Arias fires back at Hanson, Valley Children’s board: clear the air, stop putting “profits over health” of poor

The Fresno City Councilman clapped back at the former Fresno Unified chief, arguing that Valley Children’s needs to clear the air rather than double down amid its salary controversy.

Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias has sent a letter to the Valley Children’s Healthcare Board President Michael Hanson and the Board of Directors following last week’s communication from the hospital arguing that all criticism over the high executive pay is based on misinformation. 

Arias’s response also comes at a time when the hospital has hired 24-hour security for CEO Todd Suntrapak, claiming that rhetoric from Arias and fellow councilman Garry Bredefeld necessitates protection. 


The backstory: Last week Hanson sent a letter to the Fresno City Council, in which he wrote that it was “in response to unfounded criticisms based on recent media coverage.” 

  • Hanson repeated the hospital’s latest talking point, the notion that all of Fresno’s media and public do not know how to read IRS Form 990, which showed Suntrapak received $5.5 million in total compensation in 2020 and $5.1 million in total compensation in 2021. 
  • Hanson said the 2021 package was inflated because a yearly performance bonus was given out one month earlier at the advice of the hospital’s accounting firm, meaning Suntrapak received two performance bonuses in 2021, while the 2022 tax returns should reflect a lesser number. 
  • The 2021 tax returns also showed that Suntrapak received a $5 million forgivable home loan, which he used to purchase a $6.5 million house in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Hanson said the loan is “not at all unusual as a retention tool.” 
  • Hanson did not address – and has not addressed – why Suntrapak’s 2020 compensation totaled $5.5 million. 

The big picture: Arias responded to Hanson, writing that he takes no pleasure in shining a spotlight on Valley Children’s, which has “placed profits over the health of our city residents, especially our poorest children.” 

  • Arias said the facts of the issue revolve around how Suntrapak received over $15 million in compensation in a two-year period. 
  • “The excessive pay occurred during the pandemic and was funded by or in part with pandemic, Medi-Cal, Private insurance, and/or donor funds,” Arias wrote. 
  • Arias noted that Valley Children’s made $354 million in profit in 2021, had $124 million stored in offshore accounts and purchased land to develop a commercial shopping center. 
  • “Valley Children’s Hospital led donors, community partners, local leaders and the general public to believe it was in desperate need for public donations by requesting we help host Kids Day fundraisers during the pandemic,” Arias wrote. 

Go deeper: Arias said his office has received numerous communications from former employees, current employees, vendors, donors and former patients since The Sun first reported the compensation given out to Suntrapak and other executives. 

  • People have raised a number of concerns to Arias’s office, including how patient account balances have been sent to collections instead of charity care, how emergency room wait times as long as seven hours have become the norm and that care that would take one visit now requires several appointments. 
  • Arias also said people have told him that doctors’ recruitment and retention bonuses are not honored, basic cleaning supplies are withheld from janitorial staff, cross contamination of patient and surgical rooms, lack of competitive wages leading to the loss of staff to fast food restaurants and whistle-blower terminations. 

What they’re saying: Arias told Hanson that he can provide the numerous communications his office received so that the hospital board can fully assess the issues raised. 

  • “The reality is that we all value the care that Valley Children’s provides to the Fresno region,” Arias wrote. “We want the hospital to succeed and thrive. Referencing ‘best in class’ without the back-up data seems more argumentative than collaborative. More importantly, this is about delivering high quality care at the lowest cost possible for our families. As you know, Fresno Unified self-funds its healthcare through its joint health management board as does the City of Fresno so every dollar saved in the delivery of high-quality care reduces the cost to educate our children and provide them public safety and lifeline services.” 
  • Arias continued, “Given the executive pay scale at Valley Children’s it begs the question about benchmarking who are the best organizations to compare against. There may be more lasting and effective ways to reduce the executive cost structure.” 
  • Arias also said that this may be an opportune time to expand the membership of the board to mirror the vast majority of the patients the hospital serves. 
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