Preparing for the Next 100 Years New Chair of Sansum Clinic Board Ready to Take on Competition

By Nick Masuda   |   November 23, 2021
Arnold Schaffer is the new chair of the Sansum Clinic Board of Trustees

Arnold Schaffer is aware of the obstacles that Sansum Clinic faces as the last remaining independent not-for-profit medical clinic in the state of California.

The pandemic? It shut down or delayed outpatient surgeries and imaging centers — services that are needed not only for the community, but also to allow the clinic to operate.

Competition? The clinic has lost a handful of well-known doctors to competitors, most notably UCLA Health, which has moved into Montecito.

Yet, the Montecitan is downright giddy to take over as the chair of the Sansum Clinic Board of Trustees, having sat on the board since 2019, helping guide the nonprofit through the challenges of a global pandemic.

“We don’t know when it’s going to be back to normal, but it is getting back to normal. We’ve gotten amazing support from the community,” Schaffer told the Montecito Journal.

“We’re working strategically to lay out our future to be able to make sure that we’re around for another 100 years.”

Schaffer has more than 30 years of healthcare management experience at numerous hospitals and regional health systems, and is currently a Managing Director at Alvarez & Marsal Healthcare Industry Group.

He also has plenty of fans throughout Sansum Clinic, including Kurt Ransohoff, the CEO and Chief Medical Officer of the nonprofit.

“Arnie has a wealth of experience guiding healthcare organizations and a proven record of being an inspired leader of several major hospital operations,” said Ransohoff. “He has been a wise decision-maker during the difficulties of managing COVID-19. We can always rely on him to contribute generously to our team.”

Here are five quick questions with Schaffer as he dives headfirst into the new position.

Q. You moved here seven years ago; why did you get involved with Sansum Clinic?

A. There are a lot of ways you can give back to the community. I thought one of them would be in healthcare because that’s my area of expertise and joined the board of Sansum Clinic. This is a very difficult time for medical groups, for doctors and for healthcare. It always has been in hospitals, but it’s actually much harder for physicians now.

Can you expand on that? How has the playing field changed for independent physicians?

One of the reasons is because the economics around how physicians are paid has gotten so bad that some groups [of doctors] join someone else to form a fully integrated organization, usually hospitals, sometimes insurance companies. Now, the pharmaceutical companies are getting into that arena so it’s rather difficult for these independents to survive and that’s why I thought, “OK, let me see how I can help Sansum Clinic.”

You are taking over at a time when there is plenty of competition over the services of doctors in the area. First, how big of a concern is it? Second, what will the organization do to make sure that the quality of treatment remains the same? 

We’re very, very much focused on it. Yes, we had a couple of very good doctors that left, and we did replace them with equally good doctors. Fortunately, Santa Barbara is such an attractive place, that it helps to attract world-class doctors, and we’ve been able to do that. But it is a concern and it’s one that gets back to economics. For us, as a not-for-profit organization, we want to treat all kinds of illnesses, and the financial model is a simple one — we have care that pays for the care areas that don’t make money.

When newcomers come to the area, they go after the areas that make money, so it makes our job harder. We’re very aware of it and we’re working diligently to mitigate it. We can’t change anyone else’s model, the tactics of coming into town and taking what makes a lot of money. We live in a capitalistic world, and healthcare in the United States is generally market-based capitalism. We just have to compete against that, because we’re not going to walk away from providing services that don’t make money. 

Cottage Health announced it’d be opening an urgent care on Coast Village Road by the end of 2022; does Sansum have any intent to expand into Montecito?

I can’t say yes or no, but it’s not on our short-term radar. We serve a lot of people in Montecito, but putting up more brick-and-mortar, that is a big cost in healthcare, and that would drive our costs up. Right now, everyone’s willing to drive to us, we are a relatively small town, so getting to our many sites is not difficult for people. But, again, if the market demands it, I can’t say we wouldn’t consider it down the road.

What is your goal as chair, and do you have a timeline?

My hope is that when I’m done being the chair, that we will have a clear, understandable, strict strategic and tactical plan to ensure that we’re financially stable and here to provide care for the community for the long term. And we are in a “as-soon-as-possible” scenario for now, so there’s no date out there for things to be accomplished. We need to do it quickly, but also set ourselves up well for the next 100 years.


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