‘A life changer’: Losing her partner to cancer helped shape Fred Hutch’s new chief human resources officer

Losing her partner to cancer helped shape life path for Fred Hutch’s new vice president and chief human resources officer
Lynne Kornblatt
Lynne Kornblatt knows firsthand the need for better treatments and cures for cancer. She starts Jan. 3 as the new vice president and chief human resources officer for Fred Hutch and SCCA and brings a unique background as a nurse and lawyer, as well as her personal experience of losing a loved one to cancer. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Lynne Kornblatt’s former partner, Yael Shuman, never thought about being sick.  She was far too busy with life to think about such things. She had two small boys and a busy career in fiber arts. She was vibrant and adventurous, someone who "fiercely loved everything about being alive,” Kornblatt recalled.

And then, at the age of 37, Shuman suddenly developed new back pain that propelled her into a medical journey resulting in a diagnosis of multiple myeloma. She underwent treatment, including a stem cell transplant, and went into remission for five years. Although she lived far longer than the then-median survival average of two to four years, she died of complications from the disease 12 years later in 2006. She was 49.

“You’re never the same after something like that. It’s a life changer,” said Kornblatt, who has since married her longtime partner, Cathrael "Kate" Kazin. “I learned from that experience how important the research is. There were new myeloma therapies developed while Yael had the disease that she benefited from significantly once she relapsed.”

Seeing firsthand the urgency for new and better research is one of the drivers for Kornblatt’s decision to come to work at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. As vice president and chief human resources officer, she will lead human resources for both organizations, supporting 4,400 employees, including researchers, technicians, medical workers, scientists, administrators and more. Fred Hutch announced her new role today; she starts Jan. 3.

Kornblatt, who began her career as a registered nurse and later became an attorney, is currently the chief human resources officer at Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, where she oversees human resource operations for a 9,000-person employee and physician network. She was hired for Fred Hutch and SCCA after a national search.

“What set Lynne apart in a very competitive search was her warm, authentic and direct leadership and communication style, and her wide-ranging human resources experience, including in the most senior HR position,” said Steve Stadum, Fred Hutch’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.  

Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland said he’s looking forward to having Kornblatt lead the Human Resources Department. “She’s incredibly talented and I’m thrilled to have someone of her caliber at the helm of Human Resources,” he said. “She brings a wide range of knowledge and expertise and will be critical in helping us hire the right people — and support those who are here — as we work for cures for cancer.”

Norm Hubbard, executive vice president of SCCA, said Kornblatt’s experience gives her a unique perspective.

"At SCCA, we are known for providing the best care for patients,” he said. “That means hiring excellent people to help us do that. Lynne’s unique education and background, informed by her own bedside experiences of being a nurse and having a loved one with cancer, gives her special insight into what key traits, abilities and skills are needed. She will play a vital role in finding outstanding candidates to hire and supporting our employees as we focus on caring for patients and finding cures.”

The chance to work for organizations with the mission of “changing the course of medicine and curing cancer — it’s pretty motivating,” Kornblatt said.

‘Other ways of helping’

Kornblatt said she sees her new role as a natural culmination of a life and career devoted to helping others.

Growing up as the daughter of a high school teacher and a legal assistant, she always liked listening to people and hearing about the challenges they faced. She wanted to find a way to make that type of caring her life's work.

“I had a few friends and mentors who were going to nursing school and I thought that’s another way of listening and helping in a really up-close way,” she said.

She began her career as a nurse by working in the medical-surgical intensive care unit of Einstein Healthcare Network and then later in labor and delivery, including developing a maternal-fetal intensive care unit for high-risk mothers. Being a nurse in those two areas allowed her to witness the full spectrum of birth and death, she said.

Later Kornblatt left bedside care and moved into hospital risk management. As she learned more about health care law, it sparked an interest in law itself and a desire to learn more about patients who had no one to make medical decisions for them, as well as those who were affected by unintentional medical harm. She earned her Juris Doctor degree from Temple University and later wrote her thesis, "First Do No Harm," as a Master of Laws student at Widener University, where she earned a master’s degree in health care law. “I saw my whole career coming together in those programs and experiences," she said.

She moved into human resources at Einstein in 1998, applying her training as both a nurse and an attorney in a variety of human resources disciplines. She has held the top position in HR there since she became vice president in 2003. She was named Einstein's first chief human resources officer in 2013.

Kornblatt sees her work in human resources as a natural extension of the care she gave as a nurse. Hiring great people to do and support medical research and care means better options for patients, she said.

“Our first responsibility is to be there when people need us,” she said. “How we treat people, the kind of people we have in the organization and how we support them ties in to being a nurse for me. It’s another way for me to continue taking care of patients.”

‘Our most miraculous asset’

In the next few years, Fred Hutch and SCCA plan to increase faculty positions by more than 40 and are committed to increasing diversity. Kornblatt plans to spend time in the community connecting and asking different groups about what’s important to them and what would make Fred Hutch feel more inclusive and accessible.

She also knows that in a competitive industry, Human Resources has to be nimble and act quickly to hire the best candidates and create the best possible workplace experience.

Kornblatt has been visiting Seattle to get familiar with the area. It’s the beginning of a new chapter in a variety of ways. Last winter, after 10 years together, she married Kazin, whom she met the minute she arrived at a party at a mutual friend’s house the year after Shuman died.

“We met in the driveway, and that was it,” she said of Kazin. “She is smart, quick, funny and warm.”

Kazin is a Ph.D. educator, attorney, chief academic officer and architect of a cutting-edge new competency-based program, College for America, which is part of Southern New Hampshire University.

Like her wife, Kazin shares a commitment to making the world better. “Despite having an all-Ivy League pedigree, she is committed to making high quality, affordable education accessible to students who would otherwise not have the time or resources to better themselves by furthering their education while working,” Kornblatt said.

Kornblatt has two grown sons, Noah and Eiren Shuman, and two toy poodles, Frida and Diego.

As Kornblatt comes to Fred Hutch and SCCA and starts her new life in Seattle with her family, she’s eager to see what’s next and to be part of Gilliland’s vision of curing cancer and related diseases.

“Miracles happen and will continue to happen at Fred Hutch and SCCA, not only in laboratories and clinical settings,” she said, “but also in the ways we care for, engage and develop the organization’s most miraculous asset: our people.” 

Linda Dahlstrom is a former Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center editor. Previously, she was the health editor for NBC News Digital and msnbc.com. She also worked at several newspapers during her 25-year career as a journalist covering AIDS, cancer, end-of-life issues and global health.

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