Health Care Power List 2018

Jimmy MagahernApril 1, 2018
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Our list of the 25 most influential people in Valley health care is back for its annual checkup

In 2017, Arizona’s health care systems were forced to operate under a great deal of uncertainty, as the battle over the fate of the Affordable Care Act raged on in Washington. At the same time, innovations in digital health care prodded providers to develop creative ways to move health care beyond the walls of the hospital, which also precipitated strategic changes in health care financial models.

Mergers and partnerships brought high-performing physicians from different systems together to address big-picture health care solutions beyond the reach of any one organization, and the diversity of Arizona’s populations – rural, underserved, aging and minorities – received greater attention from researchers, clinicians and administrators eager to abandon cookie-cutter care for new techniques in what’s being called precision medicine.

Fittingly, our list in 2018 includes a more diverse mix of game-changers, influencers and policymakers, ranging in age from 24 to 81 and hailing from Mexico to India to Nigeria to our own backyard. As in previous years, we determined our list by seeking nominations from leading organizations in Arizona health care and then looking at a variety of criteria, from industry awards and the business rankings of the organizations they serve to the salaries they command and, ultimately, their measure of influence in the community.


1. Peter Fine
1. Peter Fine

President and CEO, Banner Health
Age: 65
Rank last year: 1
Despite a rare misstep, the University of Ohio product holds his spot at the front of our health care power queue. The problem manifested in October, when Banner Health’s Tucson facilities rolled out its new $45 million electronic health record (EHR) system – only to be met by a series of patient complaints regarding longer wait times and scheduling delays, prompting an investigation by state officials. One patient alleged that the slowdowns resulting from the system upgrade caused him to have to wait three hours past his appointment time for chemotherapy treatment. The debacle led to a rare public appearance by Fine at Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State address in January, where he assured inconvenienced patients: “Fixing this is our top priority.” Given that Fine presides over Arizona’s largest health system (800,000-plus billings) and biggest private-sector employer (over 43,000 employees), and is its highest-paid health care CEO ($5.34 million in 2015), we’ll give him a mulligan.

PHM0418PL022. Linda Hunt
President and CEO, Dignity Health Arizona
Age: 70
Rank last year: 2
Growth and innovation help the former nursing administrator hold serve on our list. Last year, the Phoenix Business Journal honored Hunt with its Health Care Heroes Lifetime Achievement award – fitting for the former COO of St. Joseph’s Hospital who, since taking the reins of Dignity Health’s Arizona operations in 2009, has made her mark by forging mutually beneficial partnerships with other health care organizations. She orchestrated the merger of pediatric programs at St. Joseph’s and Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and partnered with PCH and Abrazo Community Health Network to create the Arizona Care Network, a physician-led accountable care organization (ACO) serving mainly Medicaid beneficiaries that in January added Cigna to its alliance. Meanwhile, Dignity Health added 1,000 jobs in 2017, retaining its status as the third-largest health care employer in Arizona.

3. Steve Purves3. Steve Purves
President and CEO,
Maricopa Integrated Health System
Age: 61
Rank last year: 14
Threats to the Affordable Care Act in 2017 posed particular challenges to Phoenix’s main safety net hospital system, which estimated it would need to provide an additional $20 million in uncompensated care to newly uninsured patients should the Senate bill repealing the act pass Congress. Purves remained undaunted, pushing ahead with the organizational transformation he began upon taking charge of MIHS in 2013. This past January, Purves and other officials broke ground on a 127,000-square-foot health care clinic in Peoria, slated to open in 2020. Besides bringing care to an underserved area, the $70 million clinic will create at least 300 jobs and serve as a training center for 400 doctors and 1,000 nursing students. Not bad for a publicly funded health organization weathering turbulent political tides.

