Our list of the 25 most influential people in Valley healthcare.
Phoenix is a place where exciting, innovative and disruptive things happen in medicine. Here, cancer is being treated with oral sprays. Cutting-edge biotechnology is being used to invent new therapies for autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other complex diseases. Hospitals are merging resources to create lean, efficient networks that are the envy of the industry.
But who pulls the strings, pioneers the research and performs the operations that keep the Valley at the forefront of medical advances? Who are the most powerful players in Valley healthcare today?
To assemble our list, we consulted a panel of impartial experts in Arizona healthcare for their nominations and looked at a variety of criteria, from industry awards and other influence-based metrics of recognition to the business rankings of the organizations they serve and, inescapably, the salaries they command. We also looked at the whole spectrum of healthcare fields, from researchers and clinicians to executives and academics.
What we found was a wide – though perhaps not yet diverse enough – collective of trailblazing, passionate and empowered individuals dedicated to keeping the Valley at the vanguard of medical science. Narrowing the list down to 25 was a challenge, but here are the ones who lead the pack.
|1. Peter Fine, president and CEO, Banner Health
Fine is an example of nominative determinism: Everything about his performance since becoming president and CEO of Banner Health in November 2000 has been all too fitting of the superlative. Being listed alongside Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and President Barack Obama in Modern Healthcare’s 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare is just the latest accolade. The Downtown-headquartered Banner Health is the state’s largest healthcare system. With its $1.2 billion purchase of the University of Arizona Health Network in 2015, it’s also Arizona’s largest private employer, providing insurance coverage for 40,000 health-plan consumers. Either one of those two facts alone could have landed this George Washington University-educated administrator on our list; together, they propel him straight to the top.
|2. Wyatt Decker, M.D., vice president and CEO, Mayo Clinic in Arizona
Mayo is arguably Arizona’s premier healthcare brand, the biggest magnet for out-of-state consumers seeking renowned care. And Decker, as vice president of Mayo Clinic and CEO of Mayo Clinic in Arizona, bridges the state’s connection to the 127-year-old Rochester, Minnesota-founded institution. This past April, Decker, who received the Heroes of Emergency Medicine award from the American College of Emergency Physicians for his work in Haiti after the 2009 earthquake, joined an elite panel of experts at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference to discuss next-generation cancer science and the role precision medicine is playing not only in finding a cure, but in making access to innovation available to all patients. Heady stuff, but part of the job for this former professor of emergency medicine.
|3. Robert Meyer, president and CEO, Phoenix Children’s Hospital
Arizonans hold a special respect for Phoenix Children’s Hospital, which recently ranked as the fourth-largest pediatric hospital in the country. The trailblazing center is a fundraising behemoth, and is the Valley’s institutional thought-leader in children’s health. Meyer, who’s helmed PCH since 2003, shortly after it broke off from Good Samaritan to move into its own building on Thomas Road, led the hospital though its massive expansion, capped by the 2011 christening of the 11-story tower added at the center of the 37-acre campus. Today Meyer presides over the hospital’s six “Centers of Excellence,” which include a heart center, a center for cancer and blood disorders and a branch of the Barrow Neurological Institute.
|4. Linda Hunt, president and CEO, Dignity Health Arizona
It was a long, sexism-plagued journey to the top for the former nursing administrator. In the mid-’90s, Hunt was passed over for a health system CEO position in Colorado, when officials told her they just couldn’t see a woman leading their health system, she says. Foregoing a sex discrimination lawsuit for fear of damaging her career, Hunt decamped for Phoenix, where she served as COO of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center before taking the reigns of Dignity Health Arizona, the state’s second largest hospital system, in 2012. Hunt has been instrumental in expanding St. Joseph’s School of Nursing, in collaboration with Grand Canyon University, as well as developing the regional campus of the Creighton University School of Medicine. In 2013, Hunt received the Jon W. McGarity Arizona Bioscience Leader of the Year Award in recognition of her work and dedication to building Arizona’s bioindustry.
