Howard Dean: Keynote Speaker CXO Healthcare Meeting July 2013

Howard Dean:  MD, initial frontrunner for 2004 election, former Democratic National Committee Chairman, former governor of Vermont, currently serves on board of Extendicare and considering run in 2016.

My first and earliest impressions of him…perhaps not good and lacking positivity, which I was able to share directly with him. He was generous with his conversation and willing to accept my impression, for I willingly shared it with him regardless of whether he wanted to hear it.

But transparency, for the most part, serves me well. And when someone identifies a shortcoming – and a long-ago press moment (the Dean Scream gaffe)  – one has no choice but to nod, to accept and own it. Which he did, and for which he was gracious.

I spent 20 years in Washington: 10 years living there, and another 10 years commuting as a fundraising expert and public relations consultant for not-for-profits, and political candidates; organizations hanging on a precipice of time when Washington was flush with money and time was supplementary, and one could control it by stepping on it and giving it pause. Fundraising was plentiful and time was everywhere; wasting a day meant no harm because you could get it back in the next one.

Washington… I went there because I was starry eyed, probably less about making change, but I liked the power and the adrenaline, the impact a politician could have with (or without) conviction. I went there because it had meaning, or I had meaning, inside the cupcake of the beltway where power collides with do-gooders. Where do-gooders can be considered progressives–outsiders who eventfully are swallowed into the funnel of the polarizing city and leak out the bottom. Mostly, a do-gooder doesn’t survive in Washington because they do not last.

Howard Dean, I would not tag as a do-gooder or any type of crusader. And, as we all do, we evolve into the maturity of regret over things we’ve said or done. But Dean was sharp, and crisp, and edgy at the recent CXO (healthcare) Summit where healthcare leaders come from across the country to understand the blight of an industry that goes ever-changing before us without warning, and when time runs over you if you haven’t budgeted the cuts or strategically figured how to overcome the demise of an industry which seems to have forgotten the baby boomers heading steam-engine right for us. And the sick get sicker, and the world gets smaller, and the need is often hard to fit into a DRG, an MCO or a care continuum because sickness is personal. And who takes care of the accompanying fear of the consumer-patient who does not control his or her destiny? The provider does, and the doctor tells them what to do and what they need. The question is, ultimately, who has control.

So Howard Dean is a doctor, a physician, and what he did at the conference was give us a critical insight into the interiors of a broken Washington. A Washington that doesn’t know it’s broken, with 65 percent thinking the overall climate is good while that number on the outside of the cupcake is a meager 35 percent.

I know. I lived there. I remember being on top of the world, and I recall the intellectual encounters where we knew what ‘should be’ and had all the answers if only this bill had this many votes, or that bill could just simply get out of committee, or that organization could impact global trade. And it’s not that things don’t happen over time – albeit too much time and with too much leniency of real issue discussion, or watered-down approval, so the collaborative process can take place. What’s so great about the collaborative process if it doesn’t amount to anything?

So Dean gave examples of a broken city and Obama Care with its thousand holes. He was funny and interesting, and even riveting, with an honesty for which I had grown skeptical in the political world I had fled so long ago because impact was slow and impossible.

But perhaps I was wrong because honesty in politics can happen. Relevancy can elicit change, and maybe it’s time for ardor and rigor again in the realm of standing up for what is not happening. Maybe it’s time for the emphasis of control to shift away from where CMS is king and we are trying to pick up its robe, and there are too many corners, and it drags across a continent with self-imposed rule. Maybe it’s time for a few great leaders, and a vision, and strategy. And then, collaborative people will follow.

So now, as a Signature HealthCARE change agent, I am/we are back in the game. A game we will return to because it’s time. And revolution is a fight for good. Not in an altruistic sense, or even a progressive sense, but in the realm of what is best for the person, intersected with the corporate sector as its care giver, trying to create care where care is supposed to be value driven, but where care may paradoxically wane because even the government isn’t willing to pay for the lost and old, or their legacy.

Last thought…

So I had judged Howard Dean with the satisfaction of knowing him as he was depicted long ago in the press and for his stint as governor of Vermont. For I believe in the industry and corporate side of socialization, for the creativity of idea operationalized into a business, and the power of a profit. I am for this, for job creation, and the employment of hope which is edifying to the man or woman who works while seeking purpose within.

But Howard Dean had much to add to the conversation regardless of my impeded judgments. So we clipped them off and Joe and I spoke to him, and we learned from him, and chose to listen – and it felt like the Washington I went to, not the one I had left. And I became relevant again, and got back in the game.

A revolution of thought and of actions, for without both, there is no visionary change.

Dianne H. Timmering, MBA, MFA, CAN