The head of Juneau’s hospital has resigned

A woman wearing a mask and gloves leads two other people through a hallway.
Bartlett Regional Hospital’s CEO Rose Lawhorne in a wing being converted for COVID-19 patients in April 2020, when she was Chief Nursing Officer. In September 2021, she resigned as CEO after six months on the job. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

After just six months on the job, Rose Lawhorne has resigned her position as chief executive of Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau.

City staff said she was having an “inappropriate relationship” with a hospital employee which violates the city’s conflict of interest code. Technically, Bartlett employees are Juneau city employees.

Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt said Lawhorne’s relationship predated her time as CEO. But, once she became CEO, someone informed the city attorney about the relationship

“Under city code, the city attorney is required to investigate those types of things,” Watt said. “The city attorney found evidence. He provided the evidence to Rose to give her the opportunity to provide other evidence.”

The city has been investigating Lawhorne for some time, Watt said. It has been weeks because “it takes a little while to work on these issues,” he said.

Watt said once the city attorney went to Lawhorne with proof that the relationship was happening, she stepped down.

RELATED: JBER declares public health emergency amid COVID surge

The hospital’s Board of Directors held a special meeting on Saturday to accept her resignation. Board President Kenny Solomon-Gross has, so far, deferred questions to Watt.

Bartlett staff got notified of Lawhorne’s resignation in an email Saturday.

In her resignation letter, Lawhorne said she could no longer serve the hospital as CEO. She said she enjoyed her years of service at the regional hospital. Lawhorne has been at the hospital since 1993. Before she accepted the CEO position, she was the Emergency Department director, a staff nurse, a data entry clerk, head nurse and an assistant chief clinical officer.

While her resignation letter does not allude to the relationship that led to her resignation she thanked the board for “respecting my need for privacy of my own personal issues.”

Watt said Lawhorne knows the city is sharing that the relationship is behind her resignation. In this case, he said, he believes Lawhorne’s relationship with this person pre-dated her time as CEO. Though, he said, the city wasn’t aware of the relationship when she was promoted.

“Could this have been dealt with prior to promotion? It could have. There could have been an accommodation made where we created some alternate reporting structure. But, that didn’t happen,” he said.

[Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]

He said he’s talked to her.

“She clearly regrets her actions,” Watt said. “She’s a long-term, really excellent employee of the hospital who has dedicated her whole career to providing good health care to the public. And, she was willing to put herself forward to run the hospital in a pandemic. It’s really sad for all of us. She did a lot of good for the community, and she made a mistake.”

At the same time, he said, there isn’t any wiggle room in city code for an employee who has a relationship with a subordinate.

But, Watt also said he thinks that’s important.

“I think in the national media, you can find examples where inappropriate relationships resulted very poorly for subordinate employees,” he said. “In this case, I believe the relationship was completely consensual. But I think it’s a really important principle to uphold.”

The board has appointed Kathy Callahan as interim CEO. Callahan recently retired as the hospital’s director of Physician Services.

Previous articleNorway ambassador visits Alaska to talk climate, Russia and, yes, Norwegian dog mushing success
Next articleWhat do the results of the 2020 U.S. Census mean for Alaskans? | Alaska Insight