Written by The Business Journal Staff
Debbie Hemker, RN, Senior Vice President and Area Manager
Kaiser Permanente Fresno
What you do: As Senior Vice President and Area Manager for Kaiser Permanente Fresno, I am responsible for managing the health plan and ensuring more than 130,000 Kaiser Permanente members and the communities we serve in the Valley have access to high-quality, affordable health care services through our 169-bed medical center and four clinics.
Education: B.S. in business management from the University of Phoenix, master’s in business administration and management from Saint Mary’s College.
Family: Married to husband Tom; works in law enforcement
Tell us a little about your career and what led you to your current position.
I started my health care career as a nurse because I wanted to give back and take care of people. But I always knew I wanted to move into a leadership role, which led me to Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, where I was the department administrator at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower. I then moved to a similar role in Harbor City. In 2002, I came to Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California region where I oversaw utilization management. I also served in administrative roles with Kaiser Permanente in Diablo and Hayward, where I opened the 216-bed San Leandro Medical Center 16 weeks ahead of schedule. I moved to my current role with Kaiser Permanente Fresno in February 2015.
What brought you to the health care field, Debbie?
I was raised with values that instilled a responsibility to do my best and take care of others. I strongly believe in giving back to humanity and improving the world around me. As a health care leader, I have the privilege of ensuring my staff and our members have the support they need to lead healthy and productive lives. Our mission and our nonprofit status also call us to address the health, social and economic needs of our nonmembers, too. So I’m equally inspired by the work our robust community benefit program has accomplished in the Valley addressing access to care, healthy eating and active living, hunger and homelessness and chronic disease prevention.
What are your responsibilities as senior vice president and area manager, Debbie?
I am responsible for all local health plan operations and services at Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center. The health plan works with our physicians to provide safe, affordable and high-quality care to more than 130,000 members in the Fresno area. Through our integrated model of care we are focused on quality and prevention to keep people healthy.
What are your thoughts on health care in the region and does Kaiser Permanente have plans to expand or add new health care programs in the future?
It’s certainly a transformative time in health care on both local and national levels. Many people are surprised to learn Kaiser Permanente has been in the Valley for 30 years. The Fresno Service Area, which spans four counties, has experienced impressive and steady growth over the last few years. As the market conditions and demographics change, we really listen to our members and purchasers to adapt how we deliver on our promise of high-quality, affordable health care. Regardless, we remain committed to providing the right care in the right place, at the right time. Technology has made it possible for us to connect with our members and with physicians and specialists at the touch of a screen and keyboard. We’re embracing a shift in care delivery by leveraging technology and offering convenient ways to get access to care whether it be through a phone or video appointment with a doctor or ordering prescriptions and viewing lab results online. Kaiser Permanente has been a pioneer in health care delivery since the 1940s. Our integrated prevention model focuses on saving lives by preventing illness and disease, which is leading to shorter and less frequent hospital stays.
What was your very first job and what did you learn from it, Debbie?
I was a retail cashier. I learned that attendance, hard work and contributing ideas were valued. I realized that the people closest to the work had the best ideas and buy-in to make improvements. It also taught me how to interact with customers and different personalities, and that everyone has a story.
What was the best advice you ever received, Debbie?
My grandmother always said, “Doing well in life will never be enough unless you do good, too.” She meant that things like a big house and an important job and title will never be enough unless you are giving of yourself freely to others and leading with your heart.
What are your roots in the Valley?
I grew up in Michigan, where I lived on a farm, so I have always had a very strong connection to – and respect for – agriculture. Coming to the Valley was like going home again with the farmland, vast open spaces and hard-working people with strong family values.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Debbie?
I volunteer in the community and serve on the boards of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation and Fresno Compact. I enjoy traveling and gardening. I often take hikes or enjoy walks with my dogs in the woods, so I can take in the beauty of the world around me.