Friday, February 02, 2007

Civic Duties

Warning: This is one of those butt-kissing, self-serving postings that some of you hate. It is so full of saccharine that you may gag. If you choose to read it and then want to complain, it is your own problem! That being said, it is an important aspect of running a hospital, so it deserves at least one entry on this blog.

Hospital CEOs are expected to do a good job running their hospitals. They are also expected to be leaders in their community. How well do we carry out those ancillary roles?

Several months ago, Ian Bowles, then heading MassINC and now a cabinet secretary in the new Deval Patrick administration, wrote an editorial pointing out that leaders of the non-profit sector in Boston, and the health care sector in particular, had a civic duty to become more engaged in public policy issues and other community activities. Ian echoed a theme that had been expressed earlier by Curtis Johnston and Neil Pierce, writing for the Boston Foundation.

They noted that the non-profits are now the largest corporations in Boston and, therefore they had to take on more of this mantle, which previously had resided with banks, insurance companies, and large manufacturers (many of which have since merged with national companies and moved their corporate headquarters elsewhere.)

I think Ian, Curtis, and Neil are right, but I think they neglected to mention that many hospital folks were already doing what they were suggesting. Here are some representative examples -- this is the butt-kissing part!

  • Jim Mongan, President and CEO of Partners Healthcare System, served as chairman of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce; has served on the board of the Kaiser Family Foundation; and was arguably one of the most important participants in the development of the recent health care reform legislation in MA.
  • Gary Gottlieb, President of Brigham and Women's Hospital, co-chaired Mayor Menino's Task Force to Eliminate Ethnic and Racial Health Disparities, as well as working on a variety of other assignments for the City.
  • Mike Jellinek, President of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, chaired a citizen's commission for the Mayor of Newton on the future of that city's high school.
  • Ellen Zane, President and CEO, of Tufts-New England Medical Center, has been a director of Fiduciary Trust Company and a director of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
  • Elaine Ullian, President and CEO of Boston Medical Center has served as chair of Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals and on the boards of Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and Citizens Bank of Massachusetts.

That being said, these articles actually caused me to rethink my level of civic involvement and expand it. Fortunately, our hospital was also through its financial turn-around, so I had more time to engage in such things. So here is a list of my extracurricular activities, most of them new in the last two or three years: This is the self-serving part!

  • Board member of the MIT Corporation, the Institute's governing body.
  • Board member of the Celebrity Series, the largest local performing arts organization.
  • Board member of A Better City, a business group advocating for enhanced city transportation, parks, and other quality-of-life development.
  • Board member of ISO-New England, the regional electricity transmission organization.
  • Chair of a citizens' commission reviewing the city budget for the Mayor and Aldermen of Newton.

For all of us, these activities are personally rewarding and informative. I know that I take no risk in saying on behalf of my colleagues that, to the extent we can contribute to the overall advancement of our city and region, we are grateful for the opportunity to be of service.


Anonymous said...

Paul, The issue you raise about civic engagement is an important one, and it's clear that many hospital CEOs are engaged in a range of worthwhile activities. So, while I hate to rain on your butt-kissing and self congratulations, you've not yet convinced me that hospitals CEOs are engaged in the type of strategic engagement about the most pressing community issues that Bowles and others are calling for in their pieces. There is a direct institutional interest for hospital CEOs to get involved in health care-related activities like COBTH, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and even health reform. There is usually personal financial gain from being on boards of for-profit companies like Citizen's Bank and Fiduciary Trust (e.g., perks like payments to attend meetings and committee meetings and maybe even stock options, to supplement those CEO salaries you asked about last week). I know lots of CEO types live in Newton, but the town/city probably doesn't need the free advice of high-powered CEOs as much as many other places. (Ditto for the MIT board...although I know you are a distinguished alum) Where's the broad leadership on public education, workforce development, affordable housing? What's the hospitals' role in trying to help make a coherent whole out of so many diffuse and diverse individual institutional efforts on pressing public policy issues? I think that's the kind of innovative and inspired civic leadership that Bowles, Johnston and Pierce are seeking. Might be there but it's not apparent from your listing of board activities...

I don't mean to denigrate any of the civic work that any of the hospital CEOs are doing. But the tone of this posting was just too provoking....Not that you seem to want any responses--not too inviting of engagement when you write: "If you choose to read it and then want to complain, it is your own problem."

Anonymous said...

Thanks. First things first. I was trying to be funny with my comment. I guess that didn't work! Of course I welcome comments. (Actually, some younger people who read that comment told me that they laughed out loud. I don't know your age, but maybe it is a generational thing...)

Second, I don't know about my colleagues, but when I sit on a paid corporate board (or, for that matter, when I collect honoraria at any speaking event), I turn over all my fees to the hospital. After all, I already get paid for a full-time job. So, I do it because it is a window on the world in another field, because it keeps my perspective fresh for my full-time job, and because I can help influence public and corporate policy for a major company in another sector.

But to your main point, you choose to think about other topics as "more pressing issues." Whether they are or not, we are all engaged in public education, workforce development, and affordable housing in many ways. We are participants in a variety of public policy issues every day.

But I don't buy your premise. As a sample, on "my" boards we deal with issues like enabling the expansion of mass transit in Boston to give people in all neighborhoods greater access to jobs; designing and running an electricity transmission system that will ensure system reliablity and energy efficiency in the entire New England region; bringing arts entertainment and education programs to the inner city; and, yes, helping MIT figure out how to stimulate and help young people from all types of socio-economic backgrounds participate in the future of science and technology in the world.

Finally, you seem to think that Newton's issues are less important than those of other towns. That is a pretty elitist thing to say. Please don't assume that a city that happens to have a high average income doesn't have the full set of problems that you see in less affluent places. Or that there are not many poor families in this town who depend on a vibrant education system to give their kids a chance to get ahead.

So, while I believe you did not intend to, I think that you do indeed denigrate the civic work we do.

Maybe Ian Bowles has time to comment among his many curren tasks.

Anonymous said...

Uh, er, serving as "director of Fiduciary Trust Company" is public service? Correct me if I'm wrong but I've got a friend on this board and, according to him, it ain't anything even in the same universe as public service. Dear, dear Paul, methinks you should edit this one out to avoid appearing ridika-lus.

Otherwise, smooches to all our hard working public servants on their/your good works.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pesha,

I understand your point, but I disagree. Serving on corporate boards, especially as an outside director, is indeed a public service. Maybe it is different from volunteering for a citizen's advisory committee or the like, but it is important nonethless to help those private corporations remember the public service aspects of what they do.

Plus, if heads of non-profits are indeed expected to exercise leadership in the business community, they can't do it only from outside the board rooms.

Tutor Mentor Connections said...


Are you familiar with the Hospital Youth Mentoring Network Partnership? It connected about 15 major hospitals in information sharing aimed at building programs that mentor kids to careers.

I'm in Chicago, but am looking for hospital leaders who view their civic leadership, and their own encouragement of volunteerism, as a strategy to reduce the costs of poverty at inner city hospitals, in addition to a strategy that created future workers, while developing the skills of current workers.

Here's a pdf that illustrates the role hospitals might take:

The key part of this strategy is that a hospital is not the operator of these programs, but the catalyst so other businesses provide volunteers, dollars, leaders etc in programs around the hospital.

If this interests you, I hope you'll write about this in your blog and connect with me on my blog