Kerri Ruppert Schiller was getting ready to present CHOC’s latest financials at a virtual leadership meeting when her husband, Andrew, burst into her home office.
“The hill’s on fire!” he yelled.
Kerri remained cool, as usual, as the Coastal Fire, which broke out a couple of miles from her Laguna Niguel home on the afternoon of May 11, 2022, raged on.
“If it gets worse,” she told her husband, “come get me.”
Sadly, the fire went on to destroy 20 homes and damage another 11.
No one was hurt and, fortunately, the Schillers’ home was never seriously threatened.
The episode illustrates the clear-headed focus Kerri has exercised at CHOC since she joined the hospital 25 years ago when it was facing a potential crisis of its own.
She had worked at two for-profit healthcare institutions before joining CHOC as its senior vice president and chief financial officer in 1998, when the hospital suffered its largest operating loss in history at $19 million.
“I came in knowing it was a turnaround,” Kerri recalls.
By the end of the fiscal year ended June 30, 2000, CHOC had an operating profit of $4.9 million.
A steady hand
Kerri, who today is CHOC’s executive VP and CFO, led the turnaround through tighter financial controls, renegotiated contracts with payors and medical groups, stronger alignment with community physicians and network providers and other various strategic initiatives.
And in 2004, under her leadership, CHOC obtained an A+ credit bond rating from both Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s, two nationally recognized credit rating organizations. It was CHOC’s first standalone rating after years of piggybacking off its bank.
Today, as CHOC moves ahead on its Enterprise Master Plan to grow into one of the nation’s leading pediatric healthcare systems, Kerri continues to exercise the sound fiscal prudence and savvy judgment that has guided the growth of the enterprise ever since her arrival.
She currently oversees the financial, investment and real estate activities of Children’s HealthCare of California, the non-profit parent corporation of CHOC, and its affiliates.
In addition to financial and accounting functions for all CHOC entities, Kerri and her team – which includes vice president of finance Bill Rohde, vice president of revenue cycle Ken Baxter, and vice president and chief information officer John Henderson – also is responsible for insurance, managed care and risk contracting; information systems and technology; and revenue cycle.
“When I joined CHOC,” Kerri recalls, “one of our board members asked if I would commit to staying five years. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I’ll commit to staying three.’
“And all of the sudden one day, 10 years had passed.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to do this long term, but I knew I could make a difference at CHOC.
“And I believe I have. I think part of the reason I have stayed is the challenge and the mission of CHOC, and knowing that I’m actually leaving something better than when I got here. That’s satisfying. I grew up in this county, and it meant something to me to see CHOC’s growth.
A change in direction
Kerri grew up one of seven kids in a Catholic household.
Born in Wisconsin, her family relocated to Fullerton when she was 5 and then to the Yorba Linda/Placentia area when she was 9.
Kerri attended Rosary High School and then California State University, Fullerton.
She began at CSUF as a chemical engineering major while working at a small high-tech engineering firm that did business with defense contractors such as Lockheed and McDonald Douglas.
“They told jokes I didn’t get,” Kerri recalls. “They were all rocket scientists. I thought this was what I wanted to do.”
But during a physics class her junior year, Kerry thought: “What am I going to do with this?”
She recalled enjoying an AP accounting class she took at Rosary High, and thought: “I could see myself doing that.”
So she changed her major to accounting.
“I think numbers tell a different story for me,” Kerri says. “I can look at them and tell a story about it. You either get them or you don’t.”
After graduating from CSUF in 1982, Kerri was hired as a controller of the engineering firm she worked for during college.
After working for the accounting firm Arthur Anderson, she then landed her first management job at Maxicare Health Plans, Inc. (NASDAQ) as assistant controller.
After five years, Kerri joined the national for-profit corporation Comprehensive Care Corp. (NYSE) which owns, operates, and manages free-standing hospital facilities and in-hospital programs as well as HMO activities in multiple states.
Her last position after working for Comprehensive Care for nine years was senior vice president and CFO.
Then Kerri joined CHOC.
During Kerri’s first 10 years as CFO, total revenue at CHOC increased about 215 percent, and the hospital’s market share increased to 68 percent, from 58 percent, in the five-year period ended 2008.
“I actually think some of my most challenging years were coming out of the turnaround and managing the growth, managing how fast and what we should be investing in next,” she says.
Today, CHOC is rated AA- at a time when most hospitals aren’t doing well, and its market share is 85.3 percent.
“When you look at our consistent growth and focusing on what we need to do for our patients and families, I believe we have excelled,” Kerri says. “We’ve been able to do this by aligning with our physicians, which has been key, and investing in our workforce and programs.”
Big CSUF supporter
Kerri said she was caught by surprise when she reached her 25-year milestone at CHOC.
Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, CHOC’s president and chief executive officer, mentioned it in a chat during medical staff virtual town hall.
“I guess I wasn’t tracking on that,” Kerri said with a laugh.
Kerri is married to Andy Schiller, an independent roofing contractor. They have two children: Hailey, 31, who sells vintage clothing online, and Brett, 30, an environmental biologist.
Kerri sits on the board of a non-profit religious organization Andy founded in 2016, Mentor Up, a ministry with six chapters in Southern California that pairs fatherless boys with adult male mentors.
She enjoys wine-tasting excursions with her husband and morning runs.
She also likes to read “terrible” murder mysteries.
“I roll over and go to sleep,” Kerri says. “It’s what shuts my mind off.”
Kerri remains a big supporter of her alma mater. She’s a two-time chair of CSUF’s philanthropic foundation, particularly for scholarships and advancing the school of business and the school of nursing.
She has served on the board of directors of both the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and National Association of Children’s Hospitals and related institutions.
Kerri credits her strong group of vice presidents at CHOC and other members on her team for keeping the healthcare institution on a solid financial path, despite the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s always work to be done,” she says. “There are times when I think, ‘Gosh, do I really have to keep working this hard? But it’s kind of what I do.”
She adds: “I have had the opportunity to work with very talented people, and our passion for CHOC is what keeps us together.”