Sonoma Valley Hospital CEO Works to Make a Difference

Though he’s held six positions at community hospitals in his career, one thing that is different for the 51-bed Sonoma Valley Hospital CEO John Hennelly this time around is he’s not actually employed by the hospital.

Hennelly’s employer is the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). The Sonoma Valley Healthcare District has an agreement with the university to run the hospital.

Hennelly, 50, holds a bachelor’s degree in international studies from American University and earned his MBA from Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School.

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, and the oldest of four children, Hennelly now resides in Petaluma with his wife and two teenage children. He’s also an unabashed St. Louis Cardinals fan.

He talks with the Business Journal about the UCSF agreement and why he came to the hospital this past spring. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How does Sonoma Valley Healthcare District’s arrangement with UCSF work?

The district has an agreement with the university to run the hospital, which is sort of separate from the affiliation. They said, “We want UCSF to run the hospital.” So myself, my chief financial officer, my chief medical officer, and the head of (information technology) are all employees of UCSF.

Now, I don’t spend a day down in the city. I spend my time here, and I work with the board here. But that’s the arrangement.

What was it about Sonoma Valley Hospital that sold you on wanting to become its CEO?

Two things drew me here. One, it was very clear to me that this community values its hospital, and one of the CEO’s toughest jobs is going out and building support. That was evident from day one that that didn’t need to happen. We needed to work on delivering on the expectation to the community, but not building awareness and support.

The emergency room was funded almost entirely by philanthropic support … $50 million was given to the hospital, and that’s extraordinary. And now we’re doing this diagnostic center, which is another $20-ish million of pure philanthropic support. In today’s world, community hospitals cannot survive without that.

And what was the second reason you joined the hospital?

The second piece was the affiliation with UCSF. It’s enormous.

Now, the attraction is really about the fact that UCSF… was interested in engaging in the community hospital. It’s been a frustration for my whole career that you’re banging your drum, like, ‘Hey, you have all of these assets and skilled people and here is where the need is,’ and oftentimes those centers will be internally focused. UCSF was very clear that they want to partner with their affiliated hospitals and provide care, and they’re doing it.

You will be changing your in-hospital-only electronic health records on Dec. 3 to Epic, a system that is networked with the big health care systems. Please describe the impact.

What happens often is patients will come in, they’re not our patients, but they’re here emergently. And there’s all of this information within their home health system that we can’t see. We put Epic in, now we can see it. That will reduce unnecessary care … and it will increase the transparency between what we do here and (the patient’s) home location, or vice versa.

What have been your biggest job challenges so far?

The (hospital) environment is incredibly stressful and challenging, and COVID made it even more challenging. So, trying to remain strong despite COVID has been a daily effort.

You started at SVH halfway through the pandemic. What was the lowest point for you?

… when we had dozens of staff members out at the same time and having people who are already strained, stressed and exhausted, covering the shifts of the people who couldn’t be here. I hope we don’t go back to it.

SVH received travel nurses, but also lost staff for the same purpose. What was the impact?

It helped make our financial situation more strained. It’s very expensive. It’s essentially nurses within our workforce that are moving from a full- time job to a travel job. It wasn’t just nurses, it was techs, all specialties.

So, you’re depleting your main workforce as you infuse it with these higher-paying positions and travel nurses. So, it’s not that we lost nurses, it’s that the industry transitioned nurses from stable jobs to travel jobs, and just drove the costs up.

Tell us about your passion for healing through food.

A hospital is one of the few places that really is responsible for role modeling the right choice. I don’t expect McDonald’s to sell you healthy solutions; they’re there to give you a quick hit. But hospitals need to role-model the right choices and make them palatable and attractive.

Hospitals need to role-model the right choices and make them palatable and attractive.

So, it’s going after things like bacon, soda and chocolate, and replacing them with alternatives that people will buy, such as hummus and pretzels, fresh fruit and vegetables.

What I’ve done in the past, but haven’t done here yet, is (put together) recipes with the spices and, potentially, the meat to take home and make the meal. We prepackage it for you, kind of like mail-order services like HelloFresh. They give you everything, you just have to put it together.

