Future Search: Four cases

by Joe Flower


This article originally appeared in The Healthcare Forum Journal, vol. 38 no. 3, May-June 1995.
International Copyright 1995 Joe Flower All Rights Reserved
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Here are four examples of future search conferences used to catalyze change in health care:

Building a Healthy Ocean County, New Jersey, November 1993: Sponsored by the Community Medical Center (CMC), the Jersey Coast Health Planning Council and the Ocean County Health Department, this conference grew out of an nt authorized by the CMC Community Benefit Advisory Board. "One health care facility cannot change the health status of the whole community alone," says CMC’s Debra Levinson. "We wanted a different way of involving the community at large to help make decisions." The original sponsors pulled together a 22-member planning group that included representatives of government agencies (such as the Board of Social Service and local school systems), politicians, members of the media, clergy, and business people, as well as the other three hospitals in the area. In the end, 72 people spent three days together with a facilitator from the National League of Cities. The result: The whole group met for a reunion conference in November of 1994, over 150 people are involved in seven cross-sectoral work groups - and the planning committee continues to meet and help coordinate activities. "We had the fear that no one would want to come," says Levinson. "We wound up having people hear about it on the day of the conference, and demand to know why they weren't invited."

Contact: Debra Levinson, CMC, 908 240 8077

Reducing Infant Mortality in Milwaukee, Wingspread Conference Center, Racine, Wisconsin, March 1994: Backed by a $10,000 grant from the Helen Bader Foundation and 20 co-sponsors, the Wisconsin Division of Health pulled in all the key stakeholders in healthcare, and in dealing with infant mortality, in Milwaukee - including the CEO of the largest HMO, neighborhood leaders, family groups, local and state government officials, the deputy directorMedicaid for the state, the city helath commissioner, and the CEOs of both St. Mary's and Sinai Samaritan, the two largest deliverers of Medicaid prenatal, birth and infant care in the city. "It's a very good way to get going as a group," says Richard Aronson, MD, the state's chief medical officer for maternal and child health. A number of solid results have come out of the conference, including what Aronson calls "unlikely partnerships" that join competitors or get a CEO personally involved with community outreach groups.

Contact: Richard Aronson, MD, Wisconsin Division of Health, 608 266 5818

The Work Setting and the Community: Sisters of Mercy Health System - St. Louis, December 1994: As one step in a major change initiative aimed at renewing an eight-state, 15-institution system, Sisters of Mercy in St. Louis brought together not only system executives, physicians, and board members, but also such stakeholders as government leaders and heads of educational institutions from the areas they served. It was a great success, according to Diane Carter who helped facilitate it, and some parts happened much faster than many such conferences, because success because it was not an isolated event: "The people who came were much better informed, because of the larger process. They understood what was changing. About 20 of the participants had already been involved in community forums or on our task force looking at work issues. They already knew where they were stuck - which came out pretty clearly in the 'prouds and sorries' part."

Contact: Vice President for Human Resources Diane Carter, Sisters of Mercy Health System - St Louis, 314 957 0461

Wellness 2000, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, October 1994: Delaware County has no health department. Under increasing pressure to create one to deal with environmental, health, and social concerns, the county's executive director, Ted Ericson, decided to see what some teamwork could do first. "The question was, what can we do here, countywide, to bring our resources to bear to improve the wellness of the community, to deal with everything from social problems, mental health problems, youth problems, difficulties in the criminal justice system, to the physical well-being of the region, and healthcare? My sense was that if we pulled together, we could focus the existing institutions, without increasing government bureaucracy." At the suggestion of Dr. Sandy Cornelius, the head of Elwyn Inc., an international facility of mental health and mental retardation problems, Ericson brought together a steering committee that included the CEOs from several prominent companies in the area, as well as several hospitals, the regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the county's "president judge." This high-profile group pulled in representatives from labor, the education sector, hospitals, the clergy, business people, county and local elected officials, and representatives of state and federal legislators. Elwyn helped plan the conference and hosted it on their campus. The process brought about a number of concrete results - and it also "brought togethter a number of people who had had severe disagreements," says Ericson, "and allowed them to deal with some of their differences."

Contact: Ted Ericson, county executive director, 610 891 4453

One more resource:

SearchNet (Weisbord's match-making organization) 1-800-951-6333

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