Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Film Documentary-- From the Heart: Healthcare Transformation from India to the Cayman Islands

At the end of this blog is a link to an inspiring film documentary. If you'd rather skip the background described in the blog, feel free to scroll directly to the bottom of the page.

In the spring of 2008, I was coming to the end of a four-year commitment as CIO and chief architect of the enterprise data warehouse at Northwestern University's school of medicine, and contemplating my next career move. President Obama had recently been elected, campaigning on a firm commitment to reform US healthcare. While the reform process took place, I thought it would be a good idea to learn from the healthcare system in another country. I had a long-term relationship as an advisor and guest speaker in the Canadian health care system, so finding a position in Canada was my first inclination.

About 2 AM on a Sunday morning, I was organizing my to-do list for the week when an email arrived in my inbox from a headhunter who I rarely communicated with. In the subject line of his email was “Cayman Islands CIO.” I opened the email. In it, the headhunter wrote, “I don't represent this client, but you are the first person I thought of when I saw this posted.”  In the body of the email was a URL to a Craig’s List posting. I paused for a moment and wondered, “If I clicked on this link, is it going to drain my bank account?” I went ahead and clicked on the link. I was happy to find out that the link was valid and there was a job posting for the CIO position in the national health system, known as the Health Services Authority, of the Cayman Islands. I was very intrigued by the possibility, even though I was predisposed to the Canadian system. My resume and cover letter were up-to-date, thanks to my interactions in Canada, so on Tuesday, I quickly made a few changes and responded to the posting.

On Wednesday morning, the human resources director at the Health Services Authority contacted me through email. His name was Ronnye Etcitty, which is a common surname among Navajo Native Americans that I grew up with in southwestern Colorado. I thought that to be an unusual coincidence, but nothing more. Ronnye and I spoke on the phone that afternoon and I mentioned to him that the Etcitty name was common in the area of my upbringing. He laughed and said, “It’s common in the area of my upbringing, too—Tuba City, Arizona.” We immediately connected at a personal level on our common background. The coincidence seemed serendipitous. We made plans for me to fly down to the Cayman Islands and interview for the job. My wife and I flew down on Thursday, I interviewed on Friday, we stayed through the weekend, flew back on Monday, they made an offer on Tuesday, and we accepted the offer on Thursday. I served as CIO for three years and as a consultant for a fourth year. It was, up to that point, the most rewarding personal and professional experience of my life. The people of the Cayman Islands and my teammates at the Health Services Authority welcomed me with warmth that remains to this day. The fondness and appreciation that I have for them will last the rest of my life.

In addition to the cultural fulfillment of working in the Cayman Islands, the leadership team at the Health Services Authority, as well as the Board of Directors, were selflessly dedicated to challenging the status quo of healthcare in ways that my colleagues in the US would not entertain. The CEO of the Health Services Authority, Lizzette Yearwood is, to this day, the best all around and natural leader that I've ever seen or worked for, and if you know my background, I've been around some of the best leaders in government, military, and private industry.

About six months after I arrived in the fall of 2009, Dr. Devi Shetty and his team from Narayana Health System in India approached the government of the Cayman Islands with the idea of building a 2000 bed hospital, medical school, and long-term care facility in the Cayman Islands, in anticipation of the need for higher quality care and lower costs in the Western Hemisphere, particularly the US. I was familiar with Dr. Shetty and his work, through articles in the Wall Street Journal and other magazines. In particular, I remembered him being referred to as the “Henry Ford of healthcare” and Mother Theresa's cardiologist.

In the fall of 2010, I had the opportunity meet Dr. Shetty in person when we participated on a panel together for the Cayman Islands international healthcare conference.  He is, of course, a world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon. I expected that from what I had read about him. What I did not expect was an immediate sense of deep spirituality that surrounded him. It was immediately obvious that I was in the presence of a very, very unique human being. At the conclusion of our panel session, I leaned over to him and with sincerity, whispered into his ear, “Someday, you will win the Nobel Prize for medicine.” He laughed and humbly demurred.  If he doesn't win the Nobel Prize, it will be an unfortunate omission.

Fast-forward to the spring of 2014. Dr. Shetty and his team, in collaboration with the Cayman Islands government, Ascension Health in the US, and Gene Thompson, a prominent businessman in the Cayman Islands, opened the doors on the first phase of the project-- a 200 bed hospital, specializing in cardiothoracic and orthopedic surgery, constructed on the East End of Grand Cayman Island.

There is nothing about this documentary, nothing about what Dr. Shetty has achieved or Gene Thompson has sponsored, that cannot be replicated in the United States.  The population of the Cayman Islands is less than 50,000 people.  The per capita income is almost exactly the same as the United States.  They are geographically isolated, sitting on the edge of a 25,000 ft deep underwater canyon, making all forms of commerce, including electronic, an enormous challenge.  They have no direct taxation to support basic healthcare, much less innovative healthcare, and yet they are doing both. 

Health Catalyst funded, produced, and directed this documentary because we feel it is important to tell the story of Dr. Shetty's commitment to affordable, high-quality health care, as well as the courage to support his initiative on behalf of the people, the government, and the business leadership of the Cayman Islands. We have no financial relationship and stand nothing to gain by sponsoring this documentary. We simply believe it is a story that must be told, in hopes that it will stir a role model following in the US and throughout the world.

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