What kind of issues related to the overall health care system weigh heaviest on your mind?

I am a big proponent of capitalism and the United States, but it’s challenging me to see how we’ve been evolving over the last five years in the health care environment. I don’t see us doing our best, I don’t think the system is doing its best for consumers.

Supply should meet demand. There’s huge, overwhelming demand out there and the supply is constrained by insurance companies. … Health care should not be a bankrupting issue and I struggle with that because I’m a believer that our country encourages innovation, and the free market encourages innovation. I don’t want to stifle our ability to innovate, but I also don’t want to starve people on basic human rights. How do you marry those two? I don’t know.

Tell us a bit about your upbringing.

I grew up in a big Irish family and was educated by the Jesuits, and they really impressed that service of community and an obligation to make sure that you are, as they say, ‘a man for others.’ And so that has really stuck with me through my career and really wedded me to community hospitals.

Being a Midwesterner, we probably won’t be seeing you at Oracle Park anytime soon.

I was born and raised in St. Louis, which makes me a Cardinals fan. They’re doing very well this year. And we’re having a great time with Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. So that’s fun. (Editor’s note: both longtime players are retiring this year; Pujols recently hit his 700th career home run.)

Sonoma Raceway’s Ferrari Challenge Event Proceeds Donated to Speedway Children’s Charities Sonoma Chapter

Spectators at the Ferrari Challenge event at Sonoma Raceway earlier this month not only got to experience the thrill of Ferrari race cars battling for a championship win, but also helped generate funds for Speedway Children’s Charities Sonoma to the tune of $35,000. This abundant donation, representing net proceeds from the event, will go directly to local Sonoma County charities to help children and families in critical need.

For the first time in years, Ferrari Challenge and Sonoma Raceway worked together to open the event to the public on Saturday, September 10 and an impressive 1,139 tickets were sold along with 168 free kids’ tickets. Spectators of all ages had the opportunity to get up close to rare Ferraris and were treated to spectacular pre-race pageantry before the green flag dropped on over 65 drivers competing in four categories over the weekend in their season finale event.

“This contribution is the largest SCC Sonoma has received outside of our NASCAR weekend,” said Director of Speedway Children’s Charities Sonoma Courtney Kiser. “It will make a tremendous impact for local children and families suffering from food insecurity, abuse and the need for vital resources such as shelter and medical treatment.”

“We are thrilled to be able to make such a substantial donation to Speedway Children’s Charities in such a way that local fans are contributing to the organizations that give so much to their own community,” said Sonoma Raceway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jill Gregory. “It was great to be able to open our doors and share this fantastic event with local families and enthusiasts, and better still to help support our community partners in a more formidable way.”

Annual funds received by Speedway Children’s Charities Sonoma will be distributed before the end of the year to local non-profit organizations that have applied for and been awarded grant funding. The Sonoma chapter has raised more than $7 million for the Sonoma County community since its inception in 2001.

For more information on SCC Sonoma, including how you can adopt a Sonoma Raceway sheep, visit

Northern California Public Media Winner of the Best Annual Report to the Community from NETA

NETA’S 54th annual award winners list –

The LIME Foundation’s Letitia Hanke Speaks With the Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics posted the following in a LinkedIn post.

“In celebration of American Women’s Business Day, we were honored to welcome guest speaker Letitia Hanke, a businesswoman pioneering the way in a male-dominated industry.

The American Business Women’s Association was founded on Sept. 22, 1949, with the mission of bringing together businesswomen of diverse occupations and providing opportunities for them to help themselves and others grow personally and professionally through leadership, education, networking support, and national recognition.

Thank you, Letitia for speaking with our front office staff!”

Sonoma County Tourism Launches New Partnership With NBC Bringing the ‘Today’ show to Sonoma County

Sonoma County Tourism on Wednesday recapped its last fiscal year and presented goals for its new one, which began July 1.

