Leadership Through Compassion: Tasha Blackmon of Cherry Health

By Kayla Sosa | photography by Two Eagles Marcus

Cherry Health is a non-profit medical center that provides health services to vulnerable populations who face significant barriers in accessing health care. There are more than 20 Cherry Health centers in seven counties in Michigan, employing more than  900 employees. The headquarters, located off Cherry Street near LaGrave Avenue in Grand Rapids, is where CEO Tasha Blackmon oversees it all.

“I feel like I have a responsibility to the community where I grew up,” Blackmon said. “To make sure that the services provided here are of the highest quality that we can possibly provide, and that people leave healthier once they receive our services.”

Blackmon worked her way up the ladder after holding six positions in 13 years at Cherry Health before becoming CEO. Her experience allows her an invaluable understanding of what each position entails and how to best lead the organization.

“People feel like you understand their struggle, you’ve walked alongside them on some level, so you can be a great support to them,” she expressed.

In her position, Blackmon is on a mission to make sure everyone at Cherry Health is supported, including patients and her staff.

“Staff are your most valuable resource,” Blackmon said. “They’re doing the hard work. And if you tell them how much you value and appreciate what they do, they’re going to take care of the patients.”

In her first 90 days as CEO, Blackmon visited every single Cherry Health center across the state and personally talked to each and every employee (there are 947). When she first announced her intentions to the board, they were in shock, but she felt it was essential.

“Staff are your most valuable resource. They’re doing the hard work. And if you tell them how much you value and appreciate what they do, they’re going to take care of the patients.”

Having a successful company starts with a successful staff, and Blackmon does her best to motivate those around her. On a daily basis, she is inundated with emails, meetings and events to attend, but she makes time to remember her co-worker’s son’s upcoming math test, or someone’s latest family news. Her office is always open to not only her staff, but also to young people looking for career advice to come in and chat.

While she keeps herself busy, she admits her secret weapon is her executive assistant, Sheri Colmer.

“She’s an amazing right hand to have,” Blackmon said. “I can trust her. She’s very uplifting and confidential. She’s actually got the skills, knowledge and abilities to do more than she’s doing now.”

That type of praise is common to hear from Blackmon, who sees the good in everyone she interacts with.

Her compassionate heart and hardworking spirit come from the influence of her parents growing up. While her father didn’t graduate from college, he retired as the general manager of General Motors.

“I’ve had a front-row seat to that determination, work ethic and perseverance,” Blackmon expressed. “I’ve had a front row seat to that my entire life. My mother, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t refer to herself as a philanthropist, but I saw my mother give everything her entire life.”

Blackmon’s parents set her up to work and lead with confidence.

“My parents, specifically my dad, taught me that you belong wherever you are,” she divulged. “So I’ve never felt that I’m somewhere that I don’t belong or that because maybe I’m the only woman in the room or the only woman of color in a space, that I don’t belong there. I walk into situations feeling that my contribution is valid… That’s a big piece of it: you have to feel that you are adding to whatever the
situation is.”

Blackmon grew up in Grand Rapids, going to Ottawa Hills High School and studying health care administration at Michigan State University. After initially looking into a more medically-related degree, Blackmon realized she had an “innate business” mentality and decided to focus her studies on the business side of healthcare.

Before working at Cherry Health, she worked at Baxter Healthcare, a Fortune 500 company that gives grants to places like Cherry Health, which is how Blackmon connected with Chris Shea, the former CEO of Cherry Health who was instrumental

in pushing her to take career advancement opportunities and become a leader within the company. After she and Shea got to know each other and she learned about the company, Blackmon decided to take a job at Cherry Health, and a pay cut to her salary.

“I realized at that point that when you are pursuing your passion, pay is not the first driver,” Blackmon said. “About a year and a half later, I took the leap, came to Cherry Health, and started as a site manager.”

Blackmon is  excited about the new strategic goals she has set for the company’s upcoming year. These include focusing on chronic diseases and the disparities around them, issues surrounding women, infants and children, mental illness, and substance abuse disorders, in particular.

“Our goal is to provide health care to all, but we really have a special sensitivity to those who face barriers in their lives,” Blackmon said. “Our goal is to do whatever it takes to help remove some of those barriers so that they can lead the highest quality of life possible for them.”

Some of these barriers include issues such as health insurance, housing, education, transportation and language. Last year, Cherry Health served almost 80,000 patients and had 800,000 visits.

“This opportunity chose me,” Blackmon admitted. “I’ve become more connected to my passion, and through all those series of opportunities, I’ve realized that it was meant to be. This is where I’m supposed to be at this moment in my life.”

To learn more about Cherry Health services, visit cherryhealth.org.

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