Karen Huey: Caregiving Through the Physical Environment
For Vice President of Facilities Karen Huey, change has been constant, challenging and rewarding. “Change is the new norm,” she said. “But it’s not a sprint—it’s a marathon.”
The Medical Center is undergoing major growth and transformation. We’re breaking ground on a 90-acre campus in Davie County; we recently celebrated the grand opening of Wake Forest Biotech Place in the Piedmont Triad Research Park; new medical plazas are opening in Clemmons and Country Club this spring; and the Cancer Center expansion is planned to open in fall 2013. Interior design changes are also underway, such as replacing carpeting with vinyl flooring and refreshing public spaces with new paint and décor.
“Although there’s a long list we’re still working on,” Huey said, “what we’re planning will make our facilities the best they’ve ever been.”
Building a Facilities Management Career
A native of Houston, Texas, Huey is married with two sons, ages 7 and 11. She has an environmental design degree from the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University, and her first job was working as an intern in the Facilities Department at the headquarters of Compaq Computer (now Hewlett-Packard).
Huey has 20 years of experience in health care facilities work. She accepted her first job in health care at the Texas Medical Center, working in Memorial Hermann Hospital’s Facilities Department. She also worked as a project manager at Texas Children’s Hospital and focused on programming and space planning at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Moving to Our Medical Center
While in Texas, Huey often visited her father’s family in Winston-Salem during the summer and holidays. In 1997, Huey and her husband decided to relocate to North Carolina.
At that time, her grandfather had moved into assisted living. “I felt strongly about the Hart family home in Winston-Salem not being sold, so we purchased it,” she said. “My grandfather and his uncle built the home, and it’s the same house where my dad grew up.”
In November 1997, Huey was named capital projects manager in the Department of Facilities Planning and Construction at the Medical Center. She held that position for eight years before moving up to director of planning, and in 2006, she became interim vice president while continuing her role as director. She was named vice president of Facilities Planning and Construction in 2009.
“Now as vice president of Facilities, I’ve moved from managing about 25 employees to managing about 600,” Huey said. She leads a division that includes the Departments of Engineering, Environmental Services, Safety, Environmental Health and Safety, Property Management and Operations, Facilities Planning and Construction, and Laundry and Linen.
“I love my job,” she said. “Every day, there’s a challenge. Water leaks, air quality, noise issues—it’s the nature of the business. I enjoy the feeling that we significantly contribute to everyone’s experience in a positive way.”
Huey is particularly proud of her group’s response to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) visit in 2011. “In a very short period of time, we had to gel as a team and raise the bar, which teed us up for the Joint Commission later in the year,” she said. “Now our culture is permanently changed, and we’re finely tuned on how to approach a regulatory event.”
Quality and Safety as Top Priorities
Ultimately, the changes that our Medical Center is implementing will mean a safer, cleaner environment for our patients and visitors, said Huey. This transformation will create a physical environment that matches our high level of care.
“Whenever I leave my office, it doesn’t take long before I see a patient or visitor, and I realize my worries are nothing on the scale that these folks have to deal with,” said Huey. “This is why we’re here.
“Any small thing any of us can do on a daily basis to make anyone on this campus more comfortable is a thumbs up—whether helping someone find their way to a clinic or Engineering immediately responding to a call.
“We are all here as caregivers through the physical environment.”