Hinting of upcoming national exposure on a network morning show before an audience at its annual meeting, held at Sonoma State University, the tourism agency set out targets which include:

– achieving a 5% year-over-year increase in revenue to the county’s lodging properties

– encouraging more overnight visitation on weekdays

– restarting international travel trade and public relations efforts in the U.K., Germany and Australia.

Destination stewardship efforts are also high priority, said Claudia Vecchio, president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism. That includes a variety of efforts, such as encouraging visitors to protect the region they visit and aim to leave it better than they found it.

Jonny Westom, vice president of business development, discussed efforts to improve the perception of Sonoma County to meeting planners.

The agency commissioned Northstar Travel Group to perform a national survey of meeting planners, which found 67% had never heard of the county, and of those who have, 66% described their perception as “very good” or “excellent.”

To win over more people and raise the county’s profile, officials outlined plans to create a meetings and events video series that showcases area attractions and venues. The videos will be released in the coming weeks, Weston said.

In the next few weeks, SCT will officially introduce its mobile app, but over the summer, the tourism agency jumped on the TikTok bandwagon.

“Just to speak to the popularity of TikTok, it’s the first social media platform to reach 1 billion users, faster than any other social app,” O’Leary said. “As SCT works to reach the coveted millennial and Gen Z audiences, and as a tactic to increase brand awareness and engagement, our TikTok channel is already working hard. Since launching this channel earlier this summer, we have already garnered nearly 10,000 views.”

O’Leary also said a national partnership is underway.

“We’re working with NBC on a project that will include not only a ‘Today’ show broadcast from Sonoma County,” he said, “but also a brand-new concept for ‘Today’ show fans that will include ‘Today’ show personalities and lots of opportunities to share our beautiful destination on a national stage.” Final dates and details are to come, he added.

On the budget side, on July 1, SCT entered its fiscal year 2022-2023 with an estimated budget of $9.9 million, Vecchio said. That’s higher than its pre-pandemic budget of $8 million in fiscal year 2019-2020. The majority of the agency’s funding comes from a 2% assessment on applicable lodging rooms within the Sonoma County Tourism Business Improvement Area.

Lori Angstadt, Sonoma County Tourism’s vice president of finance and operations, said SCT spent just under $9.5 million for fiscal year 2021-2022.

“As always, the largest portion is spent on marketing and public relations, (which) was almost 60% of total expenditures,” she said. “Business development and travel trade received 16.2%; community engagement 7.4%; and administrative programs (received) 16.6%.”

W. Bradley Electric Ranked #4 in San Francisco Business Times List of Women-Owned Businesses

Congratulations for your well deserved recognition. To see the complete list follow the link below.

Midstate Construction Completes Burbank Housing Office Tenant Improvement

General contractor Midstate Construction Corporation, and owner Burbank Housing Development Corporation recently completed tenant improvement and accessibility upgrades for the Burbank Housing office building in Santa Rosa, CA.

Designed by TLCD Architecture, this project includes demolition of existing interior conditions, construction of new walls, finishes and accessibility upgrades.


Arrow Benefits Keeps Care From Getting Lost in Translation

For Andrew McNeil and Rosario Avila, recognizing the unique needs of every human being has made their work as benefit advisers more fulfilling — and more successful.

That starts with their own differences. McNeil, a principal at Arrow Benefits Group, first met Avila when she joined the firm in 2016 as a consultant. On paper, they don’t have much in common, but the duo hit it off and formed a close working relationship that, six years later, has led to the creation of BenefitsTV (a Youtube and social media channel for bite-size benefits content) as well as Alianza, the company’s Spanish-language division.

Arrow Benefits is located within the Bay Area, serving a variety of employer organizations across the tech, manufacturing and wine industries. And for many Spanish-speaking employees within those organizations, benefits communications were often lost in translation.

Since McNeil and Avila pooled their talents to launch Alianza in 2017, the team has grown to a party of five and delivers tailored communications to clients’ employees, focusing on improving benefits utilization and providing expanded access to adviser expertise.

