Rena Freeman is Soft-Hearted, But Not Soft-Headed

After witnessing AdventHealth’s evolution, Rena Freeman capitalizes on her three decades of experience to advance the interests of the organization

Three decades is a long time—plenty of time for both individuals and organizations to grow, change, and evolve. Rena Freeman has certainly seen, and experienced, a lot of change during her twenty-seven years with the AdventHealth nonprofit care system. But despite all of those changes, one thing remains crystal clear in Freeman’s mind: AdventHealth is the only place she wants to be.

When Freeman started working for AdventHealth’s largest affiliate hospital—Florida Hospital—as a compensation analyst, she was driven by a sense of curiosity. “That is something I would recommend for anybody, whatever role they’re in. You have to be able to understand how things work and be aware of how different elements work together,” says Freeman, who is now vice president of total rewards.

Rena Freeman, AdventHealth’s evolution Photo by Spencer Freeman

Asking those questions—questions like, “How does what you’re working on drive change in people’s pay?”—propelled Freeman through increasingly senior roles at AdventHealth (formerly known as Adventist Health System). But Freeman quickly realized that she couldn’t take those promotions for granted. “For a long time, I thought that my hard work would be noticed and that I would get advanced because of that,” she explains. “But I learned that you have to ask for it—you have to make it known that you want to take that step.”

In fact, early on in her career, Freeman looked beyond AdventHealth to gain the kind of job title she was seeking. But while her title may have improved, the culture she was working in had not. “The other organization was not focused on a mission like AdventHealth’s; they were just looking out for themselves,” Freeman remembers of a particular management team. “I moved right back to Florida Hospital after about a year because I knew that I wanted to work for people that had integrity, people that I liked working with.”

“We are in a competitive environment right now, so having the right package is key to attracting and retaining that workforce.”

That integrity, and the mission-mindedness of AdventHealth’s leadership, has remained consistent throughout the organization’s lifetime, Freeman says, even as AdventHealth has acquired other hospitals and expanded into other states. “AdventHealth has always been extending the healing ministry of Christ,” Freeman says. “Even in a business role, I can still be involved in that mission. I stay here because I feel that there is a purpose to what we’re doing.”

As VP of total rewards, Freeman plays a large role in attracting and retaining talented people who can help deliver on AdventHealth’s mission. “We are in a competitive environment right now,” Freeman explains, “so having the right package is key to attracting and retaining that workforce. We’re always assessing the marketplace and how that compares with what we’ve been planning.”

That can be challenging at times, of course. “How we are paid, as an industry, directly impacts what we can and cannot offer to our talent,” Freeman remarks. “But AdventHealth has really talented clinical leadership, and a strong focus on how our bottom line allows us to continue to reinvest in the health of our communities. I think that tie to our communities, and the dedication to the health of our communities, has been what has given us staying power.”

But it isn’t just the industry-wide financial fluctuations that make Freeman’s job so complex. Employees at any healthcare organization, especially one so wide-ranging as AdventHealth, have a huge spectrum of pay, Freeman notes. Whether an individual is on the lower or higher end of that spectrum, Freeman prides herself on being compassionate and examining the needs of that individual.

As Freeman points out, however, acting with compassion does not mean acting without thought. “I always say that I’m soft-hearted but not soft-headed,” Freeman says laughing. “You have to be compassionate towards your workforce, especially the ones whose labor is unfortunately just not valued as much in the marketplace, but that doesn’t mean that you should pay way above market. You can look at other things you can do for your workforce, at things they need beyond pay like references to services available to them or extra help understanding their benefits.”

Perhaps one reason why Freeman dedicates herself to AdventHealth employees so single-mindedly is the trend she has seen in both healthcare and the business world at large.

“I have seen a real change in how human resources is valued and viewed by top management,” she says. “But before, in any industry you looked at, it was looked at very much as an expense. It has taken a long time for executives to really see their people as clients, as something that they need to value. They’re not an expense at all but rather a competitive advantage.”

Work Time is Family Time

Freeman has yet another reason to love working at AdventHealth—her husband has worked there on and off as photographer for quite some time now.

“It’s interesting, working together. Positive, for the most part,” Freeman laughs. “We don’t have any crossover in reporting, so we’ve always kept a line between our work. And it is nice—when I go to his work events, for example, I run into people that I know and can chat with. I don’t feel like an outsider.”