When Regina Bartlett decided she wanted to be a nurse more than 40 years ago, she never imagined she’d one day be running a hospital. She began her nursing career with HCA at Chattanooga’s Parkridge Medical Center in 1978. In 1996, she moved to South Pittsburg Hospital as Chief Nursing Officer, and in 1998, she joined TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center as Chief Nursing and Operating Officer. In 2004, she transferred to TriStar Skyline Medical Center as Chief Operating Officer, and in 2007, she returned to TriStar Hendersonville to take on her current position as Chief Executive Officer. In June, she’ll celebrate 40 years with HCA, making her our next exceptionally worthy FACE of TriStar. We’re honored to introduce the inspirational and warm Regina Bartlett, who, in addition to being CEO, is also a proud wife, mother and grandmother to 10-year-old Addie.
Since the beginning of your career, you’ve been motivated by Dr. Thomas Frist, Sr. (HCA founder). How did that come about, and why do you feel that way?
Early on in my career at Parkridge, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Dr. Frist, Sr. Parkridge was one of the first hospitals in HCA. HCA is celebrating its 50-year anniversary this year, and Parkridge was only 10 at the time. He built the hospital with a couple of renowned surgeons in Chattanooga and made several visits. When you had the opportunity to meet Dr. Frist, Sr., you understood HCA — he was the heart and soul of the company just by how he made you feel, and how he made everybody else around you feel. He would come to the hospital, and he wouldn’t go straight to administration. He would go talk to the nurses and the patients. For that two minutes you might get to talk to him, you felt like you were the only thing on his mind. That was my beginning of learning who Dr. Frist, Sr. was. During my years in the company, that only grew from the standpoint of other influences. He really set the mission of the whole company from the beginning. One of my favorite quotes he ever said is, “Bettering the human condition is the greatest good any individual can achieve.” To me, that is the foundation of our mission today. We are here for the care and improvement of human life, right? The reason he started HCA 50 years later is still here. I am a huge Dr. Frist fan, and I try very hard because I think it is our obligation, particularly as leaders, to keep his legacy alive. He passed in 1998. Tommy Frist Jr. is still very much a part of the company and influential as well. I’ve had the opportunity to meet him several times. He just reminds me so much of his Dad.
What are you most proud of when you look back on your 40-year career?
A recent accomplishment is opening TriStar Hendersonville’s Birth Center and NICU for our community. Before I started here, that was the vision. It took us awhile, but I am really humbled to have been part of it. Our Women’s Director, Jan Alexander, has been here for more than 30 years. She has walked the journey and has been instrumental in making it happen. I had the opportunity to see Tommy [Frist] a couple years back right after we opened The Birth Center. I invited him to come tour our NICU once it came to fruition. He said, “I know all about it. I keep up with Hendersonville. I know you have a brand new NICU out there.” Then, he said, “What you and your team are doing in that community is wonderful, and Dad would be proud.” I thought to myself, “Oh, I can just go home right now because WOW — that was special!”
Also, when I was at Parkridge, I was honored as a Frist Humanitarian Award recipient — I will never forget that. In 2005, I had the opportunity to go down and spend a few days at Tulane Medical Center helping our colleagues with the Hurricane Katrina evacuation. Talk about having pride in your company! The best part about it was [She gets choked up] getting to see first-hand what our leaders and our company would do to take care of our employees. Not just our patients, our patients are a forgone conclusion. That’s our mission, but our mission is also to take care of each other. When you look at our mission, it says we are here to care for human life. It does not say we are here to take care of patients. Human life is everyone. That rang home to me that the leaders of HCA not only make patients a number one priority, but their employees as well. They will go to no end to make sure that happens.
You’re very active in the Hendersonville community through organizations such as Rotary, the Hendersonville Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Sumner County. Why do you feel like that’s important?
We are a community hospital, which means our patients sit right here in our backyards. We do not have as big of a regional draw as downtown Nashville facilities, where patients come from all over. Our patients mostly come from Sumner County. We are neighbors taking care of neighbors. To me, it goes back to taking care of people and bettering the human condition outside of the walls of our hospital. I think it is extremely important that TriStar Hendersonville is seen as being a good steward in the community, not just in giving great healthcare, but by helping take care of the community.
Healthcare is constantly changing. What challenges do you face as CEO of a hospital?
Healthcare is hard. Jon Foster, President of American Group at HCA, spoke at a leadership development institute meeting last year, and he said something that resonated with me: “We can never let the business we are in interfere with the work that we do.” I thought that was brilliant because it cannot be more true. The business of healthcare is complex, but we can’t let that interfere with making sure our caregivers have what they need. I think our challenge — and also, our obligation — is to manage the business of healthcare so that our caregivers can focus on our patients. We certainly have to make changes along the way, but by and large, we have to make sure that the business we are in doesn’t hinder the work that our caregivers do. It is hard. It is not easy.
We hear the phrase “Work-life balance” a lot, especially as women. Do you have any tips for women seeking that balance?
Yes, I do! This comes from years of not having balance, and this goes for anyone — men, too. Do not do too much of any one thing in your life. You also need to understand that you cannot do everything. Conscious intention: We all have a finite amount of time, but you have to be intentional about what you do with time. That means you have to say no to some things, and you have to not do things perfectly all the time. I think sometimes women feel a little more bound to perfection and making sure things are just right. That is impossible to do. There are some things that you have to be perfect at, but not many.
Are you planning to give HCA 20 more years?
I’m game! I had that conversation multiple times over the past few years. Colleagues who retire at 55 look at me and say, “What are you doing? When are you going to retire?” It has not been the right time for me. I think the Lord shows you the right time on every path you walk. I never set out to be a CEO, but I firmly believe you need to pay attention to where you are being led. Right now, I feel like there are still things to do here, and as long as I’m able to do them, I’m in.
Thank you, Regina, for sharing an insider perspective to the amazing history of the company and the work that you all do. Learn more about TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center at TriStarHendersonville.com.
FACES of TriStar is sponsored by TriStar Health.