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Profiles in Leadership: Top 25 Minority Executives

 

Ben Chu helps Kaiser Permanente make quality count

By | July 6th, 2012 | Blog | Add A Comment

 

Chu

Ben Chu: “If you talk to the hospital leaders and members of the boards across the country, there is an enormous amount of energy working to find ways of taking care of their communities.”

 

One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)

 

Benjamin Chu, MD, MPH, MACP, oversees Kaiser Permanente Southern California and Hawaii as group president. In the seven years since he arrived, Kaiser Permanente has amassed many awards for quality. He also is chairman-elect of the American Hospital Association and will begin serving in that capacity in 2013. Prior to joining Kaiser, he was president of New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corp., the largest public health system in the country. He also served as associate dean at both Columbia University and New York University.

 

Following is an edited transcript of the conversation:

 

You have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. What spurred you to go for an M.D.?

 

I think I always was going to be a doctor. Unlike a lot of people who have a core basic science orientation, I was always more interested in the human side of medicine. Psychology, child development, and anthropology are more in line with things I was thinking about. As you know, in medicine, there are a lot of behavioral and developmental aspects. In order to be effective, you have to understand the cultural determinants of health. All of these factors led me to pursue work in a field where I could actually help people. There is a whole sociology and culture of medicine that one cannot fully understand unless viewed from the psychological perspective.

 

You spent most of your life out East before moving to California. What spurred that move, and has it worked out as you expected?

 

I was running the NYC public hospital system under Mayor Bloomberg. It was an incredible experience and an incredible job. We were doing very innovative things in that system. It is a huge system that cares for 1.3 million NYC residents. When the opportunity arose to move to California and run a large chunk of Kaiser Permanente, the prospect piqued my interest. How far can you take a systems approach to delivering on improving the health of the population under the care of a large system? In Southern California, Kaiser Permanente has 3.6 million members, three times the size of the population we were caring for in NYC. The nice part about it is that the components and pieces are linked in a large multi-physician group that only works with the health plan and the hospitals. The health plan allows for pre-payment for care of the population. There is an entire delivery system under us that allows us to decide how to parcel resources in order to achieve the goal of maximizing the health of the population we serve.

 

How do you get a big system like KP to deliver on its promise and to take healthcare to a whole different level?

 

That was both the challenge and the fun part of coming to KP & California. Read more…