“I feel most energized when I get to talk with our associates as they’re doing their amazing work.”

“When we were children,” Paula Just shared about a conversation with her husband, “the pediatricians we went to were men and the nurses were women. At the schools we attended, the principals were men and the teachers were largely women. But with our children, their pediatricians were women and the principal at their elementary school was a woman with male teachers.”

Perhaps no other sector of business has seen a more dramatic shift in its workforce, both in terms of practitioners and administrative executives, as the health care industry. Just, the chief human resources officer at Health First, is one of the region’s preeminent examples of this trend.   

Helping manage a staff of approximately 9,000 associates is daunting, and Just was clear about the task foremost on her mind. “The greatest challenge we face is ensuring we have a robust pipeline of talent to meet the needs of the organization as we serve our community,” she said. “All of our associates bring their own unique skill sets and experiences that make us better as an organization. It’s no longer enough to plan for filling open positions in the near term. We’re extending our focus to cultivating talent pools up to five years into the future.”

Just believes the key to both recruiting and retaining associates is to have top-tier leaders. Associates value a work environment where they can share their skills and talents, receive recognition for their good work and grow their careers. It takes a skillful leader to create that kind of work environment.

In her role, she not only brings the problem-solving and leadership skills of a seasoned executive, she also is able to approach the challenges and opportunities of the position with a uniquely feminine perspective. She believes being a woman in her role gives her an important perspective. At Health First, more than 80 percent of its associates are women. Just is married and a mother of three children. She has always worked full time, even when all three children had widely different interests and activities.

“Juggling schedules and transportation, and making sure everyone was fed, the laundry was clean and homework was finished were all my second job,” she said. “I’m fortunate I have a supportive husband who shared the whirlwind. Many of our women associates at Health First experience great challenges with this. They love what they do and are wonderful professionals, and they’re also the COOs and CFOs of their households when they leave work.”

Although Just oversees one of the most formidable aspects of corporate management, she still finds the greatest joy in having the opportunity to mingle and be involved with the staff of care providers — the core of Health First’s identity. “My best days are when I get to interact with our associates who care for our customers,” she reflected. “I spend a lot of time in meetings, and that’s just a part of the reality of how we get things done. However, I feel most energized when I get to talk with our associates as they’re doing their amazing work.”

She added that in a work environment as large as Health First, there are always concerns and issues that arise, and she enjoys the opportunity to bring a team together and work toward the best outcome. “If I can improve the work environment for our associates, allowing them to bring their very best to serving our customers, I consider that a huge success,” she said. “I also like the variety. No two days are ever alike in HR, which makes it fun and exciting.”

Did You Know?

Favorite Musician?

I was born and grew up in a small town in Missouri, so I was raised on country music. My favorite singer is George Strait.   

Favorite Movie?

Secretariat. Penny Chenery, his owner, was a remarkable and courageous woman in a time and sport where it wasn’t fashionable for women to be that forceful.

Favorite Quote?

My dad always had a very simple quote for me and my brother growing up. “Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you.” Even when I’ve had a bear day, that still makes me smile. It encourages me that tomorrow will be my day.