Top officer of Santa Rosa’s Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation wins North Bay Women in Business award

Erin Neal

Chief Administrative Officer

Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation – North

451 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa


Erin Neal, chief administrative officer for Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation in Santa Rosa, is a winner of North Bay Business Journal’s 2021 Women in Business Awards.

Professional background: Joined Sutter in 2009 as a manager; moved up to a director position, then Vice President of Operations, then Area Operations Executive, and now Chief Administrative Officer. Taught art at Sonoma Academy High School for 9 years while at Sutter

Education: Bachelor’s degree from UC Davis; Master of Fine Arts degree from San Francisco Art Institute

Staff: 490

Tell us about yourself and your company: I am chief administrative officer for Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation-North (Marin and Sonoma counties).

Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation offers primary, specialty and complex medical care throughout San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma counties. SPMF is part of Sutter Health, a not-for-profit integrated health care delivery system with 24 acute care hospitals and more than 200 clinics in Northern California.

Having lived in the North Bay my whole life, I feel profoundly lucky to be in such a close-knit community and working in a organization that both supports the local needs of each community and extends across communities to enhance health and well-being for all.

At SPMF we are truly embedded in the community, where, for example, our doctors’ children play soccer with our patients’ children, and we also can count on the broader support of Sutter Health’s integrated network during challenging times, including the 2017 wildfires and now the pandemic.

Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?

I have been honored to be part of our community’s amazing response to the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, we changed the physical layout of our clinics so we could quickly and safely separate our COVID-related activities (COVID testing and treating patients with COVID-like symptoms) from our other health care services.

We also collaborated with community partners such as Luther Burbank and Corazon-Healdsburg to provide a variety of vaccination options including a large-scale vaccination site as well as pop-up clinics.

We also could reach across our larger Sutter network and get extra help, such as staffing our vaccine clinics, from our Sutter colleagues outside of the county.

What is the achievement you are most proud of?

I am most proud of my team at Sutter. They are always there, and completely focused on doing what’s right for our patients. My job is to get barriers out of their way so they can do their work. I work for them.

What is your biggest challenge today?

My biggest challenges today are the constant state of change, and keeping up with everything that comes at us. Yet challenge is where I thrive, so constant change for me translates to the opportunity to do more, learn more and not get stuck in one place.

Words that best describe you: Curious, creative

Personally, which of the adjustments you’ve had to make in your home life and career have been most challenging?

The most challenging adjustment has been working very long hours with a lot of decision-making that affects people’s lives. My children are grown, so I have not had to manage day care or school issues the way so many women have had to do during the pandemic.

How about the women your work with, or know outside the work place? What adjustments have they had to make?

When day care centers and schools closed during the pandemic, many of the women I work with suddenly had to care for their young children at home, home school their children, work from home and more.

My challenge was to support and empower our front line staff members so they could maintain a work-life balance under these extreme circumstances.

Lastly on COVID, which changes in routine or approach to your job you’ve made as the result of the pandemic will remain in place, either at work or in your outlook on your home life?

Many of our workers will continue to be able to work from home, or partially from home. This will lead to less commuting and improved work-life balance for some.

Personally, I love being at work and look forward to our communities opening up more fully in the future – but I also understand the option to work from home is good for some people. Flexibility is going to be key – and we are up to the task.

As a successful female professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

My biggest obstacle was not trusting my own voice and not feeling confident to communicate my opinions. Over time and several positions, and with the support of a few amazing mentors, I learned how to speak up without being tentative or defensive.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

Health care is going to look very different in five years – and there are some exciting changes ahead. For example, digital health has rapidly become an essential part of the overall care experience.

Across Sutter Health, we went from less than 20 video visits a day in 2019 to a peak of 7,000 visits a day since the start of COVID. Virtual visits and other advanced technologies like virtual symptom checkers and smart tablets for remote monitoring will continue to expand access to care, especially in harder-to-reach communities. Providing a combination of in-person and virtual health care delivery, we will continue to adapt to what our patients want and need.

Who was your most important mentor? And tell us a little bit about that person:

Dr. Toni Brayer and Dr. Lizz Vilardo. Both are internal medicine physicians with medical foundation CEO experience.

Dr. Brayer taught me that if you’re doing the right thing for a patient, then it is the right decision.

Dr. Vilardo taught me to look at things globally, listen and engage people. Both of them have helped me immensely in my growth as a leader.

What advice would you give to a young woman entering your profession or the work world today?

Listen to and understand all sides of an issue before making a decision. Learn to communicate with all levels of the organization. And always follow through on what you say you’re going to do.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization:

Katherine Manuel, chief operating officer at Dignity Health Medical Foundation. Katherine exemplifies the type of leadership I most admire.

For Katherine, everything you do as a leader is for the frontline staff – these are the people doing the important work and the people who leaders need to develop and empower.

Typical day at the office: I try to keep a fairly standard structure, but always need to be ready for the unexpected. I start very early, first by checking emails and checking in with my teams (directors, medical group leaders).

I review the daily staffing plan, so I know where people need to be that day based on the patients coming into the various departments. We have a daily safety call at 7:30am. Then I have various leader meetings.

Then – my favorite part – I head out to the clinics, where I coach managers, supervisors and front line staff. I also carve out time for strategic planning work. But overall I try to maximize the time I spend in the clinics.

Best place to work outside of your office: In the medical clinics, working directly with the front line staff.

Current reading: I’m an avid reader and I usually have 3 or 4 books going at the same time. Currently I’m reading “Ninth Street Women” by Mary Gabriel,”Last Chance Texaco” by Ricki Lee Jones and “The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman.

Most want to meet: My creative heroes: Eva Hesse, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, Aretha Franklin

Social media you most use: LinkedIn

Stress relievers: Spending time in my studio making art

Favorite hobbies: Time with family, Skiing, hiking, reading, travel and genealogy

What would parents or significant others say if asked to brag about you?

From my family…. Erin has thirst for knowledge, a creative mind and spirit, incredible work ethic and never shies away from a challenge.

Is there something we didn’t ask that you would like to add?

From my point of view there are simple truths I live by: I know the power of relationships and I embrace the unknown with the possibility of what can be.

I feel luckiest of all for my family – both of my parents, my husband, our 3 amazing and accomplished children and my supportive brothers and their families. I have learned from them that we must live in the best way, always look to understand, and offer the finest of who we are.

Erin Neal

Chief Administrative Officer

Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation – North

451 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa


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