Susan Rose, CEO of the company that runs Santa Rosa’s Aurora Behavioral Health Hospital, admires hard-working people with strong ethics. She is a 2020 North Bay Business Journal Women in Business Awards winner.
Professional background: Associate vice president of finance; chief financial officer
Education: MBA, health care administration, Golden Gate University, Sacramento; Bachelor of Science, economics, business administration and communications, St. Mary’s College of California, Moraga
Tell us about yourself and your company: I admire hard-working people with a strong ethical sense. I learned that from my mother. From an early age, I knew I could achieve my goals if I put my heart and my back into it. I never bought the idea that I was disadvantaged as a woman.
I knew I wanted to be in business and wanted to do something meaningful. I have worked in mental health since 1984, starting as a dishwasher while I put myself through college – which taught me from the ground up. Once I graduated, I moved into finance and ultimately to a CFO position.
Aurora Behavioral Health Hospital hired me in 2015 as CFO. A year later I was asked to become the CEO and never looked back. We accomplished so much in so short a time. We are now expanding, adding 49 more patient beds, doubling outpatient and adding much-needed administrative office space.
Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?
Our parent company, Signature Healthcare Services, LLC, asked me to become a regional CEO for the new Northern California Behavioral Health System with campuses in Santa Rosa and a brand- new campus in Sacramento – opening this fall. I’m so thankful that Signature has given me this amazing opportunity and that I’m able to serve our community.
What is the achievement you are most proud of?
Keeping the hospital open during the 2017 and 2019 fires. We worked with the county so we could stay open for our mental health patients.
Is it normal for the CEO to be in PJs, sleeping on the couch in the lobby?
That’s what I did. In this job, you risk becoming jaded or swept under by the demands. And yet, the work continues to feed my soul. It could hardly be more meaningful. COVID is traumatic, but dealing with the fires prepared us for it.
What is your biggest challenge today?
Staffing. Turnover is typically high in mental health care; plus, it is difficult finding qualified mental health staff with experience.
Words that best describe you: Tenacious, passionate, detailed, loyal, generous, ethical, resilient, good judge of character
In what ways have the pandemic and the shelter-in-place orders changed who you are as a person that will be a part of you long after the pandemic has passed?
Honestly, the pandemic has not changed me very much. The fires had a bigger influence on me. The 2019 fire was really tough physically and emotionally because of the PTSD from the 2017 Tubbs fire and evacuation of Sonoma County. It was really hard to get staff into the hospital to take care of our patients so leadership worked inhuman hours to make sure staff and patients were safe.
Also, what ways do you think it will change the way you go about your career and your business?
The entire patient intake screening process has been revamped including screening patients again prior to entering the building.
Employee health screening and limiting employee access to one entrance of the hospital. I expect this to be the new norm which will enhance infection prevention.
Importantly, this has altered Telehealth in a positive direction. Things we couldn’t get accomplished before are now happening. Court hearings, intensive outpatient programming, inpatient psychiatry and expedited follow-up appointments post discharge. The pandemic has forced insurance carriers to support telehealth services previously denied. I do believe telehealth access will provide much needed mental health services previously unavailable due to access, location and reimbursement.
And when it comes to the COVID-19 issue, what are some the lessons learned for the business community?
Personally, I have learned how each county operates independently and appreciate the collaboration in Sonoma County.
Each county follows truly different policies and procedures. There are many positives in Sonoma County compared with other counties.
For example, we experienced rapid turn-around for COVID testing for our patients. We received our first test results back in 8 hours, during a time when my colleagues were reporting no testing or testing results up to 72 hours.
Many of my colleagues from other parts of California were surprised to hear how quickly Sonoma County responded to us.