|5. Richard L. Boals, president and CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona
Boals has been with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona since 1971 and has served as CEO since 2003, helping the company progress from an organization with 438 employees serving fewer than 350,000 customers to its current status as the state’s largest locally owned health insurer, with a staff of more than 1,300 providing services to 1.3 million individuals. If power and salary are interchangeable, Boals would likely be at the top of this list. “I imagine he makes about 10 times what the CEO of the largest Arizona [hospital group] makes,” says one prominent Valley physician. Today Boals helms initiatives that keep BCBSAZ at the forefront of national health concerns, from fighting childhood obesity and helping Arizonans understand new healthcare choices to addressing food insecurity by directing the state’s needy to network resources.
|6. Cara Christ, M.D., director, Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS)
On her first day on the job after being appointed director of the Arizona Department of Health Services by Governor Doug Ducey last May, Christ, a nine-year veteran of the department, announced sweeping reforms of the Arizona State Hospital in Phoenix, after a federal inspection uncovered “serious deficiencies” at the state’s mental health hospital that endangered patients, and she immediately replaced six top executives. The ADHS director post wields considerable power: Christ’s predecessor, Will Humble, wrote the rules for Arizona’s newly minted medical marijuana industry. And Christ, who obtained her master’s degree in microbiology from ASU and her Doctor of Medicine from UA’s College of Medicine, is clearly up to the role. Her next challenges: battling heart disease and the rise of prescription drug misuse and abuse in the state.
|7. Thomas Sadvary, CEO, HonorHealth
As CEO of the third-largest healthcare employer in Arizona overseeing five of the Valley’s busiest acute care hospitals, Sadvary leads a complex integrated healthcare system. He was instrumental in leading the merger of the locally owned John C. Lincoln Health Network and Scottsdale Healthcare systems, which was finalized in 2014 and rolled out under the new HonorHealth name in 2015. Sadvary, who began his career in healthcare as a paramedic, was inducted into Scottsdale’s History Hall of Fame in 2015, in recognition of his many community leadership roles.
|8. Michele Finney, CEO, Abrazo Community Health Network
Finney became CEO of Abrazo in 2014, after working 36 years for its parent company, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, where she started as a dietary assistant in the summer before her senior year of high school. She came to Arizona after serving for 14 years as CEO of Los Alamitos Medical Center in California, which she took from a 167-bed acute care hospital to a network including urgent care centers, primary care and specialty practices, in addition to developing a residency training program. At Abrazo, Finney now oversees close to 5,000 employees at the six hospitals – Arizona Heart, Arrowhead, Maryvale, Phoenix Baptist, Paradise Valley and West Valley – that were combined into a coordinated system of acquisitions completed in 2010.
|9. John Kapoor, Ph.D., Chairman, president and CEO, INSYS Therapeutics
Kapoor, who arrived in the U.S. in 1964 from his native India with just $5 in his pocket and a financial support grant from the University of New York at Buffalo (where he would earn his Ph.D in medicinal chemistry), is now the leading member of a very small Three Comma Club in the Valley, having amassed a net worth of $1.91 billion. He started on his self-made path to riches in his 30s, when he persuaded investors to help him buy out the division of the generic drug company he worked for, then grew the company from a $4 million to a $172 million enterprise in eight years before selling it to Japanese investors. Today he helms INSYS, an Arizona-based company which makes drugs that provide support and therapy to cancer patients. Under Kapoor’s direction, in 2012 INSYS launched SUBSYS, an FDA-approved under-the-tongue spray aimed at alleviating pain for cancer patients. By February 2013, SUBSYS was the second most prescribed branded drug in its category, just behind Fentora, by pharma giant Teva Pharmaceuticals.
