Richard Ellis finds joy in helping people during the roughest times of their lives, and his position as a chief executive officer of Tennova Healthcare - Harton offers him an opportunity to do just that.

Ellis, who has been at the helm of the local hospital since March 2017, said he enjoys his job and being part of the Tullahoma community.


Growing up

Born in Oregon, Ellis said he “grew up all over the country.”

“My dad worked for the United States Department of Agriculture,” he said. “My mom and dad are both from southern Alabama, but we lived in Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan [and] Florida.”

Ellis went to high school in New Orleans and earned his bachelor’s degree in politics at the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas. After graduated from college, Ellis took a job at the university’s campus in Rome for a year.

Ellis then joined the United States Coast Guard and was on active duty for six years.

“After that, I went to graduate school at the University of Texas in Austin and got a graduate degree in business management,” he said.

With the health care field offering various opportunities for helping others while having a fulfilling career, Ellis started working at hospitals and learning about the ins and outs of health care operations.


Developing professionally

Ellis’ first health care job after graduate school was as an assistant administrator in Morrisville, North Carolina, where he quickly moved up the career ladder and was promoted to chief operating officer of that hospital. He said he enjoyed the four years spent there.

“All of those years were very heavy on learning, development and gaining a better understanding of the health care system and how hospitals work,” he said.

He then took an opportunity to become the chief executive officer of Stringfellow Memorial Hospital in Anniston, Alabama – a job which came with the added perk of allowing him to be closer to his relatives.

“That was my first opportunity to work in Alabama,” he said. “Then, I had an opportunity to go to California, which I had been interested in doing from a health care profession standpoint. California, in some respects, is just a different landscape for health care.”

He managed a two-hospital system in California, with the two facilities sharing medical staff but serving two very different communities just 8 miles apart.

“That was a lot of fun,” he said. “Then we got a chance to go back to North Carolina, this time in Hickory, North Carolina. I was a CEO of a 355-bed hospital for four years. I worked with an open heart program there, and it was a larger hospital with much more going on. I developed my skills while I worked with some really great physicians.”

Ellis’ most recent job prior to taking the helm at Harton was serving as a CEO of Enterprise Medical Center in Enterprise, Alabama.

“I enjoyed that tremendously – I was there for three and a half years – and then had the opportunity to come here,” he said.


Making Tullahoma home

Ellis and his family moved to Tullahoma in March 2017 because of the job opportunity at Harton.

“We wanted to get back to a climate that had four seasons, and not just summer and non-summer,” he said. “But we also really liked the size of Tullahoma, the school system, and the proximity to not only Nashville but also to the mountains, the lakes and the rivers.

“All of those things drew us here – the opportunity to be here at this hospital with this medical staff and this community was a huge draw for us.”

Ellis and his wife, Michelle, have five children, ranging in age from 8 10 18. All are enrolled in Tullahoma City Schools.

The Ellis family quickly put down roots in Tullahoma and they are making the most of the natural attractions, sports and community organizations Middle Tennessee has to offer.

 “When I’m not at work and they are not at school, we like to get outside as much as possible,” he said. “We are involved in church, soccer and Boy Scouts. We enjoy all of those things immensely. Our kids are very active in the schools, student government and clubs.”

 Ellis also rides a road bicycle.

 “So that’s another thing I love about living here – from my driveway, I can go on a 20-mile ride or an 80-mile ride,” he said. “We also like to canoe and kayak and fish.”


Goals for Harton

Ellis’s mission is for Tennova Healthcare - Harton to become one of the best hospitals in the state.

Harton is 135-bed hospital, offering a range of inpatient and outpatient, medical, diagnostic and surgical services.

Harton provides various services that are not typically offered by other hospitals serving similar communities, said Ellis.

“We have an interventional cardiology program here, which is unusual for a hospital our size, and a little unusual for community our size,” Ellis said. “It’s a fantastic program. We also have neurosurgery program.”

The hospital also has pulmonology and orthopedic surgeons, and “all of that is a little bit unusual for a community this size,” said Ellis.

“So to be able to live in Tullahoma and have neighbors that are close and a real community feeling, while at the same time having such a broad array of medical specialties, was a big draw,” Ellis said.

He plans to work hard to make sure Harton remains a competitive hospital.

“The health care industry is ever-changing, from a regulatory standpoint and from a business standpoint,” he said. “We want to continue to be an economic enabler for the community, and we want to provide the highest level of care.”

One of his main goals is achieving a five-star status with Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS).

CMS has created the Five-Star Quality Rating System to help consumers, their families and caregivers compare facilities more easily and to help identify areas that may be improved.

The organization rates hospitals, delving into clinical and patient satisfaction, said Ellis.

“We are currently a three-star hospital, which is a level up from when I got here,” Ellis said. “One of our main goals is to achieve a four-star status and, eventually, a five-star status.

“It’s a little bit like running a marathon, and it will take a while to get there, but every day we work on getting better with all of our clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction, as we move on toward achieving a five-star status,” he said. “That is our main goal.”

Achieving this objective takes a crew of exemplary employees.

“We want to continue to be a good employer and recruit and retain high-quality staff,” he said. “Our nursing retention scores have gotten better, nursing turnover has gone down, but we always have room for improvement to do whatever we can to get nurses, as well as physicians, in an environment where they feel fulfilled in their profession.”

Ellis also plans to expand the services provided by the hospital.

“We would like to grow – and, in some respect, regain – some of the specialties we have lost,” he said. “We want to add endocrinology, which would be a new service line for us. We also want to recruit some additional primary care back to the community.” 

Harton employs approximately 350 staff members, including full-time and part-time employees, according to Ellis.


Helping patients and families

Working at a hospital is a great opportunity to help people during some of the toughest times they may face, said Ellis.

“We have fantastic doctors, nurses, and people throughout the hospital, whose goal is to help the hospital provide compassionate care,” he said. “It’s enjoyable to help people get better.”

Having the chance to help someone being treated at the emergency room to go back home is satisfying, said Ellis.

 “Our clinicians and doctors can heal them and return them to their life and families,” he said. “The people on our team, often, literally, save people’s lives.”

Elena Cawley can be reached via email at