4. Robert Meyer4. Robert Meyer
President and CEO,
Phoenix Children’s Hospital
Age: 66
Rank last year: 5
Meyer was dealt a rare blow in October when it was announced that the only remaining Affordable Care Act provider in Maricopa County, Ambetter by Health Net/Centene, was dropping PCH from its network in 2018, leaving the roughly 1,000 PCH patients insured through the ACA to seek care elsewhere. Centene promised to “work with” members requiring care that may only be provided by PCH (the hospital maintains the state’s only pediatric rheumatology program, for instance), but directed most to transfer to Banner Health. The year closed on an odd note, with a hospital in Dublin, of all places, unsuccessfully battling in court for the use of the Phoenix Children’s Hospital name, which Ireland’s prime minister said symbolized “renewal, regeneration, vision, hope and inspiration.” PCH’s supporters, who regularly donate more than $40 million annually to the hospital, couldn’t agree more, which is why Meyer – who has helmed PCH since 2003, shortly after it broke off from Good Samaritan – stays in the Top 5.

5. Todd Laporte
5. Todd LaPorte

CEO, HonorHealth
Age: 56
Rank last year: 7
A newcomer to the list in 2017, LaPorte had a productive first year guiding the state’s second-largest health care employer. First, he expanded HonorHealth’s cancer care options throughout the city by folding portions of the Arizona Center for Cancer Care into the network, bringing roughly 100 employees from the AZCCC to HonorHealth and adding 12 outpatient locations, realizing what outgoing CEO Tom Sadvary called a “cancer research powerhouse.” The combined research offerings will include Phase 1, 2 and 3 clinical trials that will help bring better drugs to more patients faster. Under LaPorte, HonorHealth also has invested heavily in new technology, purchasing 12 Xenex LightStrike “germ-zapping” robots to attack hospital-acquired infection pathogens throughout its hospitals using cutting-edge UV disinfection technology.

6. Wyatt Decker
6. Wyatt Decker, M.D.

Vice president and CEO,
Mayo Clinic in Arizona
Age: 55
Rank last year: 4
In August, Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix was named one of the top 20 hospitals in the nation for 2017-2018 by U.S. News & World Report, marking the first time any Arizona hospital made the top 20. The publication also ranked the hospital No. 1 in Arizona and the Phoenix metro area. Less celebrated was Mayo’s ranking in the Phoenix Business Journal as the largest bioscience firm in Arizona, and the arrival of the first class of students at Mayo Clinic School of Medicine’s Arizona campus. All in all, a very successful year under Decker, whose term-limited leadership expires in 2019.

7. Frank Molinaro
7. Frank Molinaro

Market CEO,
Abrazo Community Health Network
Age: 53
Rank last year: NR
Molinaro took over last February for departing Arizona market CEO Michele Finney, who now heads up parent company Tenet Healthcare’s Palm Springs, Indio and Joshua Tree, Calif., hospitals. Molinaro comes over from Abrazo’s Arrowhead Campus, where he served as CEO since 2011, and the Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital, which he helmed since 2015. His first year as the region’s top executive was not without challenges: In December, Abrazo was forced to close its Maryvale hospital due to a declining demand for services in the area (analysts blamed an influx of newer hospitals in the West Valley as well as a trend toward using urgent care centers rather than acute care hospitals). Abrazo still runs five hospitals in the Valley, though, along with freestanding emergency centers, urgent care centers and primary and specialty practices.

8. Michael Hamant
8. Michael Hamant, M.D.

President, Arizona Medical Association
Age: 64
Rank last year: NR
A graduate of both Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Hamant became the 126th president of the Arizona Medical Association (ArMA) in June, replacing Gretchen Alexander. During his one-year term, the Tucson-based family physician has focused on promoting physician leadership and countering burnout, which he believes can be addressed by forming interest groups within the association based on fields of practice. “I believe that this will create a new synergy and enhance membership growth,” Hamant says. “Further, leaders will emerge from these sections who will become the backbone of ArMA in the years to come.”

9. David Allazetta
9. David Allazetta

President and CEO,
UnitedHealthcare of Arizona
Age: 62
Rank last year: 3
Heading up Arizona’s largest health care insurer with nearly 1 million members statewide, Allazetta’s latest passion is new technologies – wearable devices, mobile apps and Web-based tools that he contends will empower patients to take charge of their health in ways previously not possible, providing convenience while bringing down the cost of care. Case in point: video-based virtual visits, which Allazetta says can take the place of office visits for many minor medical needs at less than a third of the cost of going to an urgent care facility. Allazetta is also passionate about transitioning away from fee-for-service to value-based care – a modern model that rewards health care providers who meet agreed-upon measurements in quality of care and customer service. Bumping Allazetta’s rank down this year were layoffs last November following the termination of a Department of Defense contract, affecting 381 employees who provided support for military members and veterans.


