The Ear: Richard Rawson on Innovation and Whole-Person Healthcare

(system) #1

Richard Rawson is CEO of Loma Linda University Medical Center-Murrieta, in Murietta, California, and serves also as lead strategy officer for Loma Linda Health. He considers it “fun” to think through what “mission-driven strategy” can mean for organizations.

Rawson earned a bachelor’s degree from Loma Linda University, in business, in 1983 and an MBA from California State University-Bakersfield, in 1999. His “informal” education has focused on mission-based “transformational planning” and how it can affect organizational “trajectory” through “innovation.” For him, these concepts converge, and work fundamental changes in both individuals and organizations. God wants to “do great things,” he says, and we can participate if we get “our preconceived notions of what is possible out of the way.”

Rawson spent much of his childhood with missionary parents in the Philippines, Japan, and Singapore, where he developed “a deep appreciation” for how the Seventh-day Adventist church makes an impact on communities around the world. He has been married to his wife Sandra for 32 years has a daughter and grandson.

Here he reflects on health care and the church:

Question: The ministry of healing is fundamental to Adventist mission. Members are proud of our hospitals, and hospital personnel—both caregivers and administrators—strengthen many local congregations. But the business environment is more and more challenging, especially for smaller hospitals and networks. What difficulties affect you most right now?

Answer: The business environment for healthcare has been challenging for the 31 years I have been involved in it. I don’t see current problems and changes as any more difficult than in the past, when we saw the sale or closing of some legacy Adventist Hospitals. But the pace of change is as rapid as we have ever seen. It is driven by national healthcare reform, “value-based” purchasing (with its focus on quality and outcomes), and the shift towards population health and away from the fee-for-service business model we have been accustomed to.

The biggest risk is not adapting quickly enough, and ending up isolated and irrelevant to the communities we serve. Times like this remind us to look to our mission and calling for guidance, and to rely less on our “experience” and competence in the past. Recognizing this will help us innovate and connect with our communities better than we have ever done before.

Question: The mission remains, and that—of course—is energizing. And despite the challenges, new opportunities present themselves. Which ones are most intriguing? Why?

Answer: The new frontier in healthcare strategy is how we transition from being vendors of healthcare services to being trusted partners in enhancing the well being of our communities. Population health is just one way that we will be incentivized to do this. Healthcare reform did not meaningfully engage personal health and responsibility as a key component in improving the cost and quality of healthcare. Now we need to go beyond our current competency in providing clinical interventions. Here Adventist healthcare should have unique advantage due to heritage of our health message and the application of our mission. Our challenge is whether we can separate ourselves from our current business models enough to invest in approaches that are, ironically, more aligned with our distinctive mission than what we have tended to do in the past.

Question: The church—its members and administrators, certainly, and also its educational institutions—support Adventist health ministry, both as a kind of cheering section and also as a source of mission-focused physicians, caregivers and other employees. I am sure you are grateful. I suppose, too, that you may have worries about one aspect or other of this support. What are those worries?

Answer: We need to follow the example of Jesus’ ministry in meeting people where they are and reflecting the kingdom of God in terms that they can understand. I worry that doing this can be misunderstood when viewed through the lens of Adventist culture. The church will have to learn to connect with our communities in ways we may or may not be comfortable with. We need to learn to separate Adventist cultural issues from the core of the mission to which we have been called. This can be successful only if we stay firmly connected to Jesus, who is the source of the love that we must share with others.

Question: Samir Selmanović has recently written that Adventist hospitals bring “our faith into the world and the world into our faith,” and “both directions,” he insists, are “critically important for our denominational future.” How does that strike you?

Answer: That was what I have been attempting to say here. Bringing our faith into the world requires deep understanding, and if we don’t bring the world into our faith, our ability to communicate successfully will be impaired. Sharing the love that has transformed our own lives needs be done in a relevant and impactful way; only then can become more faithful conduits of God’s love and character.

Question: So the ministry of our hospitals can be a lever toward deeper understanding of what our church is really about, what it really is meant to be doing?

Answer: Absolutely! Our spiritual growth continues as we experience God’s work through our ministry to others. We begin to see church, work, and relationships as an integrated whole. Often we find that those we thought we were ministering to are actually the ones though whom God ministers to us.

Question: In healthcare, you innovate or you go out of business. Few Adventists, I suppose, would say that the church, either in its administrative structure or its congregations is particularly good at innovation. How might Adventist healthcare affect the Adventist culture on this front?