|10. (tie) Jeffrey Trent, president and research director, and Daniel von hoff, M.D., physician-in-chief and director of translational research, Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)
Ages: 63 and 68
If a cure for cancer – or Alzheimer’s, or ALS, or any number of devastating diseases – is found on Arizona soil, TGen will be the most likely culprit. The influential center was founded in 2002 by Trent, a world-renowned geneticist who had previously served at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he founded and directed the laboratory division of the federal agency in charge of coordinating and finalizing the Human Genome Project. He’s currently responsible for providing scientific design, direction and oversight of TGen’s research programs, which have provided important insights into the genetic basis of cancer. Besides being TGen’s physician-in-chief, Von Hoff serves as chief scientific officer at HonorHealth Research Institute and professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic. Last November, he was appointed to lead the international Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) Dream Team, which includes nearly two dozen researchers in the U.S. and United Kingdom, in a $12 million effort to improve the one-year survival rate for patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer from the current 23 percent to 80 percent. With Trent as the researcher and Von Hoff as the implementer, TGen is well-positioned to solve the big challenges in curing complex diseases.
|11. Steve Purves, president and CEO, Maricopa Integrated Health System
Purves took over Betsey Bayless’ role as CEO of MIHS in 2013, and now leads the state’s sole public healthcare system and Maricopa County’s largest training center of physicians and other healthcare professionals. Three months after taking office, $50 million in federal funding for Arizona’s safety-net care pool expired, leaving Purves with the monumental task of finding innovative ways to cut costs, improve efficiency and increase cash flow to keep afloat Phoenix’s only public hospital assigned with providing care to the poor. So far, he’s been able to keep MIHS’s critical mission of serving 500,000 patients a year on track.
|12. (tie) Tom Betlach, director of Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) and Doug Ducey, Governor of Arizona
Ages: 49 and 51
Governor Ducey has always opposed Arizona’s Medicaid expansion, approved in 2013 during Jan Brewer’s administration to the chagrin of most of the state’s Republicans. But he’s clearly in the corner of Betlach, director of Arizona’s Medicaid program, who became the agency’s director under Brewer (after serving for eight years as AHCCCS deputy director under Jane Hull), and was one of a small handful of state agency directors from the previous administration that Ducey retained upon taking office in 2015. Last September, after a high-ranking AHCCCS official was arrested on suspicion of defrauding the agency of over $1.5 million, Ducey applauded Betlach for his prompt action in alerting law enforcement and his vigilance in rooting out corruption and waste. Together they make an odd couple that sometimes fractiously doles out the crucial medical services delivered by more than 60,000 health care providers to 1.6 million Arizonans at an annual cost of $12 billion.
|13. Edward Kim, president and general manager, Cigna in Arizona
When Cigna opens its new 60,000 square-foot multi-specialty healthcare Center in Peoria later this year, it’ll be the Sun City area’s newest state-of-the-art facility specially focused on senior customers’ needs. That’s just the latest piece in president Edward Kim’s plan to establish Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, one of the Valley’s largest multi-specialty group practices with 23 health care centers, as a leading deliverer of senior care. Under Kim’s direction, Cigna was recognized as the only Medicare Advantage HMO plan in Arizona to receive a 5-star rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and Cigna’s HMO/POS plan is the top-rated commercial plan in Arizona with a 4 out of 5 rating, according to National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA).
|14. Elizabeth Holmes, CEO, Theranos
As founder of Theranos, a laboratory diagnostics company that devloped an inexpensive, near-bloodless protocol for blood tests, the Stanford University dropout is nationally recognized as a visionary disrupter to the medical establishment. (Along the way, she also became America’s youngest female billionaire.) Although her offices are in Palo Alto, Holmes staged the major implementation for Theranos in Arizona and is rumored to own a home in Scottsdale’s ultra-high-dollar Silverleaf community. Following a federal inspection that found flaws at its California laboratory, Theranos’ lucrative long-term partnership with Walgreens is on hold, raising the question of whether Holmes, listed as one of 2015’s 50 Most Powerful People in Healthcare by Becker’s Hospital Review, will rise to the No. 1 spot on the Valley’s healthcare power list... or disappear from it completely.
|15. David Allazetta, president and ceo, United Healthcare in Arizona and New Mexico
Allazetta, a former VP of sales and marketing for United Healthcare’s Nevada operations, just settled into his new job in Phoenix this year – his wife is still behind in Las Vegas, where she’s finishing up her last year as a high school counselor before joining him here – but the scope of United’s reach in Arizona guarantees the fitness and cross-training enthusiast will be assuming a power position. United Healthcare Arizona now has 1.7 million members and employs over 6,000 people. The growth of its Southwest market forced the global UnitedHealth Group to split the four-state territory formerly overseen by Beth Soberg in two, with Soberg now in charge of Colorado and Wyoming and Allazetta overseeing Arizona and New Mexico.
