Podcast 12: Gerry Winslow

Apr 3, 2019 | Stakeholder Health Podcast | 0 comments


Gunderson: We’re talking today to Dr. Reverend Jerry Winslow in his home overlooking the San Bernardino Mountains. It occurs to me that Dora really should be doing this interview because she’s worked for you and she would know things to ask that I would not know to ask.

Winslow: He’s talking about Dora Barilla. Nobody works for … Dora Barilla doesn’t work for anybody. I want to make that clear. Dora and I work together. As one person I knew once said, “All of us work for Dora,” and that’s because she has the best ideas. Yeah, but that’s true. Dora is a great friend.

Gunderson: Well, we’re going to just talk today a little bit about your role with Stakeholder Health and what you’ve seen in this odd, anarchic organization that’s not an organization, that has now had a life about seven years. I remember a few years ago, it had sort of reached a plateau and I reached out to you and asked if you would both invent and fill the role of Chair of the Stakeholder Health Advisory Council. I remember you agreeing to do it because you thought you had a hunch about how to let a movement not turn into a monument. What I’m curious about is you have had a lifetime inside institutions of many kinds. You’ve been a vice president of a large academic medical center. You are part of a global church, and one time told me you had two types of friends, communists and Adventists. We have to just stop and explain that, I suspect. Tell me a little bit about why you told me that and why it was true at the time.

Winslow: Well I probably was … It was a little hyperbole, but of course, as a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church, I have a lot of Adventist friends and they are scattered about the world because the Adventist church is an international church. It’s not unusual to get Christmas cards from far flung places, so that’s the Adventist side. Probably the other part is that I’ve had a lot of friends over the years who are committed to social justice and they are often, I think, mislabeled as being leftist or something like that. Well, maybe it’s not mislabeled because there is a degree of truth, isn’t there? People who care about social justice often share a lot of the same beliefs with people who have been identified in that way, but I’m pretty sure that was a little exercise in hyperbole.

Gunderson: Well, I was thinking about when you chaired the board of a joint venture between the Adventist church and the Communist Party.

Winslow: Okay, that.

Gunderson: I’m staying on this subject of big institutions.

Winslow: Okay. Now I understand, because I was trying to remember when I ever might’ve said that. My mind was going clear back to my Berkeley days where I did have a lot of friends who were Marxist, although one of them, when he wanted me to join up, got an answer back from me, something to the effect that I already belonged to one denomination. I couldn’t afford two. No, what you’re talking about then is … Yeah, for many years we have had a collaborative relationship with the People’s Republic of China to operate a large hospital in the city of Hangzhou, China in Zhejiang province. The backstory there is that there was a wealthy movie mogul who got knighted. He was Sir Run Run Shaw. He and his brother, the Shaw brothers made a lot of movies and they had a television system and they made a lot of money. He decided to give a lot of money to his hometown, which was Hangzhou, China, on the condition that they build a hospital and that Loma Linda University be engaged in the management of it.

A board was established that had significant representation from Loma Linda University, representation actually from the Adventist church with headquarters in Hong Kong, and then of course as you would expect, representation, significant representation from the Communist Party and their bureaucrats. We have had that arrangement for decades and the hospital there has prospered. I think there are now four significant buildings on that site plus an entirely different campus. All together, I think they have on the order of between 3,000 and 4,000 beds last count. It became the first hospital in China to be accredited by the Joint Commission. It has been a path breaking healthcare facility for about 30 years now.

For a time I used to go over and chair that board. I smile about it because I think we all know that ultimately all such things are under the jurisdiction of the Communist Party. I did make a lot of friends who were the Communist Party chairperson or vice chair or whatever. If I said that, that some of my best friends were communist, now I understand what you were referring to.

Gunderson: Stakeholder Health is composed of folks like yourself who have day jobs in and close to a healthcare institutions. I believe all of our Stakeholder members like Loma Linda have partners all around the world, but our primary focus is on helping us figure out how to fulfill our mission to care for people. Oftentimes the hardest people to care for, the most complex, the ones we overlook and ignore often, are the ones that you can see off the roof of the building. I know that that’s true at Loma Linda. If you know where to look, you can see the hardest neighborhoods. What I really want to get your insight in is how is it that these institutions do new things, and especially do new things that are the right things? In your observation of many institutions, how is it that the right thing happens sometimes?

