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Laurie Harting was a high school candy striper at Riverside General, eyeing career options in health care, when a nurse saw something in her. She took Harting to the hospital’s busy emergency room so Harting could see what really goes on in health care. Amid the blood and gunshot wounds, Harting was hooked. “I wanted to be just like her,” she said.
That drive and engagement still shows in Dignity Health’s new Sacramento area executive. Harting went on to become a nurse, a director of nursing, a hospital CEO and a regional CEO before starting her new job less than four weeks ago.
As senior vice president of operations for the greater Sacramento service area, Harting oversees six Dignity hospitals: Mercy General, Mercy San Juan, Methodist, Mercy Hospital of Folsom, Woodland Memorial and Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley.
She’ll be involved in goal setting, planning and decision-making across Dignity Health as well as developing strategy and getting results in the Sacramento region.Harting replaces Michael Taylor, who left last fall for a new post. Dignity conducted a national search, but ultimately picked a rising star from within its own ranks. Harting, who has been with the health system for 15 years, was senior vice president of operations for Dignity Health’s Western service area in Southern California at the time.
“She’d done well in Ventura, but Sacramento is a bigger job and more important to the corporation because of its magnitude,” said Marvin O’Quinn, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Dignity Health. There’s been a lot of change at Dignity Health in Sacramento over the last two years. Harting’s predecessor came and left in less than two years. Former chief physician executive Dr. Karl Ulrich also stayed on board less than two years before he left for a new job in February. Changes at the top come amid turmoil in the industry as providers try to adapt to federal health reform. “Sacramento is a competitive market, and we need a competitor who wants to win,” Quinn said, “but we also need someone with an ability to heal and bring the organization together. Her magnetism draws people in — and it’s what Sacramento needs.”
Harting, who keeps her nursing license current, at first wrestled with the move into management. “But as chief nurse executive, I had an impact on a larger number of patients,” she said. “As CEO, I had even more.” There have been sticky situations. Located in an area with a burgeoning population of senior citizens, Pleasant Valley Hospital in Ventura had an obstetrics unit that delivered about four babies a month.
“When needs change, the answer is to communicate, communicate, communicate,” Harting said. And be politically savvy about how you go about it. Harting met with the mayor and town council before the hospital announced closure of the OB unit. “They didn’t like it, but they are business people and understood,” she said. Business connections are an important part of hospital management, and Harting has taken key community leadership roles in other markets.
Tapped as CEO for Dignity’s Mercy Gilbert Medical Center in Arizona during construction of the new hospital, Harting participated in a leadership program to get to know the community while the hospital was being built. She also went on the board of the local chamber of commerce—and served as chairwoman. “She is fabulous at building consensus at the hospital and in the community,” said Kathy Tilque, president and CEO of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce. “I would consider her a mentor of mine. She is so good at listening and finding solutions that even if people don’t agree, they feel good about it.”
Harting also gets things done. With no previous hospital in Gilbert, there were no nurses to staff Dignity’s when it was built, Tilque said. So Harting worked closely with the local community college to build a nursing program that still exists today. Later, she masterminded a community fundraiser called “Dancing with the Docs.” Patterned after “Dancing with the Stars,” Harting got doctors to team up with partners and strut their stuff to the community. People bought tickets in droves, Tilque said. Harting, who likes ballroom dancing, also participated. “It was hysterical,” Harting said. “We had nerdy docs you’d never see dancing or laughing—and people would realize there is a personal side to them.”
Steve Kinney, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Oxnard, said he knew about Harting’s community involvement in Gilbert and “shamelessly” recruited her for his board when she came to town. “She was engaged and active and understood a hospital has a very important role to play in the economic development of a community,” Kinney said. In Sacramento, one top priority for Harting is to make sure Dignity’s hospitals operate in the top tier when it comes to patient experience and quality of care, she said. Another is to develop trust with Dignity doctors as the company continues its push toward more coordinated care.
Harting said the company’s latest slogan — “Hello Humankindness” — is a good reminder of what health care should be about. “When you go into health care, there’s a need you have to provide care and be compassionate. This is a reminder,” Harting said. “Think about it: When you are in a hospital, don’t you want someone who smiles and is kind?”
Laurie Harting, chief of operations, Dignity Health Greater Sacramento
Education: Associate degree in nursing from Riverside Community College, bachelor’s of health science and MBA from University of Redlands.
Career: 30 years in health-care leadership. The last 15 have been with Dignity Health, including stints as CEO and regional CEO of various Dignity hospitals.
Personal: Buying a house in Granite Bay, lives with boyfriend Ron Pettibone, has two grown children and one grandson.
Something colleagues would be surprised to learn about her: Harting loves fishing. She recently caught a 30-pound white sea bass and says she’s skilled at docking the boat. “When I drive it up on the ramp, hair in pony tail, there’s always men watching,” she said. “I nail it the first time, every time.”