10. Cara Christ 10. Tom Betlach

Cara Christ, M.D.
Director, Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS)
Age: 43
Rank last year: 9

Tom Betlach
Director, Arizona Health Care Cost
Containment System (AHCCCS)
Age: 51
Rank last year: 17
Citizen advocates Christ and Betlach share more in common than calendars stuffed with state advisory committee meetings and appearances at public health policy forums. ADHS and AHCCCS are two state agencies that both guide and influence the health care the state provides. As such, the two directors are often on the same page when it comes to legislative initiatives. Lately, Christ and Betlach have played key parts in Gov. Doug Ducey’s public fight against Arizona’s opioid epidemic, for which Ducey signed an executive order calling for an “all-hands-on-deck” approach. Betlach’s office will administer a $24 million grant to help other state agencies in reducing opioid-related deaths and treating individuals with opioid-use disorders. Christ’s office, meanwhile, has trained 1,100 first responders to carry and administer naloxone (an effective antidote to opioid overdose), and provided almost 5,000 naloxone kits to law enforcement agencies. In between, Christ is leading the immunization program fighting the latest flu, which she warns is approaching the level of the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic.

11. David Dexter
11. David Dexter

President and CEO,
Sonora Quest Laboratories
Age: 66
Rank last year: NR
With the success of DNA testing companies like 23andMe and Color Genomics, direct-to-consumer genetic health testing has become a $100 million market, expected to triple within the next five years. The trend has become a boon for Sonora Quest Laboratories, a joint venture between Banner Health and Quest Diagnostics that ranks as the market share leader in clinical laboratory testing in Arizona, performing more than 60 million diagnostic tests per year. Speaking at a 2017 health care workshop in Washington, D.C., Dexter reported that Sonora Quest experienced more than 400 percent growth in the direct-to-consumer sector in the past year, growth he says is continuing at more than 15 percent per month. The growth could move Dexter, who leads what is now the fourth largest bioscience firm in the state, even higher up in the rankings next year.

12. Ralph Holmes
12. Ralph Holmes

Regional vice president, Cigna in Arizona
Age: 55
Rank last year: NR
Holmes came onboard as Cigna’s regional president in December 2016, after long stints with Aetna and Johnson & Johnson. Recently he guided the formation of an alliance between Cigna and the Arizona Care Network, a physician-led Accountable Care Organization that includes Dignity Health, Abrazo Community Health Network, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and hundreds of independent providers in more than 1,200 locations. Holmes was also instrumental in launching a commercial partnership with San Francisco-based digital therapeutics firm Omada Health to offer clinically eligible members free access to the country’s leading digital diabetes prevention program. Cigna’s dental insurance plan currently ranks as the second largest in Arizona (behind Delta Dental), with more than 458,000 members.

PHM0418Victoria Coley
13. Victoria Coley

Market vice president – desert states,
Age: 42
Rank last year: NR
Coley worked her way up from an entry-level job as an account executive at Humana’s Chicago office to a dental insurance sales consultant at Humana in Phoenix and finally, after 15 years, to market vice president, overseeing operations in Arizona and Nevada. That experience apparently imbued her with a heightened empathy for Humana’s employees, building a workplace recognized last June by the Healthy Arizona Worksites Program with its first Platinum Award for excellence in worksite wellness. The award also recognized Humana’s community efforts, which have included building 100 Little Free Library book stations to boost literacy throughout the city. On a personal level, Coley is a tireless do-gooder, leading the company’s “Humana-tarians” walk to aid children with disabilities, serving on the Glendale Chamber of Commerce and volunteering with the Arizona Humane Society.