Winslow: If we had an entirely sufficient answer to that question, we’d have it happen more often, wouldn’t we? I think it would be a complicated combination of factors that would probably start with a leader who has a vision. Every time I’ve been around a place where something happened that was surprisingly good, somebody got a bright idea and then they somehow had enough charisma, whatever that is, to have that idea spread in the minds and hearts of a lot of other people, because none of us …

I mean we’re talking about large complex systems here. No individual can do that by himself or by herself, but when I look back over my years at Loma Linda, I think of a number of visionary people who come to mind. I could name a lot of names of people who were persistent, visionary, and also had frankly the intelligence and the gift to have those ideas and make them work. I know it probably is trite to say so, but it really has a lot to do with leadership that has a better idea, because frankly I think a lot of times the money and the energy that one needs and the engagement of hundreds or even thousands of people follow, not always, but they follow the better idea.

Gunderson: You’re part of a tradition, Adventist tradition, that often doesn’t pop to mind like the Mennonites as social justice tradition, but I’ve come to learn through you that there is a deep vein of a social justice and commitment to the poor in your tradition. Talk a little bit about what it means to be part of that tradition but also to help Adventists first remember that tradition.

Winslow: I think remembering it is probably the right way to think of it. Adventism was born in this country starting out in New England in the 1830s and 40s and then really grew up in the 1850s and 60s, didn’t really adopt a name and become a denomination until the 1860s. One doesn’t have to know much about American history to know what was going on during that time period, because the nation was rent asunder by the Civil War that wasn’t just to do with slavery but was substantially related to owning slaves. Adventists, I think, to a person were avidly abolitionist and gave a lot of their time and effort to the abolition of slavery, spoke about it, worked on it. Some of the key leaders of Adventism ran stations on the underground railway. We were born in that time when taking a stand on slavery was something that people of conscience needed to do.

Then over the years I think we’ve had a track record of … It’s a fairly limited agenda for social justice. It has a lot to do with protecting minority groups in their practice of their faith and so forth, but I think what happened to Adventists and has probably happened to a lot of denominations in this country is that as we became more established or successful, wealthier frankly, better educated, a lot of that commitment to a more radical vision of social justice got moderated, and I would say got moderated to the point where it sometimes wasn’t real easy to see. If you look at our official statements, I think they still have that element in it, but when I go back to the founders of Adventist healthcare, there’s just a very strong thread that runs through that of a concern for the poor, the vulnerable, the down and out, the ones who are stigmatized and the outcast.

People like John Harvey Kellogg who get noted for Corn Flakes or his work building a big institution in Battle Creek, Michigan, really should have been noticed a lot more for working for poor people in Chicago and for insisting that his medical students who came through the American Medical Missionary College would learn to take care of poor people as a priority. Kellogg funded a lot of that work himself out of proceeds from his other work in Battle Creek, and used to get on a train every week and go down and work himself in difficult situations in Chicago. I think that’s a part of the Adventist healthcare history that isn’t well known even by Adventists. That story needs to be told a lot better. I’ve been gathering these. I can tell a lot of other stories as you know about others who in our Adventist faith tradition did that kind of work.

The other thing that we were doing is trying to keep people from getting chronic diseases and if they were ill, recovering their health and wellbeing and then staying well through lifestyle. That has been a theme that has remained, I think, in Adventist healthcare throughout, but once again over the years I would say the emphasis got to be much more on acute care hospitals. We run a lot of them. I think we’re reasonably good at running them in terms of the quality and the financing and so forth, but that element of prevention, moving resources upstream to care for people so that they don’t get sick or injured, that became less of an emphasis frankly, while it’s always been there.

Personally, I consider the work to keep people healthy, especially those who are particularly vulnerable, to be work of social justice. I think that there’s not a big distinction between that and seeking economic justice because if you’re sick, there isn’t much else that matters to that person except getting well. I’m proud of that tradition but I wish that we would reemphasize the work in prevention more than we have. I wish that we would recapture more of a radical vision of racial justice and equality for gender equality. That’s all work that I think needs to be reemphasized.

