New Sharp CEO thrives on interaction with staff and patients

By Kathy Day

Two weeks into her new job as CEO of Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns Trisha Khaleghi received an e-mail from a staff member that made her day.

The individual, someone whose name she didn’t recognize, thanked her for how visible she had been since she took over.

Khaleghi, a local resident who joined Sharp HealthCare in 1991 as director of Oncology Services and became vice president of Clinical Services in 2009, was particularly taken by the note, she said, because she likes being visible.

“I can do more problem-solving walking around than I can sitting in an office,” she said, as she took a break for an interview in one of the rooms in the new neonatal intensive care unit. The first phase, in the old triage area, was set to open April 16.

While that wing of the 19-year-old hospital was without patients that day, staff members were bustling about, getting rooms in order and checking their lists. As Khaleghi walked down the hall, she greeted many people by their first name.

That interaction with staff and physicians – there are more than 150 physicians specializing in women’s and infants’ medicine affiliated with the hospital — is the best part of the job. She considers it her role to do what she “can to enable they have what they need to provide the best patient care,” she said.

Her biggest challenge is “balancing everyone’s needs and desires around clinical care and the business aspects” of running a hospital that is nationally known for its obstetrics department that delivers more babies each year than any other hospital in California.

But when all the “moving parts … come together, that’s what we’re about,” she added.

Her goal as CEO “is to ensure that Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns is the premier place for women’s healthcare. We want quality at the top decile of patient and physician satisfaction that speaks to the level of commitment by our staff.”

A bachelor’s and master’s in nursing from the University of Kentucky and her work as a nurse helps keep her focused on the patients, she noted.

She also identifies with the patients’ and families’ needs because her younger son Blake, now 11, was born at Mary Birch with a heart problem that required surgery when he was only a week old.

“He had a long neonatal stay at Children’s … so I am very sensitive to the emotional trauma the families go through,” she added.

As if taking on the job of overseeing the hospital’s nine operating rooms with nearly 170 acute-care beds and a staff of 700 (full-time equivalents) isn’t enough, the hospital is in the midst of a $35 million makeover. The three-phase project includes the new and expanded NICU, converting semi-private rooms to private ones, updating labor and delivery facilities, and improving the work flow. Next up is remodeling the third floor.

The new job, which included a promotion to senior vice president, is a far cry from Khaleghi’s days as a student at Kentucky where she entered nursing by accident. She said she signed up for their new program and once she started in clinical work and patient care, she knew nursing was what she was supposed to do.

Her first job was in UK’s Bone Marrow Transplant unit, and when she came to Sharp, she switched to oncology, which she said she enjoyed because it required “high clinical expertise and an understanding of the psychological and social aspects” of care. As the years went on she became interested in the business side of the hospital and worked in a variety of roles before her promotion at the end of March.

She met Mohsen, her husband of 26 years, when she was a freshman in college and he was a junior. They moved to San Diego when he signed on as director of engineering during construction of the Hyatt Regency La Jolla. He’s now the general manager.

“He’s the neatest person I’ve ever known, kind and generous,” she said.

They are the proud parents of two sons, Blake now a student at La Jolla Country Day and Hunter, 19, who attends Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania.

They are a family with strong bonds. Her father, a Baptist minister, and her mom — “the epicenter of the family — have been married for 60 years. She has two older sisters and a younger brother.

Blake talks to his grandma, who visits frequently, every day after school. Meanwhile, they miss Hunter while he’s away at college but stay in close touch.

They also are close to Mohsen’s family. He came from Iran to the U.S. to go to school when he was 15 and still has many family members there and others in the U.S.

Khaleghi’s a sports fan who played tennis and swam before her boys were born. Now, she said, she’s more focused on watching her sons on the field. Hunter played soccer and football at Country Day and is a kicker on his college team, and his brother plays soccer too. Both boys enjoy surfing, although their mom is not into the ocean activity.

But when she’s not watching her sons, you might well find her watching her beloved Kentucky basketball team. She’s such a fan, in fact, that she and Mohsen were at the NCAA Final Four in March when their Wildcats won the title.

“I love basketball,” she said, noting that she’s been watching Kentucky games since she was 5.

And she plays golf, although “poorly.” Talking about a recent trip to Palm Desert, she added, “I go to be with the boys.”

She and Blake also are members of Sharp’s team that participates in the American Heart Association Heart Walk each year.

“It’s a way to teach him to give back,” she said, again giving credit to the people who cared for him when he had open heart surgery as a tiny baby.

Khaleghi also enjoys working out — she’s a regular at the Pacific Athletic Club even if she only gets in 30-minute workouts now that she’s working 7 to 7 most days.

Her enthusiasm for the job she is still learning is as evident as her love of her family.

“I’m extremely passionate about the patient care experience – that’s why this job suits who I am and what I believe in, as well as what Sharp HealthCare stands for.”

To learn more about Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, visit