14. John McCain
14. John McCain

U.S. Senator
Age: 81
Rank last year: NR
Returning to the Senate floor on July 25, 2017 – his first visit following his brain cancer diagnosis – Arizona’s senior senator cast perhaps the most dramatic thumbs-down vote in U.S. congressional history. The crucial “no” vote prevented the Trump administration’s controversial American Health Care Act from replacing the Affordable Care Act, the signature health care legislation of McCain’s one-time presidential campaign opponent, Barack Obama, which the lawmaker himself had long opposed. He torpedoed the repeal efforts again in September, when the GOP floated the Graham-Cassidy bill in another attempt to substantially dismantle Obamacare. For that, Democrats hailed McCain as a hero on Twitter while some Republicans accused him of breaking a promise. Hospital administrators, meanwhile, already deeply invested in the delivery system and electronic medical record reforms enacted by the ACA, reacted for the most part with relief.

15. Michele Halyard
15. Michele Halyard, m.d.

Dean, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, Arizona campus
Age: 57
Rank last year: NR
Halyard was only 5 years old when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and says her mother’s struggle with quality-of-life issues following a radical mastectomy spurred her decision to become a radiation oncologist. Later, Halyard co-founded the Phoenix-based Coalition of Blacks Against Breast Cancer to increase awareness of the health care disparities and cancer biology factors facing African-Americans with breast cancer. Recently promoted to dean of the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine’s Arizona campus, the Howard University graduate continues to champion cancer treatment plans attuned to increasing the survival rates of ethnic groups whose unique biologies and access disparities are often overlooked by standard therapies.

16. Michael Neidorff
16. Michael Neidorff

CEO, Centene Corp.
Age: 75
Rank last year: NR
More than 43,000 Arizonans enrolled in health plans on the federal exchanges during the first 18 days of open enrollment for 2018, a 43 percent increase in enrollment over the same period for 2017. In the Phoenix area, those enrollees had but one provider to choose from: Ambetter by Health Net, Centene’s brand on the Health Insurance Marketplace, now the only remaining Affordable Care Act provider in Maricopa County. Neidorff, who logged 18 years in the pharmaceutical industry at Bayer and Miles Laboratories affiliates in the U.S. and Canada before joining Centene in 1996, remains committed to remaining an Affordable Care Act insurer – the company sells Ambetter plans in Pima County as well, with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona providing market plans in Arizona’s other 13 counties. And for good reason: With no competition in the marketplace, Centene racked up a membership of 640,500 in Arizona for the last quarter of 2017, helping to boost the company’s national ranking to No. 27 on Fortune’s list of the 100 Fastest Growing Companies for 2017.

17. Guy Reed
17. Guy Reed, M.D.

Dean, University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix
Age: 64
Rank last year: NR
With a background in cardiology, Reed is best known throughout the medical
community for his research on the mechanism of blood clots and vascular disease. Through grant support from the National Institutes of Health, he translated his laboratory research findings into an innovative, clot-dissolving therapy to treat patients with strokes and heart attacks, which is now in clinical trials. Under his leadership as dean, the Phoenix satellite campus of the University of Arizona College of Medicine has grown tremendously, seeing a record number of applicants and receiving full accreditation in 2017. Through his support, the college continues to grow as a leader in medicine, academics and research.

18. TIE

18. Michael Lawton 18. Javier Cardenas

Michael Lawton, m.d.
President and CEO,
Barrow Neurological Institute
Age: 53
Rank last year: NR

Javier Cárdenas, M.D.
Medical director,
Concussion and Brain Injury Center at Barrow Neurological Institute
Age: 42
Rank last year: NR
Among the national neurosurgical community, Lawton is considered the protégé of world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Spetzler, who stepped down as Barrow’s president and CEO in 2017. Before coming to Barrow, the Johns Hopkins graduate – who completed a fellowship in endovascular surgery at the University of California, San Francisco – co-founded a teaching mission to raise the level of neurosurgery practiced in developing countries that conducts annual missions in Mexico and Asia. And, yes, he’s the guy who operated on actress Sharon Stone for a brain aneurysm. Cárdenas, meanwhile, has become one of the nation’s foremost experts on concussion prevention and treatment – a timely specialty in an era when parents are weighing the benefits of having their kids play contact sports against fears of repetitive brain injuries. Who will become the face of the franchise? We’ll put our brains on it.

