Santa Rosa Community Health ops chief wins North Bay Latino business leadership award
Gabriela “Gaby” Bernal-Leroi’s challenge during the virus crisis is to find new ways to improve the health of others. She is a 2020 winner of the Business Journal’s Latino Business Leadership Awards.
Professional background: I am a social worker with many years of experience in community health care operations and leadership.
Education: I am proud to hold a Master of Social Work from San Francisco State University.
Tell us your story and that of your organization: I am a second-generation Latina, born and raised in El Paso, Texas.
I moved to California as a young woman looking for new adventures. I quickly fell in love with San Francisco and began my calling to serve in federally qualified health centers working with for the undeserved.
My journey in community health began as a program coordinator with a few direct reports working with predominantly Latinx patients in San Francisco’s Mission District at Mission Neighborhood Health Center.
I embraced the familiar culture that reminded me of my hometown of El Paso. My work family played an important role in keeping me connected to my Mexican roots. I ended up working at MNHC for five years and during that time completed my master’s of Social Work degree.
My husband and I moved to Sonoma County in 2009 and I was hired by Santa Rosa Community Health (SRCH). Since opening in 1996, SRCH has developed a range of programs and services to meet the health care needs of our community’s diverse population.
Starting with a single health center, we've established strong partnerships, expanded capacity, and increased cultural acceptance of our services with the most vulnerable people living in our community.
Today, we provide outstanding primary medical, dental, and mental health care to over 42,000 people with low incomes across eight health centers across Santa Rosa.
I was hired by SRCH as the site director of Chanate Health Center. I then worked with SRCH’s leadership team on the planning and oversight of the transition to our new, 56 exam room health center on Round Barn Circle, the Vista Family Health Center.
I was still running operations for Vista when we lost it in the 2017 Tubbs Fire. I led SRCH’s efforts to rebuild the Vista Campus, which re-opened to patients in August 2019. I have served as the chief of operations since 2018.
Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?
I would have to say that I am proud of SRCH’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team at SRCH worked tirelessly to set up a new model of primary care, set up an outdoor, drive-up testing site and support employees and patients through it all. I am proud to be part of this very special group of individuals that serve the community with deep passion and commitment.
What is the achievement you are most proud of?
I am proud to be the first Latina executive for this organization.
I feel a deep responsibility to support the advancement of all Latinx leaders. I hope that my achievement will inspire other Latinx leaders, especially women to work hard and set goals.
It is important to me that we develop the next generation of Latinx women leaders by creating opportunities and offering scholarship, mentoring and encouragement. One of the most rewarding parts of my job has been watching my colleagues blossom professionally and earn career advancement.
What is your biggest challenge today?
On a personal note, juggling a career and supporting my five-year-old son with distance learning has been a challenge. On a professional note, I would say it’s the unpredictability of tomorrow and staying ready to respond to whatever comes our way next.
What are you most proud of regarding the achievements of the area Latino business community and what are the greatest challenges faced by that community?
As the Latinx community in Santa Rosa continues to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19, I am seeing the community come together to form collaborations to respond.
Words that best describe you: Brave and kind
As a successful professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?
Learning how to be confident in myself as a minority woman in leadership positions. Learning to trust in my skills and feel like I belong at the table with mostly Caucasian peers.
How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?
I think that FQHCs like SRCH will continue to be key players in the health care delivery system and will continue to transition to a hybrid value-based reimbursement model where positive patient health outcomes are incentivized.
Who was your most important mentor?