to its mission to work as one to help improve the health of the community.”

As head of a hospital, it’s probably no surprise that Willetts walks the talk on healthy living, though she stopped short of describing herself as a “health nut.”

But her children may disagree as demonstrated by her daughter’s first-grade portrait of her mother.

“It was a portrait of me in a T-shirt with a big green circle on it that said ‘I Heart Kale’,” she said.

Her active schedule and transition to the area hasn’t left much time to work out, but “I just joined the Ephrata Rec Center,” she noted.

Being busy is nothing new to Willetts, whose 20-year career is punctuated by role changes in varied leadership positions.

They include jobs at Sentara RMH, a 268-bed hospital in Harrisonburg, Va., as assistant director of business services for physician practice management; market development director; and director of orthopedics, spine and sports medicine.

“Someone early on in my career told me don’t just climb the ladder without understanding what we refer to as the whole ‘continuum’ of health care,” Willetts said.

Her career moves reflect her objective to do just that. While healthcare is about caring for the sick, “it is also a business,” she said.

“Over my 20-year career I’ve had great opportunities and was exposed to a lot of the different aspects involved with an integrated delivery system,” she said.

She’s focused on almost all facets of the integrated delivery system — which by definition is a network of health care of organizations under a parent holding company — including strategic planning, radiology, cardiology, physical, speech and occupational therapies; in- and out-patient programs.

So what has she NOT done?

“I’ve never worked in the lab or a nursing unit,” Willetts responded after thinking for a few seconds.

Willetts is now responsible for the day-to-day operating activities and oversees the performance improvement and “patient experience initiatives” of the 130-bed hospital in Ephrata.

She is also the executive leader for WellSpan’s system of care in Lancaster County.

During her interview last week, Willetts couldn’t resist praising the Ephrata community. She recounted the day she first came to interview for the WellSpan job in August.

“I went for an early morning walk through the neighborhood and everyone I met greeted me like they knew me,” she said.

Since taking over Jan. 11, Willetts has taken time to meet the staff at the hospital.

“What I found was people are genuine, sincere and the staff at the hospital loves what they are doing,” she said. “We have generations of family members who work here. It’s very exciting to see that.”

Willetts has also been out and about learning some things about the local business community and “getting to know our board members.”

She succeeds John M. Porter Jr., who steered Ephrata Community Hospital through a dramatic period of growth and into the WellSpan system.

Porter was named executive vice president and chief operating officer of WellSpan Health in early 2015 but had remained at Ephrata until Willetts was hired.

His reputation as a down-to-earth executive is one of many things Willetts admires about her new boss.

“I do believe in a level of professionalism in my role, my goal is a leader, as female leader, is to set an example for other women who want to have a professional career,” she said.

“I learned early on to present yourself professionally but also, and more importantly, how you treat other people — you treat everyone, regardless of their role in an organization or in society, with respect.”

Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

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