19. Joshua LaBaer
19. Joshua LaBaer, m.d.

Executive director,
The Biodesign Institute at ASU
Age: 58
Rank last year: NR
Formerly founder and director of the Harvard Institute of Proteomics, LaBaer is one of the nation’s leading investigators in the discovery of biomarkers – biometric measurements that convey information about the biological condition of the subject being tested. Recent projects include developing a blood test that can detect “triple negative” breast cancer, an aggressive form of breast cancer that occurs most frequently in women of color and can be hard to detect on a mammogram. LaBaer is also the lead researcher on the Human Proteome Project, an undertaking modeled on the Human Genome Project, which seeks to map the entire complement of human proteins.

20. Pam Kehaly
20. Pam Kehaly

President and CEO,
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona
Age: 56
Rank last year: NR
Kehaly took over at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona after the July 2017 retirement of former president and CEO Richard Boals, who put in 45 years at the company. Previously, Kehaly served as president of Anthem Inc.’s west region and specialty business, which includes Anthem’s affiliated Blue Cross Blue Shield health plans in eight states. Her signature achievement at Anthem was developing Vivity, an integrated HMO-ACO hybrid network of top hospital systems and insurers with features like “after hours” care at doctor’s offices and online doctor’s visits, with no deductibles or coinsurance. As Arizona’s second largest overall insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield is the lone ACA exchange option in the 13 Arizona counties outside of Maricopa and Pima, and is actually posting a 0.9 percent decrease in rates for 2018.

21. TIE

21. Peggy Chase 21. Saul Perea

Peggy Chase
CEO, Terros Health
Age: 61
Rank last year: 22

Saul Perea, M.D.
Leader of Medication Assisted Treatment, Terros Health
Age: 52
Rank last year: NR
Chase, too, has been involved in Gov. Ducey’s battle against opioid addiction, developing a statewide database for doctors to check before prescribing addictive pain medications and new guidelines for prescribing opioids. Installing Perea, an addiction medicine expert from the Mexican state of Baja California, as the lead doctor in Terros’ unit fighting the opioid epidemic last January carried the mission further. One of Perea’s first projects for the behavioral health care provider was creating an outreach program to connect with the city’s Latino community, which in 2014 made up 20 percent of the roughly 600 deaths that occurred in Arizona from opioid-related overdoses. Perea’s program aims to counter the widely held view among Latinos that substance abuse is a weakness rather than a disease, and provides access to drug and alcohol treatment and mental health services for underserved communities.

22. Sunil Sharma
22. Sunil Sharma, M.D.

Deputy director of clinical sciences, Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)
Age: 52
Rank last year: NR
Sharma earned his medical degree at the Delhi University College of Medical Sciences in India’s capital, and was raised by a mother who pioneered the development of oncology in the country. He later trained at the University of Texas in San Antonio under Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, who would go on to become TGen’s physician-in-chief and who will now work closely with Sharma in developing novel anti-cancer agents. Sharma, who will also serve as a professor of medicine at TGen’s parent company, California-based cancer research and treatment center City of Hope, and serve as chief of translational oncology and drug development at the HonorHealth Research Institute, has a good track record of laboratory breakthroughs. Earlier developments include an anti-cancer agent for multiple myeloma and colorectal cancer and another for Ewing’s sarcoma, a crippling children’s bone cancer that previously had no targeted therapies.

23. Rimaann Nelson
23. RimaAnn Nelson

Director, Phoenix Veterans Affairs
Health Care System
Age: 52
Rank last year: 21
When Nelson was appointed director of the troubled Phoenix VA Medical Center in October 2016, she became the seventh person to hold the high-pressure job in less than three years. So the mere fact that she’s still at the helm speaks to Nelson’s competence and tenacity. Part of that may be due to her prior experience as director of the VA regional office and outpatient clinic at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Manila, Philippines, a job she started in July 2013 – just three months before the Bohol earthquake, the deadliest quake the natural disaster-prone Philippines had seen in 23 years. Assisting veterans in the wake of a quake estimated to have released energy equivalent to 32 atomic bombs was undoubtedly good training for taking over the embattled Phoenix VA center.

