Brandon Pace is Kaiser Northern California’s chief operating officer. (Photos by Terence Duffy)

Young Professionals: Brandon Pace

Meet the emerging leaders who envision a bright future for the Capital Region

Back Article Jun 10, 2024 By Marybeth Bizjak

Brandon Pace

COO, Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento

This story is part of our June 2024 issue. To subscribe, click here.

Growing up in rural Alabama, Brandon Pace idolized his grandfather, a popular guy with a fourth-grade education who in the 1970s turned a school bus into a convenience store on wheels to service his community. His grandfather ended up as the role model and inspiration for Pace, who now serves the greater Sacramento community as chief operating officer for Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center.

Looking for a career with stability, Pace became a nurse, working at the hospital in his small hometown. After getting a master’s in nursing administration, he moved to Gadsden, Alabama, and got a job as a risk and patient safety manager, his first foray into hospital operations. But by his mid-20s, he had reached a turning point in his career: As an openly gay man, he knew he would face big obstacles in Alabama’s conservative climate. So he headed to California, taking a contract job with Kaiser Permanente in Vacaville and Vallejo. Kaiser quickly hired him full time, and within 11 years he rose through the leadership ranks from manager to COO. At 39, he is Kaiser Northern California’s youngest chief operating officer.

 “Nurses are innately phenomenal leaders and problem solvers. They’re well-equipped to lead operations at the highest level.” 

The boyish-looking Pace works from a humble ground-floor office on the sprawling Kaiser South Sac campus, which includes a 241-bed medical center, a Level II trauma center and one of the five busiest emergency departments in the state, serving more than 230,000 Kaiser members. As COO, he is responsible for patient flow and “throughput” — the movement of patients from arrival to discharge — and of keeping more than 5,000 employees and 600 physicians safe, happy and engaged.

Pace is often on the move, roaming the campus to check on construction projects, making rounds with medical teams or heading to staff meetings. He calls it “going to Gemba,” a management term that refers to “seeing where the work is actually done.” (It’s based on the Japanese word genba, meaning “the real place” and referring to the factory floor in the Toyota production system.)  “I put a lot of miles on these shoes here,” he says, pointing to his loafer-clad feet.

Pace has overseen a number of projects in his two years as COO, most notably a 42-bed expansion of the emergency department that was completed in January, and security enhancements on campus. “Violence against health care workers keeps me up at night,” he explains. To help heal workers depleted by the pandemic, he converted unused rooms and offices to “caritas,” or caring spaces with massage chairs where employees can relax and unwind. Right now, he’s managing projects to add 34 hospital beds on the fifth floor and a second-floor observatory area. “The hospital is always working on improvement,” he says.

Brandon Pace stands on the patio of La Cosecha in Cesar Chavez Park.

Nurse-to-COO isn’t the typical career path for a hospital administrator. Hospital chief operating officers tend to come from a facilities background. But Pace believes that nurses like himself bring the right stuff to running the complex operations of a bustling medical center like Kaiser South Sac. 

“Nurses are innately phenomenal leaders and problem solvers,” he explains. “They’re well-equipped to lead operations at the highest level.” Does he ever miss bedside nursing? Sometimes, but he gets his fix by going on rounds and bringing patients in to advise him. While he loved taking care of patients and their families, he realized he could have a bigger impact by improving the systems and processes that affect them.

Pace describes himself as a servant leader who is quiet and introverted by nature. “But when I put my COO hat on, I’m a people person,” he says. “I guess I get that from my grandfather. I like building relationships.”

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