Professional Development

Photo by Emily J. Davis

Navigating the way to community-wide wellness

How a Twin Cities health care executive helps others fulfill their potential

Christine “Chris” Bent knows health. She has been a health executive for two decades, donning such three-letter titles as EVP, COO and SVP. So it is our community’s great fortune to have Chris at the helm of one of the state’s prominent health organizations, Allina Health. While her role as executive vice president renders her responsible for Allina’s nine Clinical Service Lines, Chris has also begun to zero in on the organization’s involvement in Minneapolis and St. Paul communities. We’ve had the privilege of seeing Chris work on her commitment to community wellness through her time in three different Studio/E programs. Her passion for human potential and wellness is so strong you can practically grab it with your own hands.

Over coffee from the nearby café where everyone knew her name, we talked to Chris about achieving personal wellness, bringing the community’s needs to work and just how powerful a mindset shift can be.

Studio/E: Health care is a difficult field to be in right now. What keeps you afloat in such uncertain times?
Chris: The health care system is fundamentally broken and the same approaches just won’t work anymore. Health professionals often operate from a scarcity mindset, but if we start from a position of abundance instead — that we’re resource-rich, which we absolutely are — we begin to see connections and get unstuck in a way that is sustainable. The truth is that we don’t have all the answers, but we know we’re stuck, so we’re doing some small tests in our clinics. A mindset change has been the greatest gift and I’m so grateful for it.

Studio/E: How have mindset shifts influenced practices at Allina? 
We have always called those who come to our clinics and hospitals “patients,” but now we call them “customers.” You do things to patients, but customers have choices, and we want to make sure what we’re doing is in service to what matters most to them. This is a partnership and a journey; customers are the captains, and they help guide us. We’re just privileged to be a part of their voyage.

Studio/E: How do you achieve wellness at home?
Chris: My husband and I both work and we have two active kids, so we work hard on eating well and exercising. But wellness is a journey for us, too. We are human and we don’t have it all figured out. What we’ve learned is that if you have healthy foods out on the counter, they’ll grab it. If you have bags of chips on the counter, they’ll grab the chips. We’ve introduced our kids to various activities to move their bodies because the more they move, the more successful they’ll be. They are more focused and you can see the confidence that builds in them. My goal is to help them achieve their highest potential, whatever that might be.

Studio/E: You work in a large organization that has a lot of impact. What is one way Allina helps the community?
Chris: We’re working on bringing health both to individuals we serve and communities as a whole. We’re working in one specific community right now, the Mac-Groveland area of St. Paul. In an effort to forge non-traditional partnerships and get outside of our four walls, we’ve partnered with the YMCA, which does such great work with the community already. Together we’re looking at the specific challenge of type 2 diabetes, which is entirely preventable. We’re finding ways to go upstream together by listening intently to those in that neighborhood in terms of their needs and what matters most to them. Then we’re coming up with ideas to see if we can help serve the community better together.

Studio/E: How do you know what the community needs?
Chris: One thing I initiated was having leaders go out and have community conversations and then share them at our meetings. Throughout this last year, every strategic planning meeting we had started out with the voice of people served. One leader would be on point each time to share an experience with a community member, and that has kept us grounded in why we’re here.

Studio/E: What are three ways to achieve potential? 
Chris: Work hard. Whatever matters most to you, find it and do a good job with it. Love your higher power. Find that connection, whatever it is, and serve it. Swing loose. You’ve got to have fun along the way.


Biz Briefing
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Inception: 1993, then called Allina Health System
Leadership: Christine Bent, Executive Vice President, Allina Health 
Employees: 27,332
Revenue: $3.8 billion
Description: A not-for-profit network of hospitals, clinics and other health care services providing care throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
Chris’s Desire: To unlock people’s potential so they can achieve wellness.
Studio/E Competency: Mindset. The lens through which you see the world around you, which informs how you see things and shapes how you see yourself within that landscape.
Nate Garvis and Tom Wiese are founding partners of Studio/E. They are both Senior Fellows at the Lewis Institute’s Social Innovation Lab at Babson College, as well as co-owners of Earn Influence, a consulting firm that helps its cool clients profitably travel into the unknown with clarity and confidence.