Valley Children’s CEO’s salary stirs up controversy

Valley Children’s faces backlash over CEO’s compensation controversy; Hospital’s Board of Trustees defends the salary amid public outcry, citing industry standard

Valley Children's Hospital road sign located on the corner of Peck Blvd and Goodwin Way. (Kenny Goodman)
Valley Children's Hospital road sign located on the corner of Peck Blvd and Goodwin Way. (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published March 28, 2024  • 
10:00 am

FRESNO – Valley Children’s Hospital is on the defensive as of recently after multiple news outlets reported that President and CEO Todd Suntrapak received in excess of $5 million in total compensation for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2022. Even further, another thing brought into the spotlight is that the nonprofit loaned him $5 million to purchase a $6.5 million home in Carmel in the same year.

Following stories in the Fresno Bee, fresnoland, GV Wire, the San Joaquin Valley Sun and ABC 30, the hospital released a statement saying the reports were based on erroneous information.

“The criticism of our Healthcare Board’s decision to increase our CEO’s salary is based on flawed, erroneous assumptions about executive compensation and other financial matters concerning our hospital,” Michael Hanson, chair of Valley Children’s Healthcare Board of Trustees, wrote in a letter to the Fresno City Council after councilmembers Garry Bredefeld and Miguel Arias blasted Suntrapak’s salary, calling it a “disgrace” and an “absolute outrage.”

In his letter, Hanson said the hospital’s accountants recommended shifting performance bonuses for executives. The result: he affirmed Suntrapak’s compensation as it is listed in IRS Form 2021 did not accurately represent a single year of earnings for the CEO and other executives.

“In fact, the CEO’s annual salary since July 2020 is $1,711,341, which is in line with other health CEOs with similar levels of responsibility,” Hanson wrote.

In its March 26 story, the Fresno Bee included a list of the top paid CEOs of nonprofit children’s hospitals in the county. Suntrapak’s total compensation – which includes base compensation, bonus and incentives, other reportable compensation, retirement and other deferred compensation, and nontaxable benefits – was ranked third. 

Mark Wallace is CEO of Texas Children’s Hospital. Wallace’s total compensation for 2022 was $8,847,132. Madeline Bell is CEO of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Bell’s total compensation was $7,671,953.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

In their criticism, Bredefeld and Arias touched on the optics of the situation. The Fresno Bee noted in its report that 70% of children treated by the hospital are on Medi-Cal.

“It’s Medi-Cal dollars,” said Bredefeld. “It’s a nonprofit hospital and it clearly looks like the CEO and executives are enriching themselves.”

According to Health for California and Covered California, to be eligible for Medi-Cal, a family of five cannot earn more than $44,809.

On March 12, Valley Children’s held its 37th Kids Day. As part of the annual fundraising effort, children sell newspapers to raise money for the hospital. And while there may be no tangible connection between kids on corners selling papers and Suntrapak’s compensation and his $6.5 million dollar home paid for by a loan he may never have to repay, there is a disparity the public may have trouble reconciling.

Part of this disparity has to do with the financial health of the counties served by the hospital. According to the latest Census figures, the median household income in Fresno County for 2022 was $67,756. The per capita income was $30,130. Over 18% of residents lived in poverty.

While Madera County’s median household income numbers were better – $73,543 – its per capita income and poverty rate were worse. In 2022, the county’s per capita income was $28,158 and 22% of the county’s residents lived in poverty.

As for Tulare County, its median income level was similar to Fresno County’s – $64,474. Its poverty level was about the same – just over 18%. Its per capita income was closer to that of Tulare County’s –  $26,282.

SUNTRAPAK’S SUPPORTERS

Suntrapak has not spoken to the media, but his supporters have.

Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, who is an unpaid member of the hospital’s board, told YourCentralValley.com that Suntrapak’s salary is the industry standard.

“We have a world-class hospital right here in Central Valley because it is managed by a world-class administrative staff,” Smittcamp said. “It is a large salary and the retention bonus is, you know, significant. The realm of business that Todd Suntrapak is in; this is in the industry standard.”

Vintage Foster is CEO of AMF Media Group. AMF is a communications consultant for the hospital. Foster spoke to KMJ radio on March 19. He told the radio hosts that Suntrapak’s compensation was justified because he is a “very important piece of the puzzle” and is integral to the hospital’s financial success.

In a March 20 story, GV Wire reported that in 2012, the hospital had assets of $824 million; in 2022, these assets increased to $2 billion.

Zora Arboleda is director of communications and public relations for Valley Children’s. She told GV Wire that the home loan Suntrapak received from the hospital reflected the hospital’s commitment to keeping him on as CEO.

“The loan is part of a retention mechanism,” said Arboleda. “We know Todd receives recruitment calls. We know he is one of the best in the county.”

She added the $5 million loan is forgivable – if he remains with Valley Children’s, he does not have to repay it.

In a statement, Assemblymember Jim Patterson, 8th District, said the state has no statutory recourse to examine the hospital’s books.

“Despite calls to audit Valley Children’s Hospital, the state has no authority to demand information on the executive salary and compensation of a private nonprofit,” said Patterson.

Darren Fraser
Reporter