Kris Doody Chabre
39, chief executive officer
Cary Medical Center
Surgical patients at 65-bed Cary Medical Center, Caribou, Maine, are just as likely to meet Chabre in the operating room as the executive offices. She maintains her certification as a registered nurse first assistant and still scrubs in from time to time-more infrequently now than before-but still at least once a month.
"I went into healthcare for patient care, and I think it maintains that connection," Chabre says. "It's why we are here anyway-to take care of patients."
Chabre, 39, is vintage Caribou. Born at Cary's predecessor, Cary Memorial, in 1963, the youngest of eight children, she has worked at the hospital since high school, first as a nursing assistant during vacations while attending nursing school, then as a registered nurse in the emergency department and operating room. Apart from her high school sweetheart, whom she married, Chabre says she found her true love in the operating room. As she simultaneously continued her schooling, eventually earning a master's in business administration, she worked her way up in the surgery department to surgical services coordinator. In 1994 she was tapped to be Cary's chief operating officer. Two years later she was appointed interim CEO of the hospital, which is managed by Quorum Health Resources. She became its permanent CEO in 1999.
"She's come up by the bootstraps," says William Diggins, executive director of the Maine Health Alliance, Bangor, a physician-hospital organizationcomprising 11 rural hospitals, including Cary. "No one handed her anything, but she's made of the right stuff."
Caribou is a rugged town of about 9,000 in northern Maine just 11 miles from the Canadian border. The caribou are long gone, but they are remembered in the statues that dot the town every summer. The community has struggled since the mid-1990s to regain its economic footing after Loring Air Force Base closed, Chabre says. Cary is now the town's biggest employer with 500 workers.
In this context, Chabre has leveraged her clinical experience to "bridge many of the difficult issues" that confront hospitals, especially rural facilities, says Sister Mary Norberta, president and CEO of St. Joseph Hospital, Bangor, who nominated Chabre for the Up & Comer award. The nomination in itself was an honor, coming as it did not only from someone completely outside the Cary organization, but a CEO with a reputation for being as tough as the Maine winters are cold, according to Diggins.
Cary is known statewide as a hospital with high employee morale and a low employee turnover rate despite the national workforce shortage and Cary's relatively isolated existence. Sister Norberta attributes that to Chabre.
Chabre also is known for working collaboratively with all factions of the healthcare community, including other rural hospitals, Sister Norberta says. Among her many accomplishments, Chabre has reorganized home health services in the county and worked with the Maine Veterans Home to develop a new 30-unit residential-care facility. She also developed a 24/7 "phone triage" service to help cut down on overutilization in the emergency room, a problem that plagues the entire state of Maine, Chabre says. The service is now being marketed and sold to area businesses, and Chabre is discussing its benefits with state and national officials.
Chabre has "broken the mold" of the traditional CEO, says Bill Flagg, Cary's director of community relations and development. Her worst-kept secret is that she rides a Harley, an 883 Hugger.
"She's a perfectionist," says Chabre's executive assistant, Peg McAfee. "I don't want to call her a workaholic, but she is. I do good, but she probably needs three of me to keep up with her."