Answer: The literature on innovative cultures is clear that innovation thrives in the absence of fear. I don’t believe the fear of the future creates sustainable innovation in healthcare. In fact, in these environments people tend to panic, try to exercise more control, or worker harder at the things that are not currently working.

I believe that the same is true in the church. Some of the most amazing innovative practices have occurred in churches that are looking for more relevant ways to serve their communities. Unfortunately, many of these are viewed as a threat to the status quo, and then fear of change begins to stifle innovation.

I hope Adventist healthcare can begin to create new models of connection to our communities that can be embraced and reflected in the ministry of the church.

Question: You have said that a focus on wholeness “is both good mission and good business,” and can lead to “unassailable competitive advantage.” How so? I’ve heard it said that the world is catching up with us, or each inching ahead of us, on this very front.

Answer: Focus on whole person care is at the very heart of the mission of Adventist healthcare. It is our purpose and reason for existing. This should drive us to continually explore how we can do it better. In most markets, our competitors, lacking that same sense of mission, will not be able to comprehend or replicate the transformational force of our approach to health and well-being.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

don’t you just love these jargon filled answers? Transformational planning, what planning isn’t designed to effect change or advancement, so we get trajectory–the pathway to change, hopefully along the same trajectory of the third party players. Value. based purchasing, Once upon a time it was the biggest bang for the buck. I didn’t see any comment on staying ahead of the curve. The issue is how best to treat and cure sick people in an increasingly intensive political and fiscal environment. Tom Z

(Carolyn Parsons) #3

Even though he uses allot of jargon and speaks around some issues. On this issue he is clear and this concept is so vitally important.

I am immensely proud to be the granddaughter and daughter of SDA medical missionaries. Growing up I internalized a sense of the importance of service. As kids we would go to the doors of the operating room, stand on our tippy toes and look in. I remember my grandfather doing surgeries, In the surgical suite, there is no interaction between doctor and patient but the way he worked spoke of his dedication to service; even in pure silence.

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #4

I find troubling all these connections between spirituality & business that we try to rationalize. The pay scale for church-related healthcare administrators runs from parts of to multiples of a million dollars. Our health “ministry” is not done at a cost to ourselves, as are education & pastoral ministries. Adventist grassroots support will dwindle because of this loss of “core of mission,” not over connecting “with our communities in ways we may or may not be comfortable with.” Adventist healthcare wants our full support, so it mouths phrases in common w/ traditional Adventist mission. Any peek into its finances shows the superficiality of such claims.

(Interested Friend) #5

It would be “fun” to be the recipient of a million or two $$ in salary, wouldn’t it?
In The Grip of Truth

(Ya Wei) #6

Spirituality should infuse every part of our business environment. We need to find solutions to our payment issues. We can let all our quality Heath Care managers go to work in other institutions whenever we want. We can put unqualified “low rent” Officers into their job managing Billion Dollar Enterprises or maybe second teachers or pastors without having the skills needed to execute the work effectively and enjoy the consequences of our decision as we see our health work implode. No Health Administrators should be employed who are not sold out to our Vision and Mission and thus commit their significant 6-7 figure resources back into the calling to take good news to the ends of the earth. In other words if we choose the right Officers who are men and women of integrity it should be irrelevant whether we pay 5-6 figure salaries to our Pastors or Teachers at standard rates of pay or 6-7 figure salaries to our Health Administrators at standard rates of pay as the job for everyone of us is to act justly ( pouring our resources big and small back into Gods work) walk humbly and love mercy. The solution: Choose Officers of integrity who will obey their Gospel calling. Standard rates of pay will then be irrelevant as all funds after education health and shelter needs will be returned to bless the needs of others who we love as ourselves. You are right we need ensure all our Officers are accountable in using all their resources to deliver good news. Paying standard rates of pay then ceases to be an issue. We need all hands on deck to share the love of God with the whole world. We need to be careful the love of money ( love of our money or the money of those who earn more than us ) which is the root of all evil does not divert our attention away from our primary job which is taking Gods good news to the ends of the earth.

(Ya Wei) #7

It is fun to create divisions amongst us by stirring up dissension due to the different standard pay rates between pastors teachers and health care administrators. But this fun serves to damage and wound the family of faith which the Prince of this World wants us to do rather than having real fun in following our Lord to be radical healers who build the Kingdom of God here and now. We are judged by how much we keep back from giving to Gods work not how much we earn as Jesus lovingly showed us with the story of the widows mite. Let us have our fun as we create harmony in the family of God rather than have fun creating dissension wherever the opportunity arises. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.