New hospital COO proves perseverence is worth it

When Northwest Florida Community Hospital in Chipley announced the promotion of Janet Kinney to chief operating officer last spring, it was a testament to the value of hard work.

Long Way to the Top Determination and a strong work ethic have carried Janet Kinney to a series of increasingly prominent positions over 33 years at Northwest Florida Community Hospital By Lilly Rockwell Originally published in the Dec 2010/Jan 2011 issue of 850 Business Magazine


When Northwest Florida Community Hospital in Chipley announced the promotion of Janet Kinney to chief operating officer last spring, it was a testament to the value of hard work.

Kinney never got a college degree but nevertheless has worked her way up the ladder over a 33-year career, holding every senior position at the hospital, even chief executive officer for a brief time.

“She has always been one of the most competent members of our staff, without question,” said Pat Schlenker, the hospital’s current CEO.

Though she regrets never getting a college degree, Kinney said she made up for it by working hard, eager to prove that she was smart and capable.

“You shouldn’t be afraid to seek advancement,” she said. “Just go for it.”

Working for a Better Life

The odds were stacked against Kinney.

She grew up in poverty in Leesburg, Fla., moving to DeFuniak Springs in the ninth grade. She was ninth out of 11 children. Her parents never graduated from high school.

Her father worked in construction, a career susceptible to long periods without work. This made a deep impression on Kinney, who saw her family suffer through periods of unemployment. She is sympathetic toward her parents, saying they “did the best they could with 11 children,” and adding that they didn’t believe education was important.

But Kinney yearned for a better life.

“I knew there had to be a better way out of what I was in,” she said. “You can take it and learn from it and do differently, or sit around feeling sorry for the way you were raised.” She was determined to finish high school.

After getting her high school diploma in 1970, Kinney was given a scholarship to attend Pensacola Junior College and become a dental hygienist. She thought this might be her chance to secure a better life. Then reality set in — she had to help support her family, and she couldn’t afford the cost of moving to and living in Pensacola.

Instead, Kinney stayed in DeFuniak Springs and began working at an attorney’s office. It was her first white-collar job, and she thrived in the professional setting. In 1977, Kinney got married and moved to Chipley. There, she applied for a part-time job answering phones at Northwest Florida Community Hospital — and was hired immediately.

The Career That Almost Wasn’t

Kinney liked her new job but was working for minimum wage. A few weeks after starting her hospital job, she got a call from a Chipley attorney’s office, offering her work at triple the wage she was earning.

She made a decision then that shaped the rest of her career.

“It was a hard decision, but (the hospital) had just given me this job, and it wasn’t fair for me to turn around and leave them,” Kinney said.

She was soon offered a series of promotions, moving to patient registration and then supervising patient registration within four months.

Fueled by her upbringing, Kinney said she sought out opportunities whenever they became available.

“Each time an opening presented itself, I asked for the job,” she said. Whenever she had a spare moment, she would offer to help other departments, or filled in whenever someone was sick or a position was unfilled.

In just a few years, Kinney worked in practically every non-medical department at the hospital, such as billing, data processing and accounts receivable. In looking back, she muses, “It seemed that each opportunity opened another door for me.”

Meanwhile, she made it her mission to learn the ins and outs of the hospital and its business. While supervising patient registrations, she spent her break time learning billing procedures.

“I believe in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay,” Kinney said. “I believed if I did more than was expected of me, I would keep my job.” Still, Kinney wasn’t sure she wanted to stay with the hospital. It was only her third employer. She wondered what sorts of opportunities she might be missing elsewhere.

So she went on interviews.

“Every time I went, I realized maybe the grass isn’t greener on the other side,” she said.

An Invaluable Employee

After deciding to stay at the hospital, Kinney said she began to really enjoy her work, and appreciated the hospital’s willingness to give her new opportunities and let her grow.

Schlenker said her lack of college education never hindered her career advancement.

“I have an MBA in finance,” he said. “But your degree gets you your first job. After that it’s our performance. I want somebody who can perform and get the job done and do it in an outstanding manner. I don’t care if they have formal education or not.”

The 59-bed Northwest Florida Community Hospital treats more than 10,000 patients a year in the emergency room. The service area is primarily Washington County, though sometimes patients from Jackson and Holmes counties come in for treatment. There are 230 employees at the hospital.

As Kinney climbed the ladder, she had to learn new skills. She became a certified unit secretary, which entails coordinating the traffic at the nurse’s station. She also took a class in data processing.

“I was hungry to learn,” she said. “I wanted to be helpful.” She says her rise was by no means effortless. “I put in a lot of hours.”

Kinney’s work ethic was noticed, and by 1999 she became the administrative director of Support Services, supervising 40 employees. She became known as the go-to gal, always willing to take on a challenge and learn on the job. Schlenker described Kinney as persistent and reliable, qualities that can never by overrated.

With her long institutional memory, Kinney can often help solve problems by remembering challenges that arose in the past and what the hospital did to cope. And her knowledge goes far beyond hospital operations.

“She has a thorough knowledge of the community,” Schlenker said, which includes teaching him the politics of Chipley, since he doesn’t live in the city.

Kinney said her lack of a degree, in the end, didn’t hold her back. But there is one piece of advice she preaches, especially to her own children.

“Get an education,” she said. “Education is definitely paramount.”

Categories: Healthcare