Hartsell began his career at Bessemer Carraway Hospital, rising to the position of assistant director of personnel. He then became an administrator for HealthSouth's Highlands Diagnostic Center. In 1999 he was appointed CEO of Metro West Hospital, the former Lloyd Noland Hospital which was bought by the Fairfield Healthcare Authority, a creation of then-Mayor of Fairfield Larry Langford. The hospital was managed by HealthSouth, which eventually sued the Authority after losing as much as $16 million over four years. The Authority filed a countersuit alleging fraud on the part of HealthSouth. A settlement agreement reached in 2003 transferred ownership of the hospital to HealthSouth in exchange for the promise to keep it open for at least three years. The hospital was closed in 2004 in the wake of HealthSouth's massive accounting scandal.
From 2003 to 2008 Hartsell worked as an independent consultant to Cooper Green Mercy Hospital through the Jefferson Metropolitan Health Care Authority, created by then Jefferson County Commission President Larry Langford. Payments to Hartsell were among hundreds of thousands of dollars in undocumented payments found during a financial review of the authority.
In the 2005 Birmingham municipal election Hartsell ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Valerie Abbott for the Birmingham City Council District 3 seat. His candidacy was supported by former councilor John Katopodis. The campaign was marked by a recorded message from controversial former Councilor Bert Miller which was mass-dialed to thousands of residents in the district. The caller ID displayed with the calls was falsified to show Abbott's home number, but Birmingham Police later traced them to the Stuart Consulting Group of Metairie, Louisiana.
Hartsell was appointed "chief of operations", a new city position created by Langford in October 2007. In January 2008 an auditor's report revealed that 13 payments totaling more than $57,000 made by the Jefferson Metropolitan Healthcare Authority to Hartsell were undocumented and that he had collected nearly $17,000 in pay advances that had not been repaid.
In February 2008 a plan to have Stuart Consulting evaluate the Birmingham Department of Public Works was proposed by Langford, but was pulled from the Council's agenda after questions arose about the need for an outside evaluation.
Hartsell serves on the boards of the National Center for Sports Safety and Metropolitan Birmingham Services for the Homeless. He and his wife Dare reside in Crestwood North and have two daughters, Hayden and Merritt.
Hartsell and his wife, Dare, have two children.
- "HealthSouth to take over Metro West hospital." (October 16, 2003) Associated Press
- Wright, Barnett (August 30, 2005) "Consultant says he'll run for a seat on City Council." Birmingham News
- Wright, Barnett (January 4, 2008) "Accountants cannot find records to support $469,365 to Jeffco Health Authority." Birmingham News
- "Cooper Green Mercy Hospital showed way too much mercy for a consultant who got a payday advance and never paid it back." (January 26, 2008) Birmingham News editorial
- Whitmire, Kyle (February 21, 2008) "Langford consultant has tricky ties." Birmingham Weekly
- Bryant, Joseph D. (February 23, 2008) "City pulls plan for $150,000 consultant." Birmingham News
- Pelfrey, David (May 28, 2009) "Dead City Diary: Character is Destiny" Black & White
- Bryant, Joseph D. (February 2, 2010) "Birmingham mayor appoints Patton; says Hartsell will remain on staff." Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (March 5, 2010) "Chris Hartsell resigns from mayor's office job." Birmingham News