Gunderson: I’m out here in your home because yesterday I had the privilege of sitting at the Advisory Council for the Institute of Health Policy and Leadership, one of the many collaborative structures you’ve been responsible for across decades, that have invited people into the work sort of to look not at you, but through you to what’s possible. It’s actually a beautiful witness of your leadership that you see. About as eminent as you can get it in United States academic health, Dr. David Williams from Harvard to lend his intelligence and energy and spirit to this work, but the extraordinary, younger, exquisitely trained younger people who are now part of this vision. Do you think that there could be an era of the life of the church and the life of people who are serving in the institutions of health that could actually be fierce and bold and courageous again?

Winslow: Well, I live in the hope that that’s true and actually I live with the conviction that it’s just as possible as people of goodwill will make it happen. While I’ve spoken about the Adventist commitment, because you asked about that, I’m a rather ecumenical spirit and I wish that people of faith would band together to recover really what was for many faith traditions, a commitment to serve the poor and to have health ministry be part of that, only a part of it because it’s not everything. Is that possible? Yes. I see that happening, popping up all over the country, not just in Adventist systems, but some of the best examples as you very well know are in faith based systems that are operated by the Catholic church or by other faith traditions. As one of my teachers said once when it comes to social justice, “I’ll take my allies wherever I can find them.” Just to answer your question point blank, not only do I think it’s possible, I think it’s happening. I think sometimes we just need to open our eyes and then elevate to view some of the great examples that are already occurring.

Gunderson: Well, I have to mention our insane Winnebago road trip was really fueled by the hope and powered by finding people all across the country who didn’t just want to be smart, they wanted to be brave. There’s something about your career, as I have heard you tell the stories, people tend to get braver when they hang out with other brave people. My sense is it’s Stakeholder at its best is a group of very smart people who are trying to help each other try to be brave. Do you think we’re doing that?

Winslow: Oh, I think we’ve had some real successes. We’re doing it whenever we share with each other rather radical ideas that work and are proven to work someplace. I think about Stakeholder members in places like Chicago. We can start mentioning names, but some of our colleagues with Advocate Health and some of the work they’ve done in communities in Chicago that’s just stunning to me and really makes me want to go back home and say, how do we do more of that where I live? The work in Detroit with Henry Ford, we can just go all around the country and lift up these examples. When you came in the Winnebago to Loma Linda, you made a stop at our, what we call Gateway College, where we’re giving young people who come from, in many cases pretty desperate backgrounds, an opportunity for entrance into the health professions, and doing that in a way that they can afford, and is, we hope, attractive to them and is working.

Winslow: The time that we spent together on that Winnebago trip that was most memorable to me was when a young Hispanic woman who had graduated from our Promotores Academy as we call it, these community health workers, talked about her work in the hospital system working with the neonatal intensive care unit. Who would have thought that you would have a community health worker completely embedded in a NICU, a neonatal intensive care unit. What stood out in my mind as I listened to her is how courageous and smart she is, how she is finding a way to help these families, especially as they go home with babies that have been very sick for a time, to help them make the next steps in their journey in a way that I think they can trust. When I see an example like that, I realize those of us who maybe got fancier educations or whatever and may have held executive positions really need to learn as much as possible from somebody like that young woman because she has all the smarts we need if we’ll just tune in.

Gunderson: I remember sitting in her presence and thinking not just what could I learn from her, but what it would mean like for me to feel like I had earned her respect in the same way. She was like a flame that you couldn’t overlook. Well, oftentimes I’m a little more on the ember side, but I thought, wow, wouldn’t it be something if I could feel like I was living a life that she could look at as an ally and be proud of?

Winslow: One impression I had of her, and I think there are many like this, because she works in real life with difficult situations and has gone through a lot to get to where she is, she’s not easily impressed with a bunch of people sitting in front of her in suits or whatever. Did you notice? She was not intimidated at all by our presence.

Gunderson: That’s right.

Winslow: She’s gone through way too much for that. That’s another thing that I think we can just learn, that there’s something about her courage that I think is infectious. It makes me want to be a little less impressed by people with titles and so forth.

Gunderson: Well we could talk a long time, we often do talk a long time. I’m going to stop here only because