The Class of 2019 profiles the women and men who joined the AHA board this year.
The hospital and health system field is moving from its traditional role as a “repair shop for disease” to serving as an agent for building healthier communities, says AHA board member Allen Weiss, M.D.
In coming years, he sees the image of the hospital becoming less about a building with four walls and more about partnering with others to provide care where people live and work.
“The hospital of the future will be an emergency department (ED), an intensive care unit and an operating room,” says Weiss, who is president and CEO of NCH Healthcare System in Naples, Fla. “And one of its biggest functions will be in prevention.”
He points to a stark choice. “We can spend $300 to get a middle school student not to smoke or spend $800,000 to add one quality-adjusted life year to help a 70-year-old woman who has smoked all her life and is battling stage four lung cancer,” he says.
The journey to prevention and wellness is well underway at NCH, a 716-bed two-hospital system serving some 400,000 residents in Collier County and Southwest Florida. NCH last month became the first worksite in Florida – and the first hospital or health system in the nation – to earn certification through the Blue Zones Project, a nationwide community health-improvement initiative. The project seeks to persuade people and communities to live healthier and, thus, more productive lives. Nearly 60% of NCH employees participate in the project.
A 2012 study in the journal Population Health Management connected a 1.1% improvement in population well-being with a 2.2% reduction in the likelihood of hospital admission, a 1.7% reduction in the likelihood of ED visits, and a 1% reduction in the likelihood of incurring health care costs.
Weiss’ embrace of the Blue Zone Project is an outgrowth of his efforts to build a stronger culture of wellness among his more than 4,000 employees. NCH has seen a 54% decrease over six years in its health care spending, resulting in a $27 million savings over the past three years. “We have not raised health insurance premiums for the past four years,” Weiss says.
Changes included designating NCH a smoke-free campus in 2009, followed two years later with a policy of not hiring smokers. The health system’s employee smoking rate last year stood at just 1.3%, compared to a statewide rate of 15.8%.
During the past year, NCH reported a 40% drop in the number of workdays lost due to injuries. And there have been marked improvements in nutrition and body mass index (BMI) measurements for many of the organization’s Blue Zone Project participants.
Weiss says the project is changing the dynamics of wellbeing in Southwest Florida in favor of health, happiness and longevity. More than 60 organizations, from businesses to residential communities, have committed to the project by adopting focused actions with a checklist of practices. Weiss notes that Collier County last year showed a slight increase in life expectancy for its residents, while U.S. life expectancy declined for the first time in more than two decades.
For the past two years, Collier has been rated the top county in the nation for community wellness by the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, a partnership between the polling organization and the digital health company. It provides nearly real-time data on Americans' well-being across five elements: purpose, social, financial, community and physical.
Weiss has his sights set on the county topping the list for an unprecedented third consecutive year.
“What gets me up in the morning is knowing that we have an opportunity to change the health of a community,” he says. “And we know we are improving the health of our community. We keep people from getting sick.”
Weiss has been president of NCH since 2000 and assumed the additional title of CEO in 2006. He is a former chairman of the Florida Hospital Association and has served on the AHA’s Regional Policy Board 4, which includes Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Puerto Rico.
When it comes to political advocacy, Weiss says no issue is more important to the AHA board than protecting coverage for millions of vulnerable Americans who are at risk of losing it under proposals to repeal and replace parts of the Affordable Care Act.
“Loss of coverage would be catastrophic,” he says. “Not just for the inhumanity of it,” but also because of the negative economic consequences of “having sick people who can’t find affordable care.”
Weiss enjoys the “vibrancy, resourcefulness and intelligence” that his colleagues bring to the AHA board’s deliberations. And as a board member, he hopes to “not only bring back good ideas for our community, but also to share some of our ideas with other communities.”