Kathleen Benfield was drawn into healthcare the way a screenwriter would write it up. As a 12-year-old, Benfield was severely injured in an all-terrain vehicle accident and, she says, "Some wonderful surgeons saved my life." The Buffalo, N.Y., native became a hospital volunteer after she recovered, and she went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in biology and an MBA with a concentration on healthcare at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
"I had an interest in healthcare and especially the personal aspect of it, that it was people and not widgets," Benfield says. "The numbers and financials just came naturally to me." Carolinas HealthCare System, Charlotte, N.C., seems to agree with Benfield, who is now approaching nine years at the organization.
"What I've been most impressed with is her high energy," says Phyllis Wingate-Jones, senior vice president of operations for the system's flagship, Carolinas Medical Center. "She's very efficient in how she utilizes her time."
Benfield, 33, has to use her time well to manage the different departments in her portfolio as vice president of Carolinas Medical Center. She oversees a $150 million budget and more than 400 employees. She manages the emergency department, which is a Level I trauma center; the air transport service; the North Carolina State Poison Control Center; an organ procurement organization; and a telehealth program that handles more than 800,000 calls annually.
Wingate-Jones says Benfield's work with another department-the hospital's Neuroscience and Spine Institute-demonstrates her team-building. Benfield was assigned about five years ago to pull several services together under one department. "She pulled together the physician, programmatic and appropriate staff components. It continues to see recognition and grow in volume," Wingate-Jones says.
Benfield credits her department directors with keeping things running smoothly. "I hire people that are much better than me," she says. "I make sure that I meet with everyone on a regular basis, and we talk a lot by phone. "
Benfield also is proud of two emergency department initiatives driven by physicians under her watch-the Domestic Violence Healthcare Project and the Mecklenburg County Forensic Medicine Program.The domestic violence project screens patients for signs of domestic abuse even if the patient doesn't want to report it to the police. "If you can get victims hooked up with some social services, you can eliminate their repeat visits," she says. "That's not why we did it, but I wanted to point that out so people will see the benefit."
The forensic medicine program trains physicians in the Carolinas emergency department to properly handle evidence while treating crime victims. Benfield says authorities credited information gathered at the hospital with assisting in the prosecution of former pro-football player Rae Carruth, convicted in 2000 of conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend.
"None of those are my ideas," Benfield says. "Administratively, I'm just the conduit to hook everyone together to make these ideas operational."