“We both look at employee groups differently, and really try to understand what happens at the employee level — what works, what doesn’t,” Avila says. “We don’t just focus on benefits — we focus on communication. What’s going to grab employees’ attention?”

McNeil and Avila spoke with EBN about the success they’ve found by looking at benefits through a personal lens and why it’s important to remember that in a relationship-based business, relationship-building takes time.

You two bring very different perspectives to your work. How has that impacted your relationship?
McNeil: We’re two completely different people: male, female, different generations, different races or ethnic backgrounds. By taking those two perspectives and bringing one solution to the client, it’s helped us strategize.

Avila: I’m a single mom, I’ve got older kids, and Andrew’s got young kids — he’s just starting on that journey with his family. All those differences have helped us. We considered every employee, their ages, what would grab their attention.

Which is what led you to launch Alianza in service of your clients’ Spanish-speaking employees. What are some of the challenges you’re working to solve? 
McNeil: If we’re serving one of our manufacturing clients, as an example, time is money, so we’ll normally get a short amount of time to present and talk about benefits. You can do an English-speaking meeting in 10 minutes. But for Alianza meetings, it can take up to an hour because there are so many questions. It floored me the first time I saw it — I really don’t think anybody had effectively spoken to those employees about benefits before.

Avila: We’d see employees with coverage from Kaiser not understand the deductible or out-of-pocket maximum, or not understand that their employer was funding an HRA plan. So they’d get a big bill just for seeing a doctor, not understand how their benefits may cover or reimburse it, and they’d never go to the doctor again. Instead, they’d choose to go to the nearest Spanish-speaking clinic and pay $20 out of pocket.

That’s where we were able to come in, explain how to get reimbursed, explain that the money does not come out of their pocket, but their employer’s — and it was a game changer. The more we’ve built trust with employers and their teams, we get increasingly specific questions because they’re utilizing care more.

McNeil: Alianza also has a separate phone number that only rings at the Alianza member phones, so everything is answered in Spanish directly — not a “call and press one for Spanish” situation. We’ve also extended our hours: Arrow is normally open 9-to-5 but Alianza operates from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Even though we’re in the Bay Area, there are plenty of pockets in which you don’t have cell service, if you’re working in a vineyard or something like that. So letting people call us later allows us to give much better service, when our customers need it.

As you look back on 2022, what’s been your biggest win? 
McNeil: Since COVID hit, it’s felt like one really long year. As we all got comfortable on Zoom and with visual meetings, we realized that we could really meet with individual employees and offer that as a service, so we’ve built this piece of our business that allows us to meet with an employee anytime, any place. It’s about communication, understanding and accessibility, and the accessibility piece had been missing for so long.

Avila: We’ve also received so much recognition, and people really understand what we’ve been doing under the Alianza name. Having clients and employees recognize the value we’re delivering, that’s our biggest win.

What’s the biggest challenge waiting for you in 2023? 
McNeil: I don’t want to sound crass, but the challenge is breaking relationships that prospects have with other brokers, and trying to keep getting our story out there and getting people to see the value in it. I can’t count how many times we’ve met with a prospective client and they love everything we’re doing, but they’re friends with their broker, or they’ve been with their broker for 25 years.

Avila: It’s also time — we know what we can bring to the table, but sometimes it’s just the time it takes for an employer to see that they need more than they’re currently getting. We’re constantly evolving.

You both have very people-focused jobs with a lot of responsibility. When you need to feel refreshed, what do you do to find a clear headspace or inspiration? 
Avila: Honestly my friendship with Andrew, that helps me de-stress. if I’m feeling stuck. I can vent, I can let him know, and he comes in not trying to fix it or save it, but just let me vent it out. Those conversations are so genuine. And of course we do share the podcasts or books we’re reading, and we share the latest memes. But we really just inspire each other through our work and problem-solving.

Do you ever disagree on the best path forward? 
McNeil: The short answer is yes, and it hurts my feelings every time! But generally, if I go to Rosario and she puts her hand up and goes, “Nope.” I tend to just wait to hear her perspective, and once she throws it out, I’m like, “Oh, that’s 100% the right answer.”

