Carole Peet started her job as CEO of Virginia Mason Memorial hospital earlier this month. Peet, a native of Roseland, N.J., was selected after an extensive national search. She is taking over the position from Russ Myers, who recently retired.

She comes to Yakima from Arizona, where she served as executive vice president of Northern Arizona Health care and chief administrative officer of Verde Valley Medical Center. She also served as president and CEO of St. Anthony North Health Campus, part of Centura Health and Catholic Health Initiatives, in Westminster, Colo., and St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor.

In this month’s Checking In, Peet talks about how she became interested in health care, why she has a passion for providing access to the underserved, and her plans for the first several months in the job.

How did you become interested in health care as a career?

I became interested in health care as a young girl. I remember going to the local hospitals with my father, a Presbyterian minister, as he visited church members who were in the hospital. It left an impression on me, and I wanted to find a career that allowed me to serve and care for the communities I lived in.

How did your passion for providing health care access to the underserved develop?

It developed in nursing school. I was drawn to the underserved populations — particularly to behavioral health. I have continued that focus on behavioral health throughout my career and on finding ways to improve care and access.

What interested you about the CEO position for Virginia Mason Memorial?

The Virginia Mason Health System is internationally recognized and known for the outstanding work they have done around quality and patient safety. I saw the opportunity to join Virginia Mason Memorial as part of that health system as a highlight for my career. The opportunity to be located in Yakima was also attractive as I prefer smaller, more rural communities over cities.

What is your focus during the first few months of your tenure as CEO?

During my first 90 days I want to listen and learn. Every community and organization is different and has unique challenges. I want to visit all of the departments and community partners across the organization so that I have a deeper understanding of the important focus areas moving forward.

What are the biggest challenges for local hospitals, including Memorial, and what do think is key in responding to those challenges?

Memorial has many of the same challenges that health care is addressing nationwide — recruitment and retention of a highly skilled workforce — nurses, physicians, clinical staff — assuring access to care through primary care, same-day visit access points and the emergency department.

At Memorial, we just hired over 85 staff from Astria to fill some of our clinical roles. We also partnered with local organizations to expand access to primary care by extending hours. We opened a new HealthyNow convenient-care clinic on the hospital campus, and we are working to expand our Emergency Department physical space.

Your hobbies include hiking and playing chamber music. What do you enjoy about these hobbies?

I love to be outside and enjoying nature or gardening. I am excited for spring in the Valley when the trees will bloom and planting will begin. And I look forward to exploring the farms and orchards in the area. I am also exploring the various music options in the area also and hope to join several local groups soon.

Reach Mai Hoang at maihoang@yakimaherald.com or Twitter @maiphoang