Paula Henderson, UMMC's new chief human resources officer.
Paula Henderson, UMMC's new chief human resources officer.
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New HR chief listening, learning, looking for positive change

Published on Monday, April 2, 2018

By: Ruth Cummins

Respect the past, appreciate the present, and have the vision and courage to affect the future.

So says Paula Henderson, the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s new chief human resources officer.

It’s her mantra, Henderson said, because she wants to help drive change that will help the Medical Center and support its mission going forward. She and her team “want to be open to positioning the organization for the future, and to supporting UMMC’s efforts to create a healthier Mississippi,” she said.

Since coming to UMMC earlier this year after serving as a vice president of human resources for the University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore, Henderson has worked to build partnerships across the organization and promote a culture in which all employees feel valued and engaged in their workplace.

“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “I’ve been gifted with a wonderful HR team.  In our world, no day is like the day prior, or the day that follows. That’s a good thing, because that means the HR voice and presence is valued here.

“We’re all working to find ways that HR intersects with the other work in the hospital. People have been great and are giving me the opportunity to get to know them one on one.”

Henderson “brings to her role the valuable insight gained from many years of working in human resource management and employee relations,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs.  “With the support of our strong HR leadership team, I’m confident she’s going to help us fully realize our goal of making UMMC the employer of choice in all of Mississippi.”

Henderson, left, presents a commendation pin to Cecelia Bass, director of employee relations.
Henderson presents a commendation pin to Cecelia Bass, director of employee relations.

Henderson’s first weeks at the Medical Center have involved listening, learning and dealing with “the issues that come across the desk of an HR leader,” she said. “We are looking at our policies. We’re looking at our practices and behaviors, and if there are opportunities for change – and what’s the best way for our organization to go about it.”

In her 11 years with the University of Maryland Medical System, Henderson progressed through Human Resources and Administration to the top HR job for the flagship academic medical center and two community hospitals.  During that time, she was involved in virtually every aspect of HR management, including strategic human resources, employee relations, talent acquisition, leadership and staff development, benefits and compensation, organization design and effectiveness, policy development, employee engagement and recognition, and culture transformation.

She has a broad background in terms of geography and industry, and worked in the nonprofit sector, at a global technology conglomerate, and at a national department store chain. She has lived in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and other areas of the country.

A graduate of West Virginia University, Henderson received her master of business administration with a concentration in human resources management from the University of Pittsburgh.  She is a member of the Society for Human Resources Management and the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration, among other groups.

A key focus of her job, Henderson said, is keeping the best and brightest as UMMC employees, and attracting the same. “We want them to proudly choose us, and to choose to come back every day,” she said. “Our talent can choose to be anywhere. They’re so good that they can be elsewhere, but we want to give them every reason to choose here.”

She is passionate about giving management teams the tools they need to do their jobs. “I want to shift our culture to an HR as advisor philosophy. I believe that it’s our responsibility to equip our managers to manage,” Henderson said.

“We need to hire people into the right roles, at the right time, and then retain them. Drive change, create efficiencies, and invite the right people into the room for conversation,” she said. “What we’re working toward is trying to educate and inform up front, so that employees and managers are clear about what is expected of them. Then, we hold people accountable.”

Henderson meets with her team.
Henderson meets with her team.

Henderson would like to increase opportunities to recognize employees for a job well done, and to take success stories in one UMMC mission and apply them to another. “I don’t want people to fear the presence of an HR employee,” she said. “I strongly feel that HR is a partner and advocate” in supporting both managers and non-managers.

“Paula is a great addition to the leadership team,” said Dr. Ralph Didlake, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and chief academic officer.  “She is an active listener with a wealth of experience who is also sensitive to the nuanced issues related to faculty, academic promotion, and tenure.”

Henderson is the proud mom of two daughters, Megan, 25, who resides in Columbia, Maryland, and Molly, 23, who is living in New Haven, Connecticut.  She and her significant other, Brian, are settling in with their new rescue dog, a Papillion they’ve named Magnolia. A refugee from Tennessee, Magnolia happily ended up in the hands of a rescue group in western New York.  Magnolia was adopted literally in the middle of Henderson’s UMMC interview process, thus the fitting name.

Henderson loves to travel, explore, support the performing arts and read. “I’m relatively new at them, but I have a passion for tennis and kayaking,” she said. “I’m living right now only two miles from work, so I’m enjoying experiencing the Jackson region’s ‘foodie’ character while I drive around learning about all the interesting parts of Mississippi.

“I have a great deal of optimism and energy,” she said. “That’s who I am.”