Keri Thomas, MPPA '06
2014 Distinguished Service Award Recipient
As a leader at one of the largest health care providers in Sacramento, Keri Thomas, is concerned about more than just physical health. The community’s well-being is at the forefront for Thomas, regional director of community and government relations for Sutter Health.
“We’re a not-for-profit organization, so the community members are considered our shareholders,” Thomas says. “A big part of what I do is looking to build collaborations with government entities and other non-profits in order to provide access to primary health care for the under-insured and also just promoting who we are as a community-based not-for-profit within the government.”
The Sacramento native intended to play a hands-on role in the health care field. She graduated from Oregon State with an exercise and sports science undergraduate degree with plans to go into physical therapy, but she aspired to make a broader impact on the community through public policy and leadership.
“Health care is very personal and it’s a time when people are very vulnerable,” Thomas says. “I knew I wanted to be in health care. We have a great opportunity, especially in California, to make the system better and to be a part of finding solutions to expand access and make it more user-friendly is just exciting and fun.”
Thomas started as Sutter’s community benefits coordinator and decided to pursue a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Sac State, graduating in 2006. Her father, former Sacramento city manager Bob Thomas ’71, MS 78 (Recreation Administration), earned his master’s at Sac State before working in local government for many years.
“I fell in love with public policy and administration,” Thomas says. “It wasn’t that I wanted to work in government, but I just thought it was so interesting because health care is so regulated, it is almost quasi-government. Most importantly, the social equity piece of the public policy degree fit my love and passion.”
Thomas says she appreciated the real-world experience Sac State professors brought to their classes.
“The theory was important, but the practicality was even more important and Sac State had such a nice blend of the two,” she says.
Thomas has helped Sutter develop partnerships with numerous organizations throughout the region, including Sac State. The Sutter Volunteer Program places 100 students in positions throughout various medical fields, offering them the chance to gain experience and develop practical, hands-on skills. Sutter also sponsors several Sac State scholarships and has supported the recently expanded nursing program.
One of Sutter’s most successful efforts in the community, the Serial Inebriate Program, was recognized nationally at the 2012 Hospital Charitable Service Awards.
“The program takes people that repeatedly get picked up by the police and, instead of putting them in jail, they are placed in a program to work on sobriety,” Thomas explains. “It decreases the number of emergency room visits, it decreases the costs for public entities and most importantly, the clients are better off.”
Launched in 2006, it has helped save Sacramento County thousands of dollars, reduced the number of homeless people chronically abusing substances and saved the Sacramento Police Department hundreds of hours. According to the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, police referrals from business owners have gone from more than 1,100 in 2004 to less than 150 in 2010.
Thomas says partnerships are crucial to the community’s health. As the health care field undergoes major changes in the coming years with the Affordable Care Act taking effect, she hopes patient care will remain at the forefront.
“If you cannot adapt easily to change, health care’s not the field for you,” she says. “Nobody knows what we’re facing, but it’s going to be very different over the next couple of years. You have to be nimble, but we make a difference in people’s lives and that’s pretty powerful.”
This article was originally published in the Summer 2013 issue of Sac State Magazine.