24. Akinlolu O. Ojo
24. Akinlolu O. Ojo, m.d.

Associate vice president for clinical research and global health initiatives,
University of Arizona Health Sciences
Age: 57
Rank last year: NR
Originally from Nigeria, Ojo joins UA Health Sciences as the principal investigator of a major National Institutes of Health (NIH) peer-reviewed grant, the All of Us Research Program, in partnership with Banner Health. The program’s ambitious goal is to create the world’s largest health data resource, enrolling 1 million racially, ethnically and geographically diverse participants that the team will monitor for 10 years, to help researchers understand more about why people from all different backgrounds get sick or stay healthy. Its other goal: to refine “precision medicine” techniques that go beyond one-size-fits-all solutions. So far, Ojo’s team has opened nine enrollment sites throughout Arizona – including five in the Phoenix area – which have enrolled more than 4,000 participants. An additional 50 sites around the country will add to that million-member target.

25. TIE

25. Tamarra Kalamchi  25. Michael Rosen

Tamarra Kalamchi & Michael Rosen
Co-chairs, A.T. Still University’s
Give Kids A Smile Committee
Ages: both 24
RankS last year: NR
Providing proof that it’s never too early to become a community health care influencer, Kalamchi and Rosen are currently third-year students at A.T. Still University’s Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health in Mesa. But their initiative in planning, managing and running the school’s participation in the national Give Kids A Smile program, an annual event where volunteer dentists provide free dental care for uninsured children, is already having an impact in the East Valley. Their work is in keeping with the school’s main stated mission: to provide dental care for underserved areas. All 15 counties in Arizona, including Maricopa, have areas designated as dental Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A.T. Still’s dental school looks for students with documented community service, who are willing to work on a Native American reservation or in a health center in a rural community, rather than simply doing lucrative cosmetic dentistry in one-percenter havens like Scottsdale. “We want to produce leaders in the community,” says founding dean Jack Dillenberg, who retired from his post in July but remains quite active as a keynote speaker at national conferences, “and, along the way, teach them to be great doctors.”

Off the List 

The top health care leaders from 2017 who are notably absent from this year’s list:

Richard L. Boals
President and CEO, BCBS of Arizona
Age: 70
Rank last year: 6
Boals retired last March after 45 years with BCBSAZ, the last 14 as its president and CEO. He started with the company as a management trainee after serving in the Air Force, attending Phoenix College and later Arizona State University while working full-time. Boals says he plans to spend his well-earned retirement years with wife Maryglenn and their family, “prioritizing our fondness for travel and nature.”

Michele Finney
Market CEO, Abrazo
Age: 60
Rank last year: 10
After serving for just three years as CEO of the Abrazo Community Health Network in Phoenix, Finney headed for Coachella. Glow sticks and maxi dresses? Not quite. Finney is now CEO of Tenet Healthcare’s desert market, which comprises three hospitals in Palm Springs, Indio and Joshua Tree. In the newly created position, Finney will work on improving quality of care in underserved areas. “That was a lot of what I did in Phoenix,” she says.

Gretchen Alexander, M.D.
President, Arizona Medical Association
Age: 56
Rank last year: 18
Last year, we may have heaped undue credit on Alexander for launching an ArMA inquiry into improprieties at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine – the investigation had begun with the AZ Board of Regents before Alexander began her one-year term as AzMA president. She continues to serve at Maricopa Integrated Health System and as associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the U of A’s
College of Medicine – Phoenix.

Christina Corieri
Senior policy adviser to Gov. Ducey
Age: 36
Rank last year: 8
With ACA repeal apparently off the table, Corieri – a former Goldwater Institute analyst and vocal opponent of Medicaid expansion – finds her position of influence marginalized within the greater sphere of Valley health care. But she still holds sway at the capital, throwing her heft behind a proposal to impose a work requirement on Medicaid recipients.




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