|16. Robert Spetzler, M.D., chairman of Neurological Surgery and director of Barrow Neurological Institute
A world-renowned neurosurgeon – and arguably Arizona’s most famous clinician, next to Tucson’s inflammation and aging expert Andrew Weil – the German-born Spetzler has received multiple awards for his clinical mastery and authored more than 300 articles on the subject. In 1991, he sent shockwaves through the medical world for inducing clinical death in a woman suffering from a dangerous cerebral aneurysm for an operation and then successfully bringing her back after its removal, a technique now known as deep hypothermic circulatory arrest. Since assuming the role of the BNI’s director in 1985, Spetzler has steered it to international repute, attracting patient referrals and healthcare professionals from all over the world.
|17. Bentley (Ben) Bobrow, M.D., medical director, Bureau of Emergency Medical Services and Trauma System at the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS)
If you or a loved one suffer cardiac arrest and manage to live, it might have something to do with Bobrow. The EMS (Emergency Medical Services) pro, once featured in a 1998 episode of the medical reality series Trauma: Life in the E.R., has done extensive systems work in the pre-hospital world to improve health outcomes in Arizona including cardiac arrest, stroke, traumatic injury and traumatic brain injury. For several years he has also been leading the charge with the ADHS’ SHARE program, which combines all links in the “chain of survival” to get the right patient to the right hospital in the right time frame. His efforts and publications in regard to EMS dispatch training have been adopted by the Clinton Global Initiative and are now being implemented internationally.
|18. Alan Nelson, chairman and CEO, VisionGate Inc.
Nelson heads up VisionGate Inc., a Phoenix-based biotech company that offers a lung cancer detection test and recently secured worldwide exclusive rights to a drug designed to prevent the deadly disease. Nelson teamed up with researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, who have discovered that the drug Iloprost can be instrumental in reducing dysplasia (precancerous cells) in former smokers. Iloprost is a drug that currently is used to treat various lung diseases, such as pulmonary arterial hypertension. Nelson was also named as one of Phoenix Business Journal’s Health Care Heroes for 2015.
|19. Nathan Laufer, M.D., president, Arizona Medical Association
Perhaps the Valley’s most well-connected doc, Laufer comes to his one-year term as president of the AMA after serving as a member since 1984. He’s the founder and medical director of the Heart & Vascular Center of Arizona in Phoenix, where he practices as a cardiologist, and has been an integral part of the Valley’s cardiovascular research community for the past three decades, serving on a long list of cardiology-related boards and associations and as principal investigator on dozens of hospital and office-based studies. The many hundreds of peer endorsements on his LinkedIn page suggest Laufer is also pretty well-liked in the community – another prerequisite for his current post – as does his status as PHOENIX’s all-time most decorated Top Doc.
|20. Joe “Skip” Garcia, senior vice president for health sciences, Arizona Health Sciences Center
In his first years as an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Center, Garcia, a pulmonary scientist and physician, established the first Occupational Lung Center. Later, as director of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins, he helped the division receive top national ranking. Today, in his role with UA’s Arizona Health Sciences Center, which maintains a growing presence on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in Downtown Phoenix, Garcia leads Arizona’s lone M.D.-granting medical college.
|21. P. David Adelson, M.D., director of Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and chief pediatric neurosurgeon at Phoenix Children’s Hospital
Adelson can be forgiven for putting a damper on Super Bowl Sunday by tweeting out to his followers about concussions. Besides being an internationally recognized neurosurgical and neuroscience expert in head injury and epilepsy in children, Adelson is also co-director of the Concussion/Neurotrauma Program at the hospital, and a tireless advocate for maintaining a dialogue about the dangers of traumatic brain injuries in sports (he also headed up a panel discussion between NFL athletes and physicians following the Phoenix premiere of the Will Smith movie Concussion last December). While Adelson can chat up neuroscience with the best of ’em, he’s also proven quite adept at social media tools like Twitter and Periscope, which keeps him in tune with his young patients.
