Subscribe

Wildfires, relocation, expansion: What a decade it's been for outgoing Sonoma-Marin Sutter hospital exec

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

O n Friday, after more than 10 years leading two of Sutter Health’s North Bay hospitals, CEO Michael Purvis will walk out of his office for the last time.

He will hand over the keys to his successor, Dan Peterson, who will oversee Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital and Novato Community Hospital. Peterson was an internal choice, having served for three years as chief administrative officer at Sutter Lakeside Hospital in Lakeport.

Purvis’ departure marks the official end of an era that saw him lead Sutter’s Santa Rosa hospital from a crowded, underfunded facility on Chanate Road, to the $292-million Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital that opened in 2014, and is now in the midst of a $158-million expansion set for completion in April 2022. The new 3-tower structure will add 40 beds to its existing 84. The Novato hospital houses 75 beds.

Purvis, 66, is retiring, though he bristles when it’s said aloud.

“I really don’t like the word retirement because it sounds like you’re going to go lay on a couch somewhere and never be seen again,” he said with a smile. “So when I think about this, it’s the freedom of schedule … it’s having more flexibility and not having that 24/7 responsibility, which I’ve enjoyed for many, many years. I mean, I thrived on it.”

After the fires

Purvis had been thinking about the R-word for several years, but after three consecutive years of wildfires — each one affecting him, his family or the hospital — he decided it was time to make a solid plan.

Purvis lost his home in the Fountaingrove neighborhood of Santa Rosa in the 2017 Tubbs Fire. A year later, his in-laws lost their home in the fire that wiped out Paradise in the Sierra foothills. Last year’s Kincade fire forced Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital to evacuate for several days.

He visibly wears the pain from the traumas.

“When we came to Santa Rosa, we bought a house that we thought we would live in for the rest of our lives,” the Oregon native said. “We lost all that and much, much more, as many, many people did.”

The complexity of the insurance process and trying to navigate an entire rebuild played a big role in his decision.

“But most importantly, we lived in a cul de sac with seven other houses and all of our neighbors … we knew that no matter what, we were going to be in a new neighborhood,” he said. “Given all this happened in the last three years, we (decided) to look at other options, which basically were options of places we’d lived before. We wanted to go someplace where we had friends and connections.”

Purvis and his wife, Carol, are relocating to Granite City, outside of Sacramento, where they lived before moving to Santa Rosa.

But that doesn’t mean he won’t be back to visit the friends he’s made in Santa Rosa.

“We were neighbors,” said Judy Coffey, who retired a year ago after 30 years with Kaiser Permanente, where she most recently served as senior vice president and area manager for the health system’s Marin-Sonoma service area. “We both lost our homes, so not only has he been a colleague, but also a good friend.”

As a colleague, Coffey described Purvis as well-spoken, on-point and collaborative.

“We may all have different hospitals and different health plans, but what we do well is get along and help each other in the community,” Coffey said. “I think he’s very committed to compassionate quality care, and he’s focused on resources. He always talks about making sure he uses the dollars wisely because health care is so expensive.”

Recovery inspires a career

I never dreamed when I started physical therapy that I would be working in hospitals.

Purvis’ path to a health care career wasn’t planned. In fact, it was quite accidental.

“I got here because of a serious knee injury playing basketball when I was 18 years old,” he said. The physical therapy portion of his recovery piqued his interest, leading him to earn a bachelor’s degree in the specialty from Loma Linda University in San Bernardino County.

Purvis went on to work for several years as a physical therapist in the Portland area, gaining more responsibilities along the way that culminated in management, a role that resonated with him. He decided to go to night school to get his MBA, which he earned from Portland State University.

“I never dreamed when I started physical therapy that I would be working in hospitals,” he said. “That wasn’t even on my radar screen.”

Throughout the years Purvis has served in executive leadership roles at hospitals outside of Sutter Health that include Tri-City Medical Center in San Diego, Phoenix Baptist Hospital and Medical Center, and St. Joseph Health System-Humboldt County Region.

It was at the Phoenix hospital that Todd Salnas, former president at St. Joseph Health-Sonoma County and now chief operating officer at PeaceHealth in Eugene, Oregon, first met Purvis.

“Mike hired me in 1998 when I graduated from Arizona State University with my master’s in health care administration,” said Salnas, who went on to serve as administrative director at the hospital for three years. “His integrity and directness and focus on what’s right is in his DNA.”

Salnas and Purvis wound up at competing hospitals in Santa Rosa, but worked collaboratively on community, county and statewide issues, Salnas said, adding that working relationship included Coffey.

Leadership is like driving a fast car

In hospitals, there are a lot of very, very highly educated, skilled individuals, (many with) strong opinions.

As a leader, Purvis said his biggest accomplishment was also his most challenging, and that entailed building and sustaining relationships.

“In hospitals, there are a lot of very, very highly educated, skilled individuals, (many with) strong opinions,” he said.

A good number of those bright and strong minds belong to physicians, he noted, and because they are independent providers licensed by the state, they make the decisions about patient care.

“But within that process, all the employees of the hospital, the nurses, the technicians … hopefully, they’re doing the work that needs to be done based upon that clinical guidance. So the biggest challenge is getting all of those highly talented, capable individuals you want on the team and get everyone aligned on the same page.”

In terms of what Purvis is most proud of from a tangible standpoint, it’s the development of the Santa Rosa hospital campus that was built from the ground up.

“That’s an amazing opportunity that rarely happens in a CEO’s career,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of expansions and add-ons and other things, but to actually get to establish a completely new campus … and then the challenge of moving all the patients in safely, smoothly, efficiently. I’d never done that before, so that was big.”

Getting the green light on the expansion also was a major feat.

“We really started working on it the first year after we moved to this campus. It was clear that we needed capacity,” Purvis said. “It’s incredibly expensive to build hospitals in California with the seismic requirements and so forth, so you can’t just say, ‘well, we’re ready to expand.’ You’ve got to get the money and the resources, and there is not an unlimited pocket for that.”

As Purvis wraps up his days in Sonoma County, be assured he won’t be sinking into that proverbial couch. He will be reconnecting with some of his favorite hobbies, such as bicycling and high-performance driving.

“Racing is a great metaphor for leadership,” he said. “You’ve got to have a wide vision so you can see what’s out there. … You’ve got to know your limits, get to the limit but not go over the limit; and you need to give room to others on the tracks.”

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

Show Comment

Our Network

Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine