It all started in southeastern Kentucky for Ann Sparkman.
The retiring chief medical center counsel and deputy campus counsel for health affairs at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), some 2,384 miles away from her hometown of Lexington, Kentucky—says her journey in healthcare dates back to her grandmother, a midwife in rural Appalachia. She would venture from home to home by horse, delivering babies of the mountainous area’s residents.
“I remember asking my grandmother how she was paid for her services during the Great Depression,” Sparkman recalls. (“In the form of poultry, produce, or promises,” her grandmother, Grace Sparkman, told her.) “She just made it work. That kind of mentality and dedication was my introduction to medicine, and it has really stayed with me.”
Now a retiring attorney, Sparkman initially thought nursing was her calling. While working as an infection control nurse, Sparkman attended law school at night and came out on the other side as a full-fledged nurse attorney. While it was decades ago, her time as a frontline worker provided countless opportunities for insight into the field many other healthcare lawyers simply haven’t had.
Ann Sparkman worked as an infection control nurse at Kaiser Oakland during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, a time when no one really knew what the virus was, let alone how to treat it. San Francisco, a city with a thriving gay community, was decimated by the epidemic. Sparkman never thought she’d see anything like it again in history. Then 2020 arrived.
“COVID-19 seemed to bring my career full-circle,” Sparkman says. “It was another situation where we didn’t know what it was or how to treat it, and you saw the community pulling together. In my case, it involved helping organizations solve complex healthcare law issues and finding ways to help enable our physicians and frontline workers to keep them safe and do their best work. I have such enormous respect for our physicians and, especially, our nurses.”
Two epidemics may seem difficult to tolerate as bookends to a career, but Sparkman’s own evolution in the healthcare law space in the interim has impacted UCSF for the better part of sixteen years. The lawyer has helped the public academic research and medical center compete with its privately funded counterparts at a truly elite level.
Sparkman reflects on the enormous growth that occurred since 2014, when UCSF began expanding as a health system, looping in affiliates such as UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California, and MarinHealth. The extended network improved patient care by allowing local residents to see UCSF physicians for specialty care in their own community.
“Our expansion has improved access and quality in patient care,” she says. “There are complex regulatory and legal issues to enable these transactions, but it’s incredibly fulfilling to know that I’m able to help people from my position.”
Additionally, Ann Sparkman, an elected member of the Marin Healthcare District Board, has served as chair, vicechair, and secretary, as well as chair of the Lease and Building Committee. The Marin Healthcare District (MHD) owns MarinHealth Medical Center (formerly known as Marin General Hospital). MHD provides oversight of significant hospital transactions, hospital board appointments, and the hospital’s performance goals, while advocating for high-quality hospital care and addressing community health care issues.
In the last year, Sparkman mentored health sciences counsel Alexander Peña to prepare him for elevated responsibilities and share her wisdom. She spoke so glowingly of him, that when Peña called her during her interview, she conferenced him in.
“I’ve been under Ann’s leadership for the last year, but you have to understand she was the inspiration for my coming here in the first place,” Peña says. “I had had such strong mentorship in my previous role, and I was hesitant anyone else could fill that void. But in one conversation, I recognized Ann as a seasoned healthcare attorney and as passionate about healthcare as I am. You just don’t see it very often, and it made me want to join the organization.”
“That’s kind of you to say, but you know I feel the same way, Alexander,” Sparkman replies. “I can’t say enough good things about Alex. He’s great with our clients and has an incredible career ahead of him.”
It’s a bittersweet time. The lawyer will miss her daily interactions. Whether aiding physician betterment through UCSF Medical Center Medical Staff’s Wellbeing committee; participating in Medical Staff investigations; assisting with California Department of Public Health (CDPH), CMS, and pharmacy surveys; or just the day-to-day multitude of healthcare law issues.
However, Ann Sparkman is looking forward to joining the UC Master Gardener program in retirement, continuing her Marin Healthcare District Board work, and devoting time to animal rescue. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be part of UCSF,” she says. “In one way or another, I think I’ll always maintain a connection to this remarkable institution and people. I think its best years are still ahead of it.”
Since 1987, Hooper, Lundy & Bookman’s primary focus has been to guide and support health care providers and suppliers in our shared mission to create and maintain a viable and effective health care system. With clients in all fifty states, we meet the legal and government relations needs of health care providers across the country.