Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Don Berwick could be governor

Don Berwick formally announced his candidacy for Governor of Massachusetts this past week.  As they are wont to do, the local press often first described him as a pediatrician and member of the faculty of Harvard Medical School.  While those things are true, most of the country knows Don as the former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Those of us in the health care world, though, know him best as the author of the speech and booklet entitled Escape Fire, conceived and delivered when he was CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

In this piece, Don masterfully weaves the story of the 1949 forest fire in Mann Gulch Montana with the experience of his wife's illness and danger-laden travels through the health care system.

Here's Don's narration, as related in an article by Dan Munro:

In 1949 a forest fire broke out in Mann Gulch Montana. Smokejumpers were parachuted in – a team of 15 headed by a foreman named Wag Dodge. The fire exploded – it was moving over 600 feet a minute – faster than most people can ever run and so 15 firefighters were trapped. Wag Dodge had an idea. He knew that they would lose the race back to the top of the ridge so he suddenly stopped. He lit a match and he lit a fire at his own feet. The fire spread around him. I imagine the other smokejumpers thought the guy was crazy. But his idea was this. If I burn the fuel around me – then when the fire comes and overtakes me – I’m safe – I’ll be in what came to be known as an escape fire. 

He tried to get the other smokejumpers to join him and nobody did. The fire overtook the crew killing 13 men and burning 3,200 acres. Wag Dodge survived nearly unharmed in his escape fire. It is just tragic to think of the answer being there but just in the moment not able to see it. That’s how embedded people come in the status quo. They can’t recognize an invention when it’s among them and they can’t give up their old habits. We’re in Mann Gulch. Healthcare is headed for really, really bad trouble. The answer is among us. Can we please stop and think and make sense of the situation and get our way out of it. It’s the same challenge.

As citizens of Massachusetts, we are indeed fortunate when a person of Don's caliber and his family put themselves forward into the belligerent arena of state politics.  Knowing him and his wife, I am sure they will enjoy the experience of learning the concerns, ideas, and suggestions of the thousands of people they will meet during the campaign.  Whatever the result of the election, we owe them a debt of gratitude.


Paul said...

Wouldn't he rather be head of the NHS. Please!!!!

Carole Machek said...

Don Berwick has been a hero of mine since I first had the privilege of working with him through IHI (Institute for Healthcare Improvement) in 1990. He has great insight and a talent for seeing a bigger picture than most people. He would make a great governor but we need him in healthcare and I would hate to loose his gifts. However, I support whatever path they decide to choose

Mark Graban said...

"Escape Fire" is also a DVD video now...