EVERETT — Kim Williams earned her first nursing credential, an associate degree, from Everett Community College in 1976. One of her first jobs was answering phones at Providence Hospital.
More than 40 years after manning a switchboard, Williams later this year will end her career as CEO of Providence Health & Services for Northwest Washington, a position she’s held for four years.
Williams said this week she plans to retire and will step down as CEO on July 1.
She leads Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and Providence Medical Group Northwest, which serves Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan counties.
“Leading the Northwest Service Area and working with our caregivers has been one of the greatest privileges of my career,” said Williams, a 1974 Snohomish High School graduate who later earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing from Western Washington University and a master’s degree in health care administration from Kennedy-Western University.
“I am continually in awe of and inspired by the commitment of our caregivers to serving our mission in Snohomish County and beyond,” Williams said. “I have held a number of positions in the past 18 years at Providence and have thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them. I only hope I have given as much as I have received.”
Williams’ connection to the Everett medical center began the day she was born. “I was born there almost 65 years ago,” Williams told The Daily Herald.
In 2003, Williams renewed her career with the nonprofit Catholic health system, returning to Providence in Everett as a managing nurse. Before that, she worked at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham for more than 20 years, leaving as assistant vice president of clinical services.
Williams was at the helm last January when the first known U.S. resident with COVID-19 was admitted to Providence in Everett.
The arrival of COVID-19 tested everyone’s mettle, she said.
The first months of the pandemic were a challenge. A lack of personal protective equipment for medical staff and changing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control made it difficult to shape policy, Williams said.
“You feel like you’re letting your caregivers down because you can’t give them a definitive answer,” Williams said. Years of frontline experience and a commitment to patients and staff helped her steer a course, one that later would be emulated by other health providers in the Providence St. Joseph system.
“When you sit in the CEO seat, your worldview has got to be a bit broader than one patient in an intensive care unit,” Williams said. “I relied on input from our experts … our incredible infection prevention team and the incredibly smart people on our executive team.”
Williams’ response to COVID-19 became a blueprint for other hospitals as the pandemic spread throughout the country, officials with Providence said.
The entire Providence St. Joseph health system employs 120,000 people and includes 51 hospitals in Alaska, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Kim has been a steadying hand at the helm, a courageous voice for her caregivers, and an advocate for evidence-based interventions,” said Elaine Couture, Providence executive vice president and regional chief executive of the Washington and Montana regions.
“However, her accomplishments extend far beyond COVID-19,” Couture said. “She has developed innovative solutions to address long-length-of-stay patients, grown key service lines and established Providence Regional Medical Center Everett as an esteemed tertiary care facility in its five-county service area. She is a mission-driven leader who keeps patients and caregivers at the forefront, always focusing on what is best for the communities we serve.”
Williams said she won’t be involved in the selection process for a successor, but she expects that a new CEO will be named before she leaves.
“I feel good — whoever gets this job is getting a primo, top-of-the-line organization with great people,” Williams said.
She chose July 1 as her departure date because that’s the day a new inpatient mental health unit opens at the Everett campus. It is a significant addition to the community and the medical center, Williams said. “We haven’t had an inpatient mental health unit in at least the 18 years since I’ve been here. It is sorely needed.”
Williams oversaw the growth of Providence Medical Group clinics and helped with the build-out of Cymbaluk Tower, a 12-story, $460 million addition to the medical center’s Colby Campus. The tower, which opened in 2011, is named for Marshall and Katherine Cymbaluk, a local couple who donated $5 million to the Providence General Foundation that supports the hospital.
Today the Everett medical campus has 571 beds. In 2019, it recorded nearly 30,000 acute admissions and more than 86,000 emergency room visits.
“The hardest part was making the decision to retire — it was months in the making,” Williams said. She plans to spend time with her family, including five grandsons, and sort her belongings. “We are downsizing and building a new house that we’ll move into in September,” she said. She hopes to make room for gardening, exercise and travel — when it’s safe.
Williams also oversees Providence’s community benefit work in northwest Washington, which in 2019 totaled $69.2 million.
Williams will continue to serve as board chair of Snohomish County’s Future Workforce Alliance, as well as the North Sound Accountable Community of Health, through the end of 2021.
Janice Podsada; firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097: Twitter: JanicePods