Mary Rotunno took an interest in healthcare, particularly nursing, when she was very young—she got her first experience as a candy striper in high school. After completing her bachelor’s degree in nursing, Rotunno worked as a pediatric nurse and then as a traveling nurse, which exposed her to a variety of hospitals and regions.
“My time traveling was very important because it was early in my career, giving me the opportunity to work in different places and have different leadership roles at hospitals on a temporary basis,” Rotunno reflects. “I had to figure out the culture of the group that I was working with while leading and figuring out how to influence and make an impact quickly.”
Shortly thereafter, Rotunno again felt a pull toward advancing her education. She originally planned to go back to school for a master’s in pediatric oncology, but the job market for clinical specialists at the time was not optimal. So she considered a different route: law school. She attended the University of California, Hastings College of Law and joined Pillsbury Madison & Sutro upon graduation, where she practiced commercial, environmental, and employment litigation. However, her nursing background made her the perfect fit in healthcare, where she decided to build her career.
“I think my experience as a clinician has helped me understand patients’ perspectives,” Rotunno says. “Working as a nurse, you work directly with the patients every day and really understand how healthcare impacts patients on a direct and daily basis. I try to bring that patient perspective to the healthcare boards that I serve on and in my role as general counsel, as well.”
Rotunno was recruited to an in-house regulatory position by her healthcare client, nursing home operator Beverly Enterprises. This career move required relocation to Fort Smith, Arkansas from San Francisco. “I think a lot of people are resistant to change, and that holds people back,” she says. “I would advise young professionals to be open to moving to a geographic area that you’re not particularly interested in, for the right opportunity, which is what happened to me in Arkansas. It was there that I transitioned my career from litigation to healthcare.”
Mary Rotunno ultimately returned to the Bay Area and joined Dignity Health as senior counsel and client service leader, serving as regional counsel for multiple Bay Area hospitals. During her tenure at Dignity, she founded the Medical Legal Clinic through St. Mary’s Medical Center. The clinic addresses social determinants of health and provides legal counselling for low-income patients whose health was at risk as they faced legal issues such as substandard housing, eviction, disability rights, and employment discrimination.
In 2014, Rotunno joined El Camino Health as general counsel and a member of the executive leadership team, where she currently sits. “I really enjoy supporting and advancing health system strategy,” Rotunno explains.
In 2019, Mary Rotunno continued that strategic mindset and joined the board of Momentum for Health and became its board chair in 2020. Momentum for Health is one of the largest providers of mental health services in California’s Santa Clara County. The organization focuses on a seamless delivery of comprehensive behavioral health services that are accessible, integrated, effective, and engaging, in order to provide the best treatment possible for patients.
As board chair, she led the Momentum Board in approving a new strategic plan and influenced a strategic merger with a specialized residential program for pregnant women and mothers of young children to enhance Momentum’s addiction treatment services for the community.
Additionally, she is an active board and audit committee member for public pharmaceutical company Vistagen Therapeutics Inc., which develops potential new-generation pharmaceutical treatments for depression and anxiety. Rotunno is also board member for SaNOtize Research and Development Corporation, which is commercializing nitric oxide as an anti-infective and has developed a nasal spray to prevent and treat COVID-19.
Mary Rotunno is able to bring her wide range of healthcare leadership experience and her patient-oriented perspective to the governance level through her diverse board service, where she has greater impact on advancing health and wellness.
“Through my board roles, I have the ability to influence healthcare more broadly in three different settings versus working in my executive role at one company and in one geographic location,” she says.