Self-proclaimed sushi fanatic, and a singer who has performed with Whitney Houston and Jennifer Hudson says if he was a better test-taker he might not be the new executive vice president of operations and chief operating officer for Gillette Children's.
Thomas Harris, Jr. says his original career path was to be a medical doctor but when it came time to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) things did not go as planned. “Let’s just say the MCAT and I just didn’t get along,” Harris says with a chuckle. “I knew I had a passion for health care and so after working with a mentor I discovered health administration.”
Harris comes to Gillette Children’s after years of working as an executive with large health care organizations in Los Angeles and New Orleans.
“A recruiter reached out to me and when I looked into Gillette it really pulled at my heartstrings,” Harris recalls. “I’ve been in health care for 21 years,” Harris adds. “I know that kids with the conditions that are seen at Gillette are often marginalized. I want to be part of a place that really focuses on kids and families in need. I actually see it somewhat as a ministry because it’s a way of giving back.”
Rolling out the red carpet
As Chief Operating Officer, Harris has oversight of hospital operations which includes the inpatient and outpatient clinics. He’s focused on improving the overall patient experience at Gillette. “Gillette is an incredible place, and a main focus of my job is to make sure people who want to see us can see our providers. Another part is to make sure once patients are at Gillette, we really roll out the red carpet.”
Harris is working to automate some portion of scheduling appointments at Gillette and is part of a team implementing online scheduling. “I’m also working on a patient navigation model,” Harris says. “We want to help our families navigate the system here. We’re trying to make it easier to coordinate appointments. We want to make things as smooth as possible for our families.”
One of his favorite parts of his new role is the opportunity to interact with people who work at Gillette. “I want to make sure we maintain a stable and engaged workforce,” Harris says. “I’m a people person. I really enjoy listening to employees and patient families to make sure everyone is having a good experience at Gillette.”
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Harris and his wife, Aja, are parents to their 13-year-old daughter Bella and are excited to build their winter wardrobe, play in the snow, and to attend the many cultural events in the Twin Cities.
Harris was raised in Zachary, Lousiana and his father was a musician who taught his children to appreciate the arts and to sing. Harris spent years singing in his church choir in Los Angeles and was delighted when his choir was asked to be backup singers for Whitney Houston for her appearance at the American Music Awards. His choir was also asked to sing with Jennifer Hudson at the Grammy Awards. “Both experiences were incredible,” Harris beams.
The Harris family is thinking about friends and family in New Orleans who have dealt with some major weather-related disasters lately. Hurricane Ida hit the area in early October and began as a category 4 storm. “It’s just heartbreaking,” Harris explains. “I just felt so bad when I saw the damage from Hurricane Ida. It brought back memories of the devastation when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. I feel a sense of sadness because a part of me wants to be in New Orleans to help it recover.”
Friday night is sushi night
The move to Minnesota has been an adventure for the Harris family. “Every weekend we try to get out and try new restaurants and explore new places,” Harris says. He jokes that because he’s from New Orleans everyone expects him to be on the hunt for Cajun or Creole food, but he says that’s not the case. “In my family every Friday night is sushi night,” Harris proclaims. “I’m not ashamed to say I could eat sushi every day.” Harris jokes that when he first contemplated moving to Minnesota he did not realize it was a bit of a sushi hot spot. “The move to Minnesota has brought some surprises,” Harris says. “I hope the nice Minnesota surprises keep coming.”