William D. Petasnick Speech to the American Hospital Association
"When it comes to health care, the only interest that should be special is our patient's interest"
Thank you Kevin for the leadership you have provided this Association during this past year. You have had such a tremendous impact on the entire field, and I now know how Aaron Rogers must feel stepping into Brett Favre's shoes as the next quarterback of the Green Bay Packers!
Your call for action to begin the process towards meaningful health reform has resonated throughout the entire health care community.
Thank you chaplain Ruta for setting today's tone. A timely reminder of why we do what we do and where our inspiration and strength comes from.
And Schlena — thank you for singing our national anthem. You truly have a gift, thanks for sharing it with us today.
Friends, let me start by telling you how deeply honored I am to be your 2008 chair. I am well aware of the quality of individuals who have served in this capacity.
I am humbled because I know what this moment in history is asking of us — to fundamentally, permanently and in the words of Kevin Lofton "transform health care in this country."
This is an incredible honor, especially for someone born and raised in of all places Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Since this is an election year, I offer you two promises, first I will be brief and secondly, I will do all I can to advance our agenda of creating a better system of health and health care for our country.
And what an agenda we have as an Association! We must remain unified and strong when it comes to ensuring hospitals have the resources to meet their missions in today's fragile environment.
And, we must advance our advocacy agenda with energy and confidence and maintain an intense focus on producing the best possible American health care system today.
Like any good Midwesterner, I'm not very complicated. I have four great passions in life.
They are a love of family; college sports; the Green Bay Packers; and the work we do on behalf of our patients and communities.
Let me touch on the first, and end with the last.
I am a very lucky person. I have been fortunate to live the American dream. And, in all honesty, my joy is tempered by the wish that my parents were still alive to share this day with me. Because all that I am is due to their guidance and the examples they set for all of their children.
We were not rich in the material sense, but in every other way we were given so much.
My parents taught us what was important in life — family, good friends, a clear moral compass and purpose, the importance of education, and hard work. In other words, good old fashioned American values.
I've been blessed with a very supportive family. Many of whom are here tonight.
They include my brother Dr. Jerry Petasnick and his wife Barbara. In 1999, my brother was chair of his professional association the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA); my sister Lois and her husband Dr. Earl Nudelman, my brother-in-law Leonard and Robbie Malkin.
And our children are here: Ellen and husband Mike Razoog. Ellen teaches 7th grade and Mike is a management consultant and shares my passion for college sports. My son David and his wife Jen. David is a young health care administrator and Jen is a fulltime mother raising our three very young grandchildren – Sam, Grace and Isabella. And, of course, my wife and best friend Bobbe. We met while attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and this June we will be celebrating our 40th anniversary. Over the years, Bobbe has been a source of inspiration to her family and friends as she has battled breast cancer for six years. Her courage and never ending optimism has always been a source of great strength in my life and I love her dearly. Thank you Bobbe!
I am so pleased that many of my mentors such as Ed Connors, a former chair of the AHA, John Colloton director emeritus of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and many of my professional colleagues and close friends are here.
I am fortunate to work with a very supportive board of directors, a great group of physicians and an outstanding management team.
I am honored that a large contingent is here including Mike Mahoney, board chair of Froedtert Hospital, Richard Becker, chair of our health system board and other key members of our board and senior management team. Tonight is as much their honor as it is mine.
And last and certainly not least, I would like to thank the members of the Wisconsin Hospital Association. A number of years ago I had the privilege of being their chair. And, I have to say it is a special honor to be only the fourth AHA chair from Wisconsin.
Like many of you in this room, my life was shaped by coming of age in the 1960s.
Just like today's young generation being energized by some of today's political leaders calling for change to create a better society, I was inspired by John F. Kennedy's call to public service and touched by the idealism of that era.
Many of us entered the field of health care with that same idealism, a desire to make a difference and commitment to being agents of change.
Frankly, the notion America could not or would not, include health care as a basic right for all of our citizens was something we could not fathom and we would not tolerate for long. Our generation was going to do things differently.
And you know what, my zeal to bring about social change, and to address the serious issues that continue to confront us in health care is even greater today than it was back then.
What's different? I'm older. Have even less hair and hopefully a bit wiser. And, I have come to realize that creating lasting change does not come quickly. Transforming health care will demand more consistent leadership and commitment then ever before.
I find it difficult to accept that although we have had significant technological advances in health care, 40 years later we're still debating the merits of coverage for all, or whether health care is a basic right or entitlement. Just listen to the latest round of political promises!
It's ironic. Some 40 years later the need for us to act as social change agents has never been greater. Yes, the issues are more complex, and the economic and political situations more challenging, but the need for strong leadership has never been so clear.
Vince Lombardi, that legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, once said, "The measure of who we are is what we do when given a chance."
The upcoming election allows us that chance to use the political process to build a powerful coalition to dramatically improve our nation's health and health care.
As a result of our Health for Life framework, we now have the ability to play a major leadership role in forging a broad-based national coalition to bring about meaningful change in the way health care is organized, financed and delivered. Now and in the future.
Our In Pursuit of Excellence initiative is our statement to the field and beyond that we understand that reform must start with us.
By incorporating the Institute of Medicine's Six Aims into our reform agenda, we are sending a message that hospitals are doing more than talking about reform.
We are committed to making health care safer, timely, effective, efficient, equitable and patient focused.
As everyone in this room knows even if we accomplish all of these goals, it will be from within a very broken system.
That's why Health for Life's five reform goals: keeping people well, providing efficient, affordable care, delivering the highest quality of care, making the best information available so patients and care givers can make the best decisions, and finally coverage for all, paid for by all, are important. Real reform cannot begin or succeed without working toward these goals.
But you know something? We have been here before.
In the past century, we've considered overhauling our health system a few times.
Let me ask you a trivial pursuit question: What do Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Bill Clinton all have in common? Two things, beside a hostile congress: One, a failed plan to extend health care to all. Two, an unsuccessful attempt to overhaul a broken system of health care in America.
The upcoming election gives us a chance to do something previous generations have tried but failed to accomplish – to fundamentally make health care better for everyone regardless of race, ZIP code, gender or wealth.
In my opinion, Health for Life represents the best chance in a generation to turn desire into action and action into results.
Shakespeare wrote ... " what's past is prologue." Good advice. So what have we learned from past reform attempts?
For starters that we need to work TOGETHER and we need to LISTEN to one another if we are going to succeed in changing our non system of health care into an efficient and coordinated one.
Last time around in 1993, everyone had their plan, but there was no single plan the American people could rally around.
This time around, things need to be done differently. This time around, we must make the debate about ideas and transparency, not about old dogmas, partisan labels and personal ideologies.
We want Health for Life to be seen as a framework that hospitals, physicians, patients, businesses, and civic and community leaders can enthusiastically support, both practically and politically.
If our framework is to be a catalyst for reform, we must come together in a way we have never done before. Imagine the impact if we could set aside our competitive differences and can speak as one.
Now competition is good in many areas — having the Packers beat the Bears is a very good thing — but in health care it is all too often an obstacle.
The competitive environment we work in creates unnecessary barriers to collaboration and in the end it ultimately makes reform more difficult.
Is reform complicated? Of course or it would have happened long before today.
But ask yourself, do we really believe what we are doing today is sustainable without major change?
Do we really believe we can avoid not coming to grips with the serious and growing health disparities that divide our country?
In this global economy do we believe we can be competitive if we don't lower the cost of health care and create greater value for our patients?
What will happen in the next ten years if we do not tackle the declining health of our citizens as a result of un-healthy lifestyles and preventable, treatable chronic diseases?
And finally, what toll, human and economic, will it take on our nation if more and more of our citizens have no access to affordable health insurance?
In the words of Jerry Garcia self-proclaimed philosopher of the 60s and spokesman of the Grateful Dead — the "somebody has to do something." Well, that somebody is us!
We need to work together to create a health care system that is a source of national pride.
And, as we come together to chart a new and better course, our vision must be clear, our leadership strong, our voice unified.
When it comes to health care, the only interest that should be special is our patient's interest.
And speaking of our patients, I want to leave you with one last thought. One of my greatest passions is the work we do on behalf of our patients.
It's the one constant purpose that everyone in this room shares. It's the one common element that unites us.
One of the benefits of doing what we do is we can see, first hand, how our jobs effect people. Health care is about stories and personal experiences.
I am sure we all have a favorite story or a patient letter that reaffirms why we do what we do. Here is mine.
I recently received a letter from a husband who was stationed in Iraq while his wife was being treated for cancer at Froedtert Hospital. For me, this letter — perhaps because of my wife's own fight with cancer — captured the very essence of what we do each and every day in our hospitals across this country.
I am writing this letter in regard to my wife, Lynda who is being treated in your hospital for cancer. Lynda is a fighter and never gives up. She is a very special person. We know there is a tough fight ahead in the battle against this deadly disease, but with the help of your excellent people, I'm confident of the very best outcome that is available to her. I thank God every day that your hospital is there to help her."
"I thank God every day that your hospital is there to help her."
Think about that. In those few words that soldier captured what our jobs mean, and what our responsibilities are.
For the countless numbers of Lynda's in our nation's hospitals let us never lose the passion for the work we do. Let us join together in unity to turn that passion into better health, and better health care for all Americans.
And as we do let us never forget the words of John F. Kennedy "that on earth, God's work is truly our own."
Author: William D. Petasnick
Date: April 6, 2008
Last Review Date: April 24, 2008
Online Editor(s): Rich Petre