She’d been comforted by the caring words of a nurse who was treating her husband, Tommy Harber, during his battle with late-stage pancreatic cancer. And Petrini knew she wanted to “give back.
“A nurse named Rebecca taking a moment to acknowledge how hard Tommy’s illness must have been for me at my age made all the difference,” she said. “I can’t put in an IV as CEO. But I can put our nurses and other frontline employees in the position to have the inclination, energy, and time to provide truly patient-centered care – just like Rebecca.”
A native of Hot Springs, Arkansas, Petrini holds an undergraduate degree in mass communications and a graduate degree in journalism and became interested in working at a hospital during a college internship. She wasn’t drawn to working at the patient’s bedside. But even in college, Petrini recalls being impressed by the hospital culture: “so many people that came together to support one goal.”
When she was in her late 20s, her brother encouraged her to expand her view of the world by moving from Arkansas to Atlanta, as he’d done. She took the challenge and a job as a senior physician liaison at North Fulton Regional Hospital, now Wellstar North Fulton Medical Center, in Roswell.
She stayed with the hospital system for 17 years and held various positions, including marketing director and chief business development officer. In her last eight years with Wellstar North Fulton, she was the hospital’s chief operating officer.
Petrini and Harber, a civil engineer, met through a mutual friend in 2006. They two married two years later. He lost his job in the economic downturn only months into their marriage. Soon after that, he began losing weight and experiencing back pain and acid reflux, two problems he said he’d dealt with in the past.
“We were newlyweds kind of learning how each other lived,” she said. “By the time we figured it out, it was too late.”
After Harber died in 2010, Petrini volunteered with the Pancreatic Action Network for several years. She married again in 2015 and became stepmother to husband John Petrini’s daughter Morgan and son Sean. At 42, she had a daughter, Lydia.
“I have always laughed that I did many things in reverse,” Petrini said. “My husband passed away. Then, I raised teenagers. Then I had a baby.”
Petrini’s quest to become a hospital CEO took 13 years, partly because she took time to grieve her first husband and enjoy her new life and family.
She’s been behind the CEO’s desk at Piedmont Newton since July and is working to enhance staff members’ already positive attitude about work.
“My goal for Piedmont Newton is to foster a culture where our staff at the bedside focus on both the medical and emotional needs of our patients and their loved ones,” Petrini said. “It is important every day that you remind them that what they did was amazing. Who else is going to tell them if leadership doesn’t tell them?”
She said her late husband would be happy she’s now a CEO.
“I think he would be proud,” Petrini said. “I think he would be impressed.”
Studies show women are typically underrepresented in the role of CEO at the nation’s 6,000-plus hospitals. Piedmont Health System has five female CEOs.