Rita Burns believes in working as a team, creating partnerships. But people who know her say it’s her drive and ability that gets things accomplished.
“Rita is a woman of influence, working quietly to get it done,” said C.J. Moore, public affairs director for Kaiser Permanente. “Making sure that the hospital is well taken care of. She gives so much time in addition to her very busy job to so many organizations. She has been a quiet champion of health care for those who cannot afford it. She has worked to help others, and mentored those below her. She is such an asset.”
But Burns, vice president of communications and marketing for Memorial Health System, refuses to take credit for her accomplishments, saying that helping the uninsured gain access to health care is merely part of Memorial’s mission.
“That’s not something I do by myself,” she said. “Memorial’s role in the community is to provide health care to the uninsured. It’s a tremendous responsibility. People come here for care and we receive no tax dollars. It’s a continuing challenge.”
Burns also credits a local fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, for the start of an African-American Health Fair that now is an annual event at Memorial Health System.
“It was a team effort,” she said. “We worked with Omega Psi Phi to create this annual event, and it’s really grown. It’s free to the entire community. We provide health information and health screening.”
Collaboration is part of Burns’ job as the chief marketing and communications professional at Memorial. She said she is proud of communicating Memorial’s mission to the community.
“I’m proud of my influence over strategic communication,” she said. “You have to think about internal and external communications and how best to communicate issues of importance. Also, I have an advocacy role through the community to coordinate specific events.”
Burns and her husband moved to Colorado Springs after living around the world. As a military spouse, she said they chose to retire here.
“We lived here in the early 1970s after he came back from Vietnam, and we loved it,” she said. “We were living in San Francisco and decided to come back here to retire, so we made it his last duty station. We’ve been here since 1985.”
And Burns has spent much of that time at Memorial. For the past 17 years, she has worked in some capacity in Memorial’s public relations, internal communications and marketing.
In 2001, Burns established the employee communications function at the hospital, providing comprehensive strategic communications to the system’s 3,700 employees.
She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree in communication from the University of Northern Colorado.
She uses that expertise in her professional role at Memorial, a job she says she loves.
“I think it’s extremely rewarding,” she said. “There are so many smart, dedicated people who care about what they do. It’s a fascinating job. It’s challenging, fun to go to work every day.”
Burns is a graduate of Leadership Pikes Peak and the Colorado Springs Leadership Institute. She’s been involved with the American Heart Association, TESSA, Drive Smart Colorado, Kidpower and the Community Health Partnership. She is a board member of the Colorado Springs Press Association and is a member and past board member of the Public Relations Society of America.
Even though she credits others for the programs she initiated, many organizations have awarded her their highest accolades. She won the Dr. Justina Ford Award from the African American Voice for “her tireless efforts in working with community organizations to enhance the health of the community.”
“That’s part of my role here,” she said. “Working with different nonprofits. If I can contribute funds or time or energy to help further a cause, then it helps the community overall.”
Burns also was a nominee for the Accolades Award from the Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber Business Leader of the Year in 2004. She won the 1998 Coveted Wheel Cover Award for Drive Smart Colorado Springs “for going the extra mile.” In 1988, she won the Pulse Award from the American Heart Association for “outstanding community volunteer.” She also has won awards from the Colorado Health Care Communicators and the Pikes Peak Advertising Federation.