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Mary Ann Barnes

Patients thrive under care of Kaiser executive director

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Kaiser Permanente Executive Director Mary Ann Barnes is known as the “yes gal” by the more than 7,000 staff members, 830 physicians and nearly 500,000 members of the San Diego County health plan.

It even says as much on the colorful “Yes” button she sports on the lapel of her business suit.

The one-word promotional slogan is part of an internal campaign to remind everyone at Kaiser Permanente -- from housekeeper to head of surgery -- “they can make a difference in providing patients with excellence in service, access and quality care,” she explained.

That positive affirmation also has served as a daily mantra for Barnes, who joined the ranks of the giant health plan organization as a staff nurse more than 36 years ago and currently holds one of its top local positions.

“I’ve just always said yes to every opportunity that’s been presented to me,” said Barnes, who marked in July the first anniversary of her appointment as senior vice president and executive director for Kaiser Permanente Health Plan and Hospitals in San Diego County.

She said her “can-do” attitude promotes a healthy workplace for Kaiser’s clinical staff and administrative workers in the fast-paced, professional environment of its 20 medical facilities, 392-bed medical center and 56-bed emergency department.

“Health care is constantly changing and innovating, so the learning curve is huge and never-ending,” said Barnes. “That’s what makes this both a fascinating and extremely challenging industry.”

Barnes earned a master’s degree in nursing from San Diego State University and attended Harvard Business School’s Executive Leadership Program and Stanford University’s Executive Business Program.

She joined Kaiser Permanente in 1974 as a staff nurse at the then brand-new San Diego medical center and since has held various positions within the organization, including associate director of nursing and hospital administrator.

Those early experiences on the front-line of patient care taught her to be “observant, flexible and a quick decision-maker” -- skills she still uses every day overseeing the regional division of the health maintenance organization (HMO) that has annual revenues exceeding $7 billion.

Barnes is excited about renovating the San Diego hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit to include all private rooms, introducing a new executive chef who’ll soon roll out a “comfort food” menu to reduce patient malnutrition, as well as opening several new surgical and specialty care facilities to serve the growing (and graying) North County.

Barnes’ return to San Diego marks a pivotal point not only in her career, but also for the medical field, as new measures to improve quality and integrate total care take hold and medical records become fully electronic.

“It’s an incredibly exhilarating time to be in the health care industry, especially here in San Diego,” Barnes said. “We’re at the epicenter with all of our cutting-edge high-tech, biotech and life sciences companies and their medical and technological breakthroughs that will continue to change the way we deliver care.”

Esterbrooks is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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