USC Price School of Public Policy

Chris Van Gorder

Chris Van Gorder
MPA-Health Services ’86

As president and CEO of Scripps Health, SPPD alumnus Chris Van Gorder oversees an operation that comprises 2,600 affiliated physicians and 10,500 employees spread across five acute-care campuses, home healthcare services, and an ambulatory care network of clinics, physicians’ offices, and outpatient centers. The San Diego-based nonprofit healthcare delivery network treats some 478,000 patients annually.

In January 2005, Van Gorder’s healthcare management expertise was enlisted by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell when he appointed Van Gorder to the United States National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“I am honored to have been selected to serve on the United States National Commission for UNESCO,” Van Gorder said. “I look forward to participating in the good work of this fine international institution.”

According to Van Gorder, commissioners provide the U.S. government with expert advice on U.S. interests in educational, scientific, cultural, and communications issues at UNESCO and assist with the implementation of UNESCO programs in the U.S.

A healthcare veteran, Van Gorder says he had been working in the field even before coming to SPPD to pursue his master’s degree.

“I was probably one of the older students in the Health Services Administration program,” he says. “But in some ways, that gave me an advantage because I was able to relate the theory, process, and lessons taught by top-level professors to real life applications in healthcare. My career took off after graduation from the program as I could immediately use what I had learned at USC in my hospitals.”

From his vantage point, Van Gorder can survey better than most the healthcare industry’s current state of affairs.

“The healthcare environment – especially in San Diego – is very fragile,” he says. “Over the past five to 10 years many hospitals have closed, so today there is no excess capacity.”

Van Gorder warns that this challenge will become even greater as the population continues to both grow and age.

“We anticipate a need for more hospitals and more beds in the future but the very tight operating margins of today will make expansion slow and difficult,” he says. “In addition, government reimbursement continues to be a challenge.

“As an example, the State of California is 50 out of 50 states in funding per enrollee. That, combined with extensive unfunded mandates, a severe shortage of qualified professional staff such as nurses, and the fact that San Diego is an expensive location to live and work – that is a challenge.”

Van Gorder says that last year Scripps provided $18 million in charity care – which brings no reimbursement whatever – and that it provided $78 million in community benefit.

“We are extremely proud of our importance and commitment to the community,” he says. “But operating the enterprise can be challenging.”