Bernard Tyson, who headed up the giant healthcare organization, Kaiser Permanente, died in his sleep not long after our fascinating, inspiring and educational conversation. He had had heart problems in the past, but his sudden passing at age 60 was still a profound and immensely saddening shock.
As you will conclude from this two-part series, Tyson’s death leaves an enormous void. He acutely recognized and analyzed the problems with today’s healthcare system, and he was pushing forward pioneering programs to not only rectify those problems but also profoundly and sweepingly improve the system. In this first part Tyson was vibrant, stirring and optimistic as he described how he got into the field and the innovative and sweeping measures he was enacting. In the second part, next week, we go into more detail on the things he was pursuing. He was, indeed, a joyful and engaging leader.
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Tyson, who had spent his career with Kaiser Permanente, recognized that direct healthcare didn’t have the biggest impact on the total health of an individual; it was the environment in which a person lived, his diet, exercise, the stresses he experienced in his everyday life, as well as other factors that were crucially important. He called our system today “the fix-me system,” which pushes volume—tests, exams, surgical procedures—over value. He chafed at the “stovepipes” or silos that characterize most institutions, where labs, X-rays, specialists, etc. never seem to communicate. Tyson’s agenda included the creation of a truly integrated healthcare system, “where information flows freely,” breaking down internal barriers.
He pushed community initiatives to make preventive practices a reality for more and more people. He believed in helpful follow-through when patients are discharged from the hospital.
Tyson was also adamant about removing the stigma that is still attached to mental health. It’s time, he said, “to reconnect the head to the body,” and he enacted reforms to do just that.
The system Tyson headed is immense, with over 12 million insured members, more than 200,000 employees and $80 billion-plus in revenues.
But, as you will hear, Tyson learned early on that numbers represent unique individuals. His mission was “leading the way to equity of care.”