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Meet North County Stewards: Max Villalobos, Kaiser Permanente

San Marcos Medical Center nears completion; community hospital for all

Max Villalobos is a problem-solver. Sometimes he jokes that he will put this title on his business card, instead of Chief Operating Officer for Kaiser Permanente in North County San Diego.  

“I may have the title of COO, but my role really is to solve problems,” said Villalobos. “I work with people who are phenomenal, who change lives, who save lives, and I am proud to say that my team and I are their support system. That’s what gets me up each day, so those individuals can feel proud about the care they’re providing and the impact they make on people’s lives every day.” 

A New Medical Center

These days, Villalobos and his team are solving problems directly related to the opening of the new Kaiser Permanente San Marcos Medical Center. Nearing completion, Villalobos expects to receive the keys to the finished facility in early April 2023, but the project doesn’t end there.

Over the following 4-5 months, the new hospital will need to hire about 700 employees, 450 of those nursing professionals alone. 

“We’re very fortunate – San Diego County is an amazing place for healthcare,” said Villalobos. “We have tremendous healthcare providers in San Diego. Kaiser Permanente is one of those, but it also creates challenges in terms of recruitment. We’re all vying for the same resource. Opening a new hospital and needing to hire 700 people is a big challenge.”

Bringing the Hospital to Life

Villalobos calls this stage of planning “bringing the hospital to life. The heart of that medical center is the people.” At this point, Villalobos and his team primarily plan for recruitment, retention, staff training, and obtaining equipment and supplies. The hospital is projected to open its doors for its first patient in late summer or early fall.

Max Villalobos is the COO of Kaiser Permanente, which opened a new San Marcos Medical Center. Courtesy photo
Max Villalobos is the COO of Kaiser Permanente, which opened a new San Marcos Medical Center. Courtesy photo

“This project is a passion for me. I was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to come here to be involved in the planning, approval, design, building, and now bringing it to life,” said Villalobos. 

“[Kaiser Permanente] purchased the land and got the master plan approved by the City of San Marcos 30 years ago, in 1992. To see that plan come to fruition and for me to be a small part of it is what I’m really excited about. For the next 50+ years, the whole 78 Corridor will be served by another top-notch hospital.” 

Building Hospitals and Moving Regions

This is not the first time that Villalobos has been involved in a major hospital expansion or the opening of a new hospital. In fact, Kaiser Permanente’s San Marcos Medical Center is his fifth major build project over his 27-year career.

Most of Villalobos’ career was spent in Northern California where he was the administrator of what became Kaiser Permanente’s first trauma center in Sacramento. Later, he moved to Napa where he helped open Kaiser Permanente’s second trauma center in Vacaville and another hospital in Vallejo. 

After 19 years in Northern California, it was time for a move. Villalobos and his wife both grew up in Southern California, so they moved back to the region to be close to and support their family. 

“That’s the great thing about our company. I was able to then look for an opportunity within our company, and they were very accommodating,” said Villalobos. “It met our family’s needs, and professionally, it gave me an opportunity to use my skill, experience, and knowledge of our company. [Moving here] has been one of the best personal and professional decisions that we’ve made as a family.”

North County is Home

Personally, it’s the people in North County that have enriched the Villalobos’ lives. “It always comes down to the people. San Diego is so big and so vast, but I love each of the communities that we get the privilege of engaging with across the 78 Corridor.” 

Kaiser Permanente’s San Marcos Medical Center is Max Villalobos' fifth major build project over his 27-year career. Courtesy photo
Kaiser Permanente’s San Marcos Medical Center is Max Villalobos’ fifth major build project over his 27-year career. Courtesy photo

“San Diego has not only become our home, but it feels like it has been, all along,” he said. Being able to surf and ride bikes along the picturesque North County beaches is just the icing on the cake for them.

Professionally, Villalobos assisted in opening the Clairemont Mesa San Diego Medical Center right after his move to North County. From that project, the planning team walked away with 1,400 lines of learnings that they are now able to apply to their current project.

“Technology and construction methods are always evolving,” said Villalobos. “When I say that we’re going to have a state-of-the-art, top-notch, world-class hospital in San Marcos, it’s not an exaggeration. Much of that is tied to our organization, how many hospitals we have built, the technology used, and the learnings we’ve acquired.”

San Marcos Medical Center for Everyone

One of those learnings is not everyone knows that anyone can receive care at a Kaiser Permanente hospital, regardless of their insurance provider. “If someone isn’t a Kaiser Permanente member and the San Marcos Fire Department brings them to our hospital, they will get superb care,” said Villalobos. “This hospital will serve this community for the next 50+ years, ALL of this community.”

According to Villalobos, around 20% of emergency department patients at other Kaiser Permanente hospitals aren’t member patients. “My excitement about what we will be able to do to serve the North County community goes way beyond Kaiser Permanente,” he said. “We are a community hospital that is primarily established to serve Kaiser Permanente patients and to serve others based on their needs in the moment.”

“Meet North County Stewards” is a writing series produced by Caitlyn Canby for the San Diego North Economic Development Council, a multijurisdictional economic development organization. To learn more about SDNEDC and opportunities for investing, contact CEO Erik Bruvold.

If you would like your company featured in “Meet North County Stewards,” or if you’d like to nominate someone for an interview, click this link to submit your nomination!