Avila: We’re open to hearing the other side of the coin, and then we’re able to step back and find the best solution. And we do go Andrew’s way sometimes!

McNeil: Sometimes, not always.

BPM Lands on North Bay Business Journal’s Best Places to Work List for 17th Consecutive Year

BPM LLP, one of the 40 largest public accounting and advisory firms in the country, has been named to the North Bay Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” list for the 17th consecutive year. Of the 100 companies listed, BPM is one of only four to accomplish this. 

The annual “Best Places to Work” list recognizes exceptional employers in the North Bay and highlights best workplace practices. BPM is one of a select few companies to make the list every year since the North Bay Business Journal began the award program. Winners will be celebrated during a Sept. 14 event at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa.  

“BPM places an emphasis on cultivating a strong workplace that enables all colleagues to achieve the highest level of success, and our North Bay team continues to ‘walk the talk’ fostering a diverse, inclusive and productive environment,” said BPM North Bay Partner-in-Charge Michelle Muth Ausburn. “We’ve had an active year in the North Bay – highlighted by our combination with Elliott CPA – and together, we continue to lead with our brand promise: ‘Because People Matter.’ We are thrilled to see that our hard work and perseverance continue to be seen and recognized by our colleagues and the North Bay community.” 

Earlier this year, BPM announced a combination with Santa Rosa-based Elliott CPA Group Inc., expanding its presence in the North Bay and broadening its relationships within the community. The combination strengthened the firm’s client service offerings and deepened its industry expertise. Additionally, in April 2022, Christopher Thomas was selected to the North Bay Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40” awards list, further highlighting BPM’s North Bay impact.  

This achievement continues BPM’s outstanding run as the firm of choice for clients operating in the region and stands as a testament to its “Because People Matter” commitment. In 2022 alone, the firm is ranked #21 on Vault’s 2023 “Accounting 25” rankings and #38 on Accounting Today’s “Top 100 Firms” list. BPM was recognized as a ClearlyRated 2022 Best of Accounting Award winner for the seventh consecutive year based on its client service excellence. The firm also placed #7 on the San Francisco Business Times’ “Largest Accounting Firms in the Greater Bay Area” list.  

To explore career opportunities with BPM, visit the firm’s Careers page today.  

About BPM 

BPM LLP is one of the 40 largest public accounting and advisory firms in the United States. With a global team of more than 900 colleagues, we help clients succeed around the world. Now certified as a B Corporation, BPM offers a cross-functional approach that gives clients direct access to the best and most qualified resources. To learn more, visit our website. 

Sonoma Raceway to Host NASCAR Xfinity Series for the First Time Ever in 2023

For the first time ever, the NASCAR Xfinity Series will challenge the picturesque rolling hills of Sonoma Raceway at the DoorDash 250 on Saturday, June 10, 2023.

NASCAR announced today the Xfinity Series will join the NASCAR Cup Series race weekend at Sonoma Raceway next year for the first time in the history of the series as part of its full 2023 season schedule release.  The Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup Series race will return to Sonoma Raceway on Sunday June 11, 2023.

The Xfinity Series is a proving ground for up-and-coming NASCAR Cup Series drivers and has produced some of NASCAR’s biggest stars. Fans will be treated to three days of racing action over the weekend.

“We are thrilled to have the Xfinity Series racing here in Sonoma for the first time ever,” said raceway executive vice president and general manager Jill Gregory. “This is part of our promise to our fans to keep raising the bar.  And we expect several of the Cup Series racers to pull double duty and run the Xfinity Series race as well.”

The 2023 date remains fixed on the same weekend as this past June. The Toyota/Save Mart 350 will span 110 laps and will run the historically popular chute configuration, adding to the fan experience with more opportunities for passing and on-track action.

Practice and qualifying times, other companion events and TV broadcast information will be provided at a later date.

Tickets and camping information for the 2023 Toyota/Save Mart 350 weekend can be found by visiting or calling 800-970-RACE (7223).