Charity Elmer knew she wanted to be a lawyer starting in seventh grade, inspired by the idea of arguing a case.
But her connection to CoxHealth goes back even earlier. She was born at the health system’s Cox North Hospital.
“I’ve always thought the world of this organization so the thought of working here and being the general counsel, that’s just the brass ring,” Elmer said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
CoxHealth is a non-profit health system that includes five hospitals and numerous clinics headquartered in Springfield, and serving southwest Missouri.
Elmer has spent most of her life in the area. After growing up in the Greene County town of Ash Grove, she attended Drury University, majoring in criminology and sociology, followed by the University of Arkansas School of Law. After graduation, she joined the firm of Blackwell Sanders, now Husch Blackwell, receiving mentorship from attorneys Virginia Fry and Dick Dorr.
“Their philosophy was you should do a little bit of everything,” Elmer said. “When I left Blackwell Sanders, I was doing primarily what I wanted to do, which was labor and employment and education law, and loved every minute of it.”
Elmer considered the jump to an in-house position when she was working on a medical malpractice case. The doctor involved informed her that CoxHealth was looking to hire its first in-house counsel and that she should consider applying if she wanted a slower pace. Being just 31 years old, Elmer was skeptical that she had a chance, but applied and got the position.
She loves the work she’s done for more than 13 years, but says it’s a myth that being in-house counsel makes for a lighter workload.
“There was never any slowing down,” Elmer said. “We have a mission. We take care of people. It’s a very purpose-driven and very fulfilling job. I feel like the luckiest person around.”
She unwinds by spending time with her family, baking and an early-morning workout routine.
Because Elmer was the first in-house counsel, her position at Cox was a learning experience for both parties.
“I did a lot of general legal work,” Elmer said, of those early days. “Then when I got the hang of what I was doing, the federal government showed up and we had a large federal investigation that took three years. It was definitely a sip from a fire hose.”
She also quickly established a full department, where she now oversees all aspects of the health system’s legal matters, workers’ compensation, risk insurance and other issues.
Three years ago, she was at a board meeting when the health system’s chief executive officer handed her a new nametag. It read: “senior vice president.” The new title did not change her job, but recognized the work and leadership that Elmer was already exhibiting for the organization.
Elmer considers herself to be the anti-micromanager.
“I try to empower people to be independent thinkers and come up with solutions,” Elmer said. “I always want to be here to support them, but I want them to own it, whatever the project is, and I want to celebrate them.”