A Conversation with Sue Labbe, CEO of Alliance Medical Center
In July, the Board of Directors of Alliance Medical Center (AMC) appointed Sue Labbe as Chief Executive Officer. Sue came to California from the East Coast in 2001, working in the healthcare field with underserved populations for 15 years in the Central Valley before relocating to Sonoma County and starting her career at AMC in January of 2017. Most recently, as AMC’s Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer, Sue led AMC’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As part of that response, AMC (in collaboration with the Healthcare Foundation and other partners) mobilized in early 2021 to join the massive vaccination effort across the region, working in concert with local community-based organizations to target outreach and services to the Latinx community which was disproportionately impacted by and vulnerable to Covid-19. These efforts reached some of our region’s most vulnerable residents, including un- and under-insured individuals, and contributed to the high county-wide vaccination rate achieved in this period.
We spoke recently with Sue Labbe about the development of her role at AMC, lessons learned during the pandemic, and her vision for AMC moving forward.
The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How have you grown in your experience and outlook since joining Alliance Medical Center back in 2017?
I’ve grown in getting to know the community, and in getting to actively envision the future and develop strategies for achieving that vision. It’s been a real privilege to be a part of that and to continue to serve in that way. I have a core belief that deep purpose brings meaning and value to the work that we do. What we agree is the heart and soul of Alliance will guide our decision-making and be the lighthouse in any storm. As an organization, it’s important that we attend to that meaning. I call it the poetry of the work. The ways that we do that include regularly sharing what we call stories of hope and healing; and talking about our vision for transforming healthcare delivery, access to care, and health equity throughout the community we serve—making that a shared dialogue on a regular basis. We are facing a lot of challenges ahead due to inflation and looming recession and the ongoing stressors brought on by Covid-19, and our patient population represents some of the most vulnerable members of our society. They have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, and we know they are going to continue to be the hardest hit by inflation. In order to support our patients, we need to be able to support our staff. Working together, we can reduce those health disparities and improve access to care, providing an opportunity for all members of our society to receive the services they need to be well and live a long and healthy life.
“I have a core belief that deep purpose brings meaning and value to the work that we do. What we agree is the heart and soul of Alliance will guide our decision-making and be the lighthouse in any storm. . . . I call it the poetry of the work.”Sue Labbe, CEO, Alliance Medical Center
What have been some key insights or takeaways for you from the Covid-19 crisis?
If anything, we learned that we can’t do anything alone. We need to do our work within community and with support from our community. I said to our board the other day, we will not get through the most challenging times solely by focusing on operational strategies and finances. We need to do these things to keep our doors open, but I also know that spreadsheets are not what brings our employees to work each day and it’s not what brings our patients back to us, knowing they can trust us to serve their needs. It’s our deep sense of purpose and connection, the personal calling our team feels. It shows in the quality of care we provide and in our response to the pandemic. People showed up at our vaccine pop-ups, they showed up on Saturday, they showed up at the schools, and they showed up in the community because they believed in the work we were doing. But we can’t do it alone. We must continue to build strong relationships with organizations and individuals throughout our community to promote health and fulfill our mission.
Can you speak to the importance of unrestricted funding for the work Alliance Medical Center does?
Having the backing of the community and the Healthcare Foundation is highly important to being able to do the work that we do serving the low-income families in Sonoma County, who face multiple challenges in accessing health services. Without that backing, a lot of the unreimbursed care we provide wouldn’t be possible. Part of what we do as a safety-net clinic is identify gaps in what is available to the community we serve; then we find a way to meet that need. Sometimes a funder will want to fund a specific program or service line—and that may not be the most pressing need of the community we serve. Having unrestricted funding allows us to pivot and meet the need. During Covid, that was huge. Literally within 24 hours, we had to redirect our efforts to fighting a pandemic and delivering care in a completely different way than we were the day before. I ran a half-day training on how to test for Covid, for example, how to process the labs, how to screen for symptoms. We had to turn on a dime. We had to set up mass immunization sites in the community and run those, pretty much overnight. To do that, we needed to have the backing and flexibility to redirect resources to where the community needed them most.