|22. George Poste, chief scientist, complex adaptive systems, Arizona State University (ASU)
If the U.S. is ever attacked by a real Andromeda Strain or other form of germ warfare, the country’s biological defense program might make its first call to Poste, who already serves on advisory panels for several U.S. government agencies related to healthcare and national security. Poste, the son of a London auto mechanic, earned his first doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Bristol, founded the Biodesign Institute at ASU and launched the university’s Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative to further his research, which focuses on complex systems and biological networks and their roles in the treatment of major diseases. After 9/11, Poste was appointed chairman of the task force on bioterrorism for the U.S. Department of Defense, a role he completed in 2004. Today Poste also serves on the advisory board of the USA Science and Engineering Festival.
|23. Joshua LaBaer, M.D., Ph.D., director, Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics
LaBaer, a former Harvard scientist, is recognized as a trailblazer in the relatively new field of proteomics, or the study of human proteins to aid in the identification of potential new drugs for the treatment of diseases. His team at the Virginia G. Piper Center has already invented a novel “programmable” nucleic acid protein microarray technology which is now being widely used for biomedical research, including the recent discovery of a panel of biomarkers, or unique molecular fingerprints of disease, that may aid in the early diagnosis of breast cancer. LaBaer is currently working on the discovery and validation of other biomarkers that can provide early warning signals for those at risk of other major illnesses, including cancer and diabetes.
|24. J.P. Holyoak, owner of Arizona Natural Selections and chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol
A Scottsdale financial advisor and conservative Republican, Holyoak was an opponent of medical marijuana until reading that cannabidiol (CBD), the oil extracted from the cannabis plant, could be used to treat epileptic seizures – a daily occurrence in the life of his then-6-year-old daughter Reese. Determinedly, Holyoak became one of the first 486 Arizona residents to secure a state-issued dispensary license and now sells his special strain of cannabidiol, christened Reese’s Peace, exclusively to families with epileptic kids. He’s proved to be one of Arizona’s most savvy and sympathetic pot industrialists (during February’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, he sponsored a billboard asking, “Why can’t adults enjoy a safer party on grass?”) and is currently rallying to collect 150,642 signatures to qualify an initiative regulating recreational marijuana for the 2016 ballot.
|25. Carl Hammerschlag, M.D., psychiatrist and specialist in psychoneuroimmunology (mind-body-spirit medicine)
Hammerschlag is a faculty member at the UA College of Medicine and is a private-practice psychiatrist in Phoenix who has done extensive work on how people can integrate their minds and bodies to fight chronic pain. He has spent more than 20 years working with Native Americans and is one of the world’s leading proponents of psychoneuroimmunology, or mind-body-spirit medicine. In his spare time he travels as a public speaker (he’s a recipient of the CPAE Speakers Hall of Fame Award, considered the Oscar of the speaking profession) but is most proud of his National Caring Award, selected by the Caring Institute of Washington D.C. from more than a quarter million nominations to honor “the 10 most caring adults in America.”
Though they don't reside in Arizona, these titans of medicine, politics and business have an outsized effect on Valley healthcare.
Lloyd Dean, President/CEO of Dignity Health: As the national president of the second largest healthcare employer in Arizona, the California resident was named one of 2015’s 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare by Modern Healthcare magazine, where he’s also consistently ranked as one of the Top 25 Minority Leaders in Healthcare.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services/ Barack Obama, U.S. President: As the successor to founding Obamacare cabinet member Kathleen Sebelius, Burwell oversees the mechanism that enrolls more than 200,000 Arizonans in private health plans though the Affordable Care Act.
Ian Read, CEO of Pfizer, Inc.: With degrees in chemical engineering and accounting, the Scottish-born executive sits atop the world’s largest pharmaceutical firm. Pfizer’s products include the cholesterol drug Lipitor and erectile dysfunction pill Viagra – popular anywhere there’s a Walgreens or CVS, including the Valley.
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