Sutter CEO balances company’s essence with innovation
President and CEO, Sutter Health
During Sarah Krevans’ first three months as Sutter Health’s president and CEO, she spent half her time in the field, talking to patients, families, employees, and physicians. She spent part of a night shift with Sutter’s telephone operators, observed a surgery, and interacted with staff at both small critical access hospitals and large medical centers.
Why? Because an organization’s leadership needs to ground its strategy decisions in the everyday, Krevans says. It’s this compassion that marks her leadership of the Northern California not-for-profit health system and guides her to innovate while staying true to the company’s aim to provide affordable health care to a diverse population.
It’s not surprising that Krevans is Sutter’s first female CEO. She grew up in a Bay Area family that has long been involved in health care, and in her 20s she held a number of relevant jobs, such as working in care facilities for the elderly and for those with severe mental illness. By age 29, with an MBA and an MPH from Berkeley under her belt, Krevans had been both deputy director of the state of Maine’s Bureau of Medical Services and its acting director of Medicaid. She spent the next 12 years working at Kaiser Permanente as a senior vice president and area manager before joining Sutter Health, where she served in a variety of positions, including COO, before assuming the helm.
Krevans sees her role as helping to steward Sutter’s charitable trust in service of its patients, but also to encourage transformation so that the organization’s mission remains vital going forward.
“We care for people in moments when they’re vulnerable, when they need to have confidence that we’re helping them make the best decisions about their health,” she says. “And to do this well, we have to preserve our roots while also staying open to innovation.”
It’s an important balance, and one that health care has been slower to embrace, Krevans says. Almost every other business sphere has seen big shifts in how service is provided.
She’d like Sutter to continue to make its services more accessible and efficient, from changing how patients make appointments to opening “retail clinics” that care for those who may not be seriously ill but still need an alternative to the hospital. “Simple things like being able to make an appointment with a doctor online can make a huge difference in a patient’s experience,” she says.
In any case, Sutter Health’s very environment bodes well for its efforts to balance past and future.
“Those of us who live and work in Northern California are surrounded by unbelievable creativity,” Krevans says. “I’d like to take advantage of that, both inside our organization and outside of it. We can stay true to our roots but still have those breakthroughs.” —Kate Madden Yee