Written by The Business Journal Staff
President and CEO
Valley Children’s Healthcare
B.A. Anthropology, California State University, Fresno
M.S. Healthcare Management, California Coast University
Executive Leadership Certificate, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley
Wife: Tammy Suntrapak
Kids: Carson Mawyer, Dominic and William Suntrapak
- How did you come to work for Valley Children’s Healthcare?
I joined Valley Children’s in 1995 in clinical operations, which provided invaluable experience. We were in the old buildings then, off Millbrook and Shields in Fresno, and it really gave me a firsthand look at the challenges of running clinical departments disparate from a centralized hospital.
- What are the responsibilities of a hospital CEO?
A hospital or health care network CEO’s responsibilities are, in the case of Valley Children’s, first and foremost to serve the organization’s mission, to take concrete steps every day to fulfill the mission and goals of the organization at the Board’s direction, and in that service, to ensure that there is an organizational culture that lives and breathes the values of the organization. At Valley Children’s, my ultimate accountability is to the children of the Valley and to improve their health and wellbeing from generation to generation.
- What challenges does the healthcare industry face in this region and how does Valley Children’s overcome those challenges to provide the best care to children, not only in the Central Valley, but those that travel far for care?
The challenges in this region are some of the most serious in the entire country and have been for decades. In Fresno County alone, 38.9 percent of children 0-17 live in poverty. These kids are disadvantaged every day in ways many of us can’t imagine. They are food insecure, shelter insecure, have a fundamental lack of access to health care and are challenged to lead healthy lives and learn without burden so that they can realize a future that is bright. They are more likely to miss school from conditions like asthma, use emergency room visits at twice the statewide average and are more likely to suffer from childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Every one of the 11 counties Valley Children’s Healthcare serves has been designated as medically underserved for primary care. We believe this fundamental lack of access to pediatric primary care doctors leads to the incredible amount of emergency department (ED) visits at our Hospital. Last year, our ED saw more than 120,000 visits and about 60 percent of them were for primary care. We are honored to serve these kids and proud to be here for them, but we also recognize that this is not a model of care that best enables wellness in kids.
Asthma in our Valley is another major challenge. Nearly 25 percent of all children in Fresno County have asthma and it is the No. 1 health reason given for absenteeism. Missing classes can create challenges for the rest of a child’s life.
The social determinants of health in our Valley are perhaps the greatest public health challenge of our generation. These issues are exacerbated, in my opinion, by a health policy and reimbursement methodology that does not reward wellness, but rather only acute and episodic interventions. Until there is payment reform to address wellness and compensate providers for improving health, it is likely that social determinants will continue to be the greatest challenge in the healthcare industry.
With regard to what Valley Children’s is doing to mitigate families traveling for care, we are investing tens of millions of dollars into creating access to pediatric doctors in every major population center in the Valley including Bakersfield, Visalia, Fowler, Merced and Modesto. It is our goal that within a very short period of time no family will travel more than 30 minutes to get to a Valley Children’s site and we are within striking distance of fulfilling that.
- How does the mission of Valley Children’s resonate with you on a personal level?
My most important job is father to my three kids. My eldest son, Dominic, spent time as a patient at Valley Children’s and I can tell you there’s nothing more comforting as a parent than the level of care we’re able to provide here every single day. I know that firsthand as a father and as someone who spends hours each day in the clinics and halls of Valley Children’s. There’s truly no place like it.
- How many children (estimated) are treated on an annual basis? With so many receiving needed care, how does Valley Children’s simultaneously make its facilities more uplifting and fun than a normal hospital so that ill children still get to feel like children?
In 2016, Valley Children’s had almost 344,705 outpatient visits and 12,979 inpatient cases and performed 13,648 surgeries.
Ever since we moved to Madera in 1998 and built this facility, our first priority has been to make it a place where children aren’t afraid to be. We’re in the process of upgrading the interior to reflect nature and make this environment not only a place of healing, but one of learning, too.
- What was the best advice you ever received and who did it come from?
I have been so blessed in my career and life to have had great mentors invest in me and it is hard to pick out the best single piece of advice. When I was an undergrad at Fresno State, I was very lucky to meet, and have lunch with, Elie Wiesel, winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. As a young and impressionable student, I asked him how he had overcome so much hardship in his life, including the years he spent in a Nazi camp, and if he had any advice in life. He told me, “Always have humility and listen with an open heart.” He was a giant among us and I have never forgotten that afternoon.
- Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career?
Three things, really with my parents being two of them. My father worked 19-20 hours a day most of my life. He never complained, never called in sick and taught me that sheer force of will is a powerful thing in this life. He came to this country when he was 19 and accomplished more with less in the early years of his life than I could ever hope to duplicate. My mom worked just as hard and primarily raised my two siblings and me, while working full-time, too. Both of my parents modeled a work ethic that was disciplined and strong. They are both huge influences in my career. The third thing is Valley Children’s itself. I quite literally would not be alive today if not for Valley Children’s numerous interventions when I was a kid. My life was saved probably more times than I understand when I was little, including when I was 4 and my appendix ruptured (it was a much more serious thing back then before a lot of the pharmaceutical technology we have today).
- What are your roots in the Central Valley?
I was born at the original Saint Agnes Medical Center 50 years ago. I attended Emmanuel Lutheran School for a time and then Robinson Elementary, Ahwahnee Middle School, one year at Roosevelt (bussing was still occurring then) and then Hoover High. My entire family lives in Fresno to this day. Can’t get much more local than the Suntrapaks!
- What was your first job? Describe something you learned from that first job.
When I was 12 years old, I worked as a field hand with my childhood best buddy on his family’s ranches. We worked in the fig orchards and vineyards doing whatever his grandfather told us to do. We were picked up at around 5 a.m. and got home just in time for dinner.
My first “real” job was cleaning Nicola’s Restaurant when I was 15. I was a janitor, cleaning for about 8-10 hours every Saturday.
Both of these jobs taught me the meaning of hard work, what earning a dollar really meant and informed future career decisions.
- What do you like to do in your spare time?
When I have spare time, spending it with my family — preferably on or near a beach — is always my first choice. I’m also an avid reader and have recently reignited my interest in photography.