A Fireside Chat with Mark Laret and Matthew Cook  

By Lorna Fernandes

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals is poised to lead the UC System and the state in pediatric medicine, according to its two senior leaders, who held a virtual fireside chat to discuss the past, present and future of the two hospitals. 

portrait of Matthew Cook

Matthew Cook, president of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals

Matthew Cook, who joined UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in January as president, hosted the June 1 chat with Mark R. Laret, UCSF Health’s president and chief executive officer, who has led UCSF’s clinical enterprise since 2000. 

In a conversational style, Laret and Cook discussed priority issues and projects for the hospital enterprise, ranging from addressing health disparities to improving access to pediatric mental health services and modernizing the Oakland campus. 

Growing Stronger Together 

Central to their discussion was the way the 2014 affiliation has benefited both hospitals, providing critically needed investments and support for the Oakland hospital, while expanding UCSF’s programs for the most vulnerable children and families throughout the region. 

“We are 1,000 percent committed to the health and well-being of children on both sides of the Bay,” Laret said. In Oakland, that includes the ongoing efforts to expand and enhance programs such as asthma and specialty cardiology care, as well as increased funding for research into sickle cell disease, to help reach more children in the East Bay with these critical services. But the benefits were mutual. 

We are 1,000 percent committed to the health and well-being of children on both sides of the Bay.

Mark R. Laret, UCSF Health’s president and chief executive officer

“The affiliation with Children’s Hospital Oakland was one of the best things UCSF ever did,” Laret said. “BCH Oakland has given depth to our pediatric service offerings in a way that UCSF could not have done on its own.” 

That depth has led the two hospitals to be ranked among the nation’s best children’s hospitals on all 10 specialties that are assessed by U.S. News & World Report for six consecutive years since the affiliation. 

In the past two and a half years, the hospitals also have mapped out a new vision for mental health services for children and teens throughout the Bay Area, leveraging $15 million in philanthropic support to expand current services in Oakland and develop a network of primary care providers throughout the region as the front line of mental health services. The hospitals also have plans to identify state funding to build mental health capacity for children in the immediate future, Laret said. In San Francisco, as well, the Nancy Friend Pritzker Psychiatric Building will provide new, integrated mental health facilities for children, teens, adults and families when it opens to patients in late 2021. 

Building for the Future 

Mental health hospital services also are slated to grow further in the planned $1 billion Phase 2 construction project at BCH Oakland – one of UCSF’s two most important capital projects in the coming decade, alongside the Parnassus Heights hospital project – as the Oakland hospital creates state-of-the-art facilities to match the medical expertise it offers. The project, which will include a fully renovated Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, will support further recruiting of world-class faculty to new and modern facilities, while enhancing the experience for both our patients and care providers. 

Mark Laret smiling.

Mark R. Laret, UCSF Health’s president and chief executive officer

Looking forward, Cook set a high bar for his vision of the hospitals as they grow.  

"Benioff Children’s Hospitals has the potential to be one of the greatest pediatric health systems in this country if not the world,” he said, but he acknowledged that this is a journey. “We can say we’ve come so far, but we also have a long way to go.” 

The road ahead includes the need to fully address health inequities, and to build on the organization’s role in supporting equal access to health care services for the Bay Area and beyond. They also addressed the need for cultural humility and the steps they are taking to actively recruit faculty and medical staff who better reflect the patients and communities they serve.  

“Our goal is to create an environment where every patient equitably receives the highest quality of care and every employee feels valued,” Laret said, “so they can grow and prosper in a safe environment.”