Medi-Cal millionaires: Valley Children’s execs boast eye-popping salaries backed by taxes, donors

The Valley’s go-to philanthropy is led by a $5 million man and carries a roster of highly-paid executives – including the Mayor of Clovis – earning far-and-away more than larger hospitals, all while serving some of America’s poorest patients.

Valley Children’s Hospital, the largest children’s hospital between San Francisco and Los Angeles and sixteenth largest in America by bed space, has undertaken an intense ballooning of executive pay in the wake of the COVID pandemic, led by its chief executive officer Todd Suntrapak.

Suntrapak and his colleagues are making well in excess of industry averages and outpacing national pediatric research hospitals, a visual that clashes greatly with the deeply-impoverished patients it serves, stretching from Stanislaus to Kern counties.


The big picture: According to Valley Children’s tax return from 2021 – the latest available return, filed in August of 2023 – Suntrapak’s total compensation was reported at $5.1 million. 

  • In tax year 2020, Suntrapak hauled in more than $5.5 million in total compensation.
  • Suntrapak’s salary turned a corner during the onset of the COVID pandemic. In tax year 2019, his annual compensation totaled the comparatively modest sum of $2.096 million.
  • The drastic swings in compensation are starkly different to Suntrapak’s start as chief executive of the hospital, when he made less than $800,000 in total compensation in 2012.
  • His predecessor, Gordon Alexander, also made under $800,000 in 2011. 
  • A comparison of children’s hospital chiefs found that Suntrapak’s tax year 2021 compensation package was higher than all but two of the fifteen institutions larger than Valley Children’s. Those two? Texas Children’s Hospital of Houston (America’s largest by bed space) and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (fourth-largest by bed space).
  • Suntrapak also earned more than double the nearest local health care chief executive – Community Medical Centers’ Craig Castro – in tax year 2021.

Big bucks for the C Suite and beyond: Besides Suntrapak, five other top executives made over $1 million in total pay in 2021. 

  • CFO Michele Waldron was the top senior vice president at nearly $2.9 million. 
  • Senior Vice Presidents Beverly Hayden-Pugh ($1.8 million), Natale Ponticello ($1.4 million), David Christensen ($1.3 million) and Jane Wilson ($1.09) million rounded out the list. 
  • Valley Children’s also paid another 22 executives no less than $300,000 in 2021, including Clovis Mayor Lynne Ashbeck, who earned more than $800,000 in total compensation, per 2021 tax returns. 
  • In 2020, Hayden-Pugh earned more $3 million, Waldron made more than $2.5 million, Ponticello made more than $2 million and Jessie Hudgins and Christensen each made more than $1 million. 
  • The large pay bump came in 2020, as not a single executive outside of Suntrapak earned more than $1 million in 2019. 

Out-of-step with the industry: For comparison with Valley Children’s, the nation’s 16th-largest children’s hospital by bed space, The Sun surveyed a number of standalone and integrated children’s hospitals, with specific emphasis on California institutions.

  • Valley Children’s Hospital (Madera, Calif. · 16th largest)
    • Net Assets: $1.68 billion
    • Executives earning more than $1 million: Six
    • Executive payroll: $26.95 million
    • Chief Executive salary: $5.5 million
  • St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (Memphis, Tenn. · unranked by size)
    • Net Assets: $9.275 billion
    • Executives earning more than $1 million: Nine (includes ex-officio director)
    • Executive payroll: $14.14 million
    • President/Chief Executive salary: $1.92 million / $1.54 million
  • Rady Children’s Hospital (San Diego, Calif. · fifth-largest in America)
    • Net Assets: $2.12 billion
    • Executives earning more than $1 million: One
    • Executive payroll: $14.5 million
    • Chief Executive salary: $1.71 million
  • Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (Los Angeles, Calif. · 11th largest in America)
    • Net Assets: $1.74 billion
    • Executives earning more than $1 million: Two
    • Executive payroll: $13 million
    • Chief Executive salary: $1.74 million
  • Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford (Palo Alto, Calif. · 13th largest in America)
    • Net Assets: $2.83 billion
    • Executives earning more than $1 million: Three (excludes salaries paid by affiliate organizations)
    • Executive payroll: $13.4 million (excludes salaries paid by affiliate organizations)
    • Chief Executive salary*: $2.5 million
      • Tax returns for Packard Hospital report the salary of the organization’s CEO Paul King – the figure displayed above – along with the Chief Executive of Stanford Health Care, David Entwistle, who earned $5.26 million, per 2021 tax returns.
  • Children’s Hospital of Orange County (Orange, Calif. · 22nd largest in America)
    • Net Assets: $1.74 billion
    • Executives earning more than $1 million: One (via affiliate organization, see below)
    • Executive payroll: $11.67 million
    • Chief Executive salary: $1.87 million*
      • Salary paid via CHOC affiliate organization, Childrens Healthcare Of California.

The house that donors and Medi-Cal built: Along with incredible salaries, particularly compared to other large-scale children’s hospitals, Valley Children’s 2021 tax return shows another unique perk available to Suntrapak: a hefty, $5 million home loan denoted as being a “retention incentive in lieu of other compensation.”

  • A property records search found that Suntrapak purchased a home in Carmel-by-the-Sea in early 2022 for $6.5 million.
  • Records also indicate that the Valley Children’s chief purchased the home in cash.
  • While it is believed that Suntrapak financed the all-cash purchase with the retention bonus, a search of Suntrapak’s property ownership in Monterey County shows that the property is not presently encumbered by Valley Children’s via lien, despite the issuance of a loan in tax year 2021.
  • Only one comparable institution – Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford – offered home loans to its executives, including CEO Paul King, valued at $2.15 million. In total, the Stanford-linked hospital issued $3.95 million in home loans to four executives, per 2021 returns.
  • A property records search identified King’s residence in Santa Clara County with multiple liens (aggregated to Packard’s home loan amount of $2.15 million) against King’s home.

An puzzling pairing: Valley Children’s, which is among the San Joaquin Valley’s largest charitable recipients, boasts a number of philanthropic partnerships. But its service revenue, it should be noted comes from an outsized source: Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid health program for the poor.

  • According to a 2022 annual report tendered to state health authorities, 73.8 percent of in- and outpatients at Valley Children’s were serviced by Medi-Cal.
  • Valley Children’s caught considerable flack from donors and supporters after it announced a 10-year, $10 million sponsorship of the former Bulldog Stadium at Fresno State.
  • At the time, Suntrapak told news outlets that the sponsorship was paid out of its revenue stream – which includes taxpayer-backed health funds – rather than donor funds.

What they’re saying: The Sun contacted Valley Children’s representatives for comment on Suntrapak and hospital executives’ salaries along with the terms and nature of Suntrapak’s home loan.

  • Valley Children’s reps did not respond to requests prior to publication.
Related Posts