KAREN HARRIS: coming home

To Karen Harris of Port Huron, life is all about home, family and giving back to the community.

Harris, the chief executive officer of the Visiting Nurse Association and Blue Water Hospice, feels right at home at work, where she took the reins earlier this year. Her impact on the nonprofit healthcare organization – where she previously served as chief operating officer – has been felt in a positive way since she began her tenure there in early 2015.

“The mission drives the vision and that drives our strategic plan,” she said. “I’m very driven by the mission of this organization. All of that has fallen into place. Our patient volumes are higher than they have been in at least four years and our hospice home is consistently full for the first time since it opened.

“And I’m very proud of our staff because our quality scores and our service scores are the highest in the area.”

Staff is like family to Harris. “Staff turnover is stable and we’ve built a great team here and everything is just falling into place.”

The opportunity to become a CEO at this point in her career – Harris began her career as a registered nurse before going on to earn a bachelor of science degree in nursing and a master’s degree in health care administration – just felt like the right fit after working for many years in a hospital setting, ending her hospital career after serving as both associate vice president of operations and chief nursing officer.

Prior to her employment at VNA/BWH, Harris had served on the organization’s board of directors for five years.

“I just knew it was a good and compassionate organization,” she said. “It’s been a good move for me. We have a good team. It’s a small organization and everybody cares about each other. I’m from a small town and so it feels like I’m home again.”

That small town Harris called home growing up is also known as Capac. A member of the high school cheerleading squad, she married her high school boyfriend who was captain of the football team.

“I graduated with 97 others and I still keep in touch with about half of them,” she said.
Her hometown roots and her family life are still the most important parts of her life, said Harris.

“Family is what is important and we both feel that way,” she said of her husband. “We center everything all around our family. I’m not really your typical career woman. Everything is about our kids and our grandkids.”

During her off time, Harris spends a tremendous amount of time with her six grandchildren, even dropping them off and picking them up from school many days. It keeps her grounded and reminds her of what she values in life.

While family activities occupy a lot her free time, Harris also enjoys traveling with her husband and they have been able to make a number of international trips. “We like cruising,” she said.

Harris also believes it is important to give back to the community and she and her husband support causes that are important to them.

“We feel it is important to give back,” she said, noting that some of that ties back into her work life and her desire to help people. “I just want to do good things for the community and the community’s health. I’m less competitive at this point in my career. I’m not trying to be this extraordinary CEO. I just want to do good things. I just want to be proud of what we’re doing as an organization.”

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