Vice President of Strategy & Development | UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee
Suzy Sonnier brings leadership informed by personal experience to her role with UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee.
Already interested in the field, she became especially committed to healthcare after the birth of her son. "Jacob was born with an extremely rare medical condition, and doctors questioned if he would live beyond the first few hours of life," she explained. "Over the next 13 years, we learned a lot about the importance of access to a high quality, person-centered and integrated healthcare system."
Living in their home state of Louisiana at the time, Sonnier said navigating a complex health system was daunting even when surrounded by a strong support system. That experience, she continued, is even more overwhelming for vulnerable families with multiple barriers and limited resources. "I knew that I wanted to be a part of the healthcare system - to be positioned to provide leadership and to use my education and gifts, in addition to our personal experience, to drive transformation and ensure the best possible health outcomes and experience for others," Sonnier continued.
Through her son's journey, Sonnier solidified her philosophy around the value of integrated services and care coordination. "Our pediatrician had a checklist that he would review every time Jacob had an appointment. He also kept a separate running document that included key information critical to Jacob's care," recalled Sonnier. "My family would carry a printed copy of the most current document to each new specialist visit, and it became a tool to inform or update providers and ensure coordination of care."
That paper precursor to an electronic health record helped ensure critical information didn't slip through the crack. "The importance of integrated care resonated not only on an individual level but also confirmed we needed to address integration and care coordination more systemically in our communities," she said.
In her role at UnitedHealthcare, she takes a two-pronged approach to strategy. For any decision, her first thought is the impact it will have on patients, their support systems and providers. The second line of thinking is to consider how to best leverage assets to make solutions more sustainable.
Sonnier is passionate about fostering collaboration and using data to solve problems and drive results. Recognizing 80-90 percent of health outcomes are impacted by factors beyond medical care, she said it takes a community effort to address social determinants of health. "There are resources that government can bring to the table, but there are also innovations and flexibility the private sector brings. When we come together around a common goal, we can often accomplish more and accomplish it more efficiently."
Like many seeking to transform the system, Sonnier revels in the constantly evolving nature of healthcare. "I love the quest for healthcare innovations that deliver greater value and better health outcomes," she said. "I love that we have the opportunity to listen to patients, providers, state partners and community members who come to the table with differing perspectives and to engage them in developing real solutions."
She said the industry's dynamic nature can also present its biggest hurdle. "It can be challenging to keep up with new innovations, to bring it all together and to provide a comprehensive or holistic approach that balances both outcomes and financing to the value of healthcare," she stated.
While she spends her days focused on finding the right formula for healthcare, there's no question as to what maximizes value in her personal life. "Friends and family! I have learned not to take relationships for granted but to invest in them deeply," she said. Sonnier is also happy to dive into new adventures. Ready for a change of pace, she and husband Chris left Baton Rouge and moved to Nashville. Determined to really experience their new city, the empty nesters live downtown and spend lots of time listening to live music, sampling new restaurants, and exploring Nashville's many neighborhoods. Happy at home, she's always game for a good trip, too. "Like so many others, I also love to travel - especially to see my daughter, Ainsley, who is working on her master's degree in New York."
Sonnier said she would give anything to have had more time with her son, but she's so grateful for the years they did have as a family and for his legacy. "Jacob taught me that you have to be persistent and not give up ... that you have to be resilient and embrace change. My hope is that I always embody these values throughout my work and that in doing so, I will have a positive impact not only on the Nashville healthcare system, but healthcare systems across the country."