George Halvorson Says Pay Attention!
George C. Halvorson is chairman and chief executive officer of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, headquartered in Oakland, California. Kaiser Permanente is the nation’s largest nonprofit health plan and hospital system, serving more than 8.6 million members and generating $40 billion in annual revenue.
George Halvorson serves on the Institute of Medicine Task Force on Evidence Based Care and the Commonwealth Commission for a High Performing Health System. He serves on the American Hospital Association’s Advisory Committee on Health Care Reform. He chairs the World Economic Conference Health Governors for 2009 and chairs the International Federation of Health Plans. He has received the Modern Healthcare/Health Information and Management Systems Society CEO IT Achievement Award. The Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange also awarded him the 2009 Louis Sullivan Award for leadership and achievements in advancing health care quality.
Halvorson has written several health care reform books, including the newly released Health Care Will Not Reform Itself: A User’s Guide to Refocusing and Reforming American Health Care. He also wrote Health Care Reform Now!, Health Care Co-ops in Uganda, Strong Medicine, and Epidemic of Care as guidebooks for health care reform.
Halvorson served as an advisor to the governments of Uganda, Great Britain, Jamaica, and Russia on issues of health policy and financing. His strong commitment to diversity and inter-ethnic healing has led him to his current writing project, a new book about racial prejudice around the world.
Prior to joining Kaiser Permanente, Halvorson was president and chief executive officer of HealthPartners, headquartered in Minneapolis. With more than 30 years of health care management experience, he has also held several senior management positions with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.
Question: What is some advice you have for CEOs?
George Halvorson: A couple of pieces of advice. One is, pay attention, understand very, very clearly what is happening, in your environment and in our organization. Don’t work out of theory, or past practice, or history, but have a really clear sense of what is actually happening right now and make sure that if there are any barriers to the truth getting to you that you knock them down, or get them out of the way. So, that’s one step.
The second thing is you should always be looking out to the horizon. You should be looking out over the horizon and have a three to five year planning horizon and know that if things go well, here’s where we want to be five years from now. And to get there, here are the things we have to do in four years, three years, two years. And then build your agenda around that, and don’t build it around being responsive to the crisis of now. You have to deal with the crisis of now. The crisis of now is now. And so that has to be dealt with, but if you are dealing with the crisis of now and you know where you want to be in five years from now, you may go this way instead of that way to get around it. And that’s critically important.
So, yeah, you need to understand where you are going and you need to pay attention. So, if I were giving people advice, those would be the two pieces of advice I would give.
Recorded on: September 21, 2009
The head of Kaiser Permanente offers up advice to fellow CEOs.
A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
- The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
- The debt forgiveness program is one part of a larger program to make higher education more accessible.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
In most states, LGBTQ Americans have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace.
- The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
- The court, which currently has a probable conservative majority, will likely decide on the cases in 2020.
- Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws effectively extending the Civil Rights of 1964 to gay and transgender people.
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