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September 6, 2002
Volume 40, No. 2


Engineering graduate: clarinet legend
Hospitals and Clinics leader believes in listening
Faculty, staff vital to success of University's fundraising campaign
Pediatric nurse practitioners include family in treatment

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Hospitals and Clinics leader believes in listening

Photo of Donna Katen-Bahensky at her desk
Donna Katen-Bahensky, chief executive officer of University Hospitals and Clinics, takes a break in her first day on the job.

The first few days of any new job can be a whirl—meeting people, plowing through piles of reading material, meeting people, taking tours, meeting people…and trying to remember names.

Most of us, though, face only the challenge of becoming acquainted with one department, an office, and a manageable number of coworkers. For the new chief executive officer of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), the challenge is to become acquainted with one of the nation’s largest teaching hospitals and a significant percentage of the 7,000 people who work there.

Donna Katen-Bahensky took the helm at UIHC Aug. 26.

“I’m doing a lot of reading, looking at issues,” she says. “I have to verify what I’m learning by spending time with people. I have a very large orientation schedule over the next two to three months, meeting people and listening to them.

“It’s the only way to get a handle on the more local health care issues—what would work well, what would not work as well, what needs to be improved,” she says. “I’m already aware of a couple of issues—the budget, certainly.”

Katen-Bahensky also is planning to start an Intranet web site that will allow hospitals and clinics employees to get timely information from the CEO, check out rumors, and discuss issues.

The University has experienced immense change in the past year, but that doesn’t faze her.

“Anybody who has been in health care in the past 20 years would know that if you’re not open to change, you’d better not be in this field,” she says. “I have a reputation for not wanting to thrust major changes on people. I’d rather make good changes over time, so that in retrospect you can see that situations have improved. It’s more about how you make the best changes.”

Similarly, she says, she doesn’t try to interfere in her employees’ areas of work.

“I’m willing to be hierarchical when that’s important, but my preference is to set goals for what is needed and work out ways of measuring when it will have been achieved. Then it is that person’s responsibility to do it. My way of working requires a lot of input. I don’t believe I have to get to consensus before I make a decision, but I do want to have heard a variety of positions first.”

Katen-Bahensky has discovered some similarities between her new position here and her former responsibilities as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond, Va.

“The size of the medical school here and the number of employees are about the same. They’re both academic centers. But in other areas, they’re not similar. Virginia is located in a more heavily managed-care environment. It’s more competitive, with two very large competing systems. Finally, Virginia is an urban teaching hospital in a downtown location in Richmond [population 996,512].”

So what attracted Katen-Bahensky to Iowa?

“I was approached by a search firm that said I had been nominated for the position by several individuals that I’ve worked with,” she says. “I wasn’t looking for a job. But Iowa has a tremendous reputation as an academic medical center, on both the clinical and the academic side.

“I checked with those who had nominated me to see why they saw Iowa as a fit. They told me that they had thought of me because Iowa is in the Midwest and I had worked in Nebraska and came from Missouri. They knew I knew the Midwestern culture. Also, I’ve been preparing for a CEO position for some time.”

At a dinner with clinic leaders and the search committee, she was impressed by the collegiality between individuals, she says.

“People seem to get along. That level of collegiality is not always evident in other places,” she says.

“The city makes you feel good just to be here. “The downtown area, with the fun stores—you don’t find that in bigger places. It’s stressful in these jobs to begin with. If you don’t have to add to that a commute to work…Iowa City simply takes out some of the difficulties of living.

“In addition,” she says, “Dr. Kelch is very well known. He was chairman of pediatrics at the University of Michigan when I did my administrative residency there, though I didn’t know him, so I knew how smart he is, what a good leader. President Coleman was a big influence, too. And President Boyd! He’s unbelievable. How did he have time to do all the great things he has done in his life?”

When her husband, Jim, an information specialist, and school-aged son Alex came to visit, the deal was sealed.

“Both my husband and I work, so when we have free time, we spend it with Alex. He’s interested in soccer and has signed up for Iowa City Kickers. I love football—I’m really looking forward to attending games. Jim is a golfer and and I enjoy travel, reading, and the arts.”

For the time being, travel may be on hold.

“I’m looking forward to building relationships,” says Katen-Bahensky. “Relationships are what makes an organization successful. It’s more challenging in a new environment, but that’s the goal.”

Article by Anne Tanner


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