Helping you live your best life

Skip main navigation
Group Created with Sketch.

Need help

What can we help you find?

Related Search Terms

Related Search Results


A day in the life of the first woman to lead VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital

Sheldon Barr, MSN, MBA, is the first female president of CMH in its 69-year history. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ll take you through a typical day in her busy life and share her vision for CMH.

Lady with blonde hair wearing black blazer poses for the camera. She is smiling. Sheldon Barr, MSN, MBA, is the first female president of VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital in its 69-year history. (Robert Harris Photography)

By Kristy Fowler

Trumpets and drums filled the room as VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital patients and residents of The Hundley Center long term care facility joined the Brunswick High School band for a performance during Black History Month.

“I was excited to dance here,” Azreaih Harry, a senior on the Brunswick High School dance team, said. “People in the hospital don’t get to hear music very often. It brings people together.”

It has been some time since visitors could come to the hospital for larger events due to pandemic restrictions. But as the wave of COVID-19 lessens in South Hill, CMH is opening up to members of the community, such as the high school band performance, to energize the atmosphere. It’s all part of the new president of CMH’s plan to engage residents and empower people to be the change they want to see.

A look into Barr’s first three months

For her first 90 days as president, Sheldon Barr spent time listening to team members, providers and the community to identify the lens through which they view CMH. The hospital provides care in a rural part of Virginia, with unique services such as rheumatology, gastroenterology and dentistry. Barr knows patients expect great outcomes and want to feel safe while receiving care.

As part of her work, Barr is tasked to reduce turnover and increase employee engagement. She also sits on two panels at the hospital with team members: the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion council and shared governance committee. On the DEI council, she serves as co-chair and leads the team by brainstorming ideas for celebrating national heritage months and ensuring processes are in place for patients to get equitable care. In shared governance, she makes sure every employee has a voice to make recommendations and improvements to department procedures, thereby increasing employee retention.

One of the people she works closely with is Mary Hardin, CMH’s vice president of patient care services.

“Sheldon has taken a broader approach to leadership through inclusion of frontline staff through executive leaders,” Hardin said. “She also provides transparency in her leadership.”

Each week, Barr meets with the executive committee in Richmond to make sure communication lines stay open. Recently they worked on aligning CMH’s 69-year-old mission and vision statements to match those of VCU Health for clarity and consistency across the health system, which highlights the importance of preserving and restoring the health of all patients through innovation in service, research and education. “Our strategic plan spans across four key themes as a health system which include: patient-centered care, workforce wellness, health equity and innovative research and education,” Barr said.

lady with blonde hair wearing black blazer speaks to students who are all wearing blue shirts.

Sheldon Barr thanked the Brunswick High School band and dance team sharing their musical talents with patients and team members in February. (VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital)

The first woman to lead the hospital

As she focuses on making sure CMH remains a stable health care provider and employer for the community, it’s important to acknowledge that Barr is unique in another way. She is the first woman to be the president of CMH in its nearly 70-year history.

According a 2021 study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association, only about 15% of the CEO roles in health systems and less than 16% of the CEO positions in health insurance groups were held by women.

“I am honored to be here as the first female to lead CMH. Each day is a blessing. We are better together as One VCU,” Barr said.

Throughout her time in health care administration roles, Barr says she’s been fortunate to be surrounded by people she looks up to including other female leaders.

“It is important to build your network and leverage those relationships to evolve, grow and develop as a leader both personally and professionally,” Barr said.

Barr is also not alone as a female leader at VCU Health. VCU Health Tappahannock Hospital’s president is Liz Martin, who has decades of experience leading hospitals in the commonwealth. In recent years, the health system as a whole has made strides in diversifying its workforce and supporting underrepresented workforce populations.

A family in healthcare shows the path to leadership

Growing up in a rural town similar to South Hill, Barr was surrounded by family members dedicated to making their community healthy and safe. Her aunt, Marlene Phillips, was a certified registered nurse anesthetist until she took on the business role of running her husband’s general and vascular surgery practice in Kingsport, Tennessee. When Phillips was in nursing school at East Tennessee State University, and Barr was a baby, she would take Barr to her dorm room. Being a nurse was instilled in her from the beginning of her life.

As a teenager, Barr spent her summers in the practice and witnessed first-hand their commitment to care. Her uncle, Monte Phillips, M.D., took her to the intensive care unit when he would check on his patients. Back then, patients who couldn’t afford to pay for his services would give him eggs, country hams, fresh produce from their gardens, homemade candies, pies and jams, and on occasion, moonshine. She remembers ending each evening with her aunt, uncle and cousin over a Coca-Cola and Snickers candy bar, discussing what went on that day.

“Uncle Monte instilled a caring component in me at a young age,” Barr said. “He treated every patient the same, regardless of their ability to pay and considered the items his patients brought him the equivalent of gold, so I learned the importance of health equity back then.”

When Barr went to college, she knew she either wanted to be a nurse or go into business. She went on to earn her bachelor and master’s in nursing from the University of Virginia and master’s in business administration from Western Governors University. Her dream of doing both has now come into fruition.

A key component to her success is meeting people where they are. Lunches are usually spent at the hospital’s cafeteria or physician lounge where she connects with staff. Just like her aunt and uncle, Barr keeps Cokes and Snickers on hand in her office for people needing to talk.

Nights are usually filled with speaking engagements or club meetings to attend. Barr recently spoke at a first responder event where she got to meet local law enforcement, fire and EMS crews and emergency planning personnel. Their focus on keeping South Hill safe opens doors to future partnerships, which Barr hopes to continue to grow in the coming years with more organizations.

“I was extremely impressed at the level of commitment to safety and first responder support our community has,” Barr said. “I look forward to working with them on safety drills in the near future to advance our goal of patient-centered care.”

Listen to Barr's podcast on advancing health care in rural communities. 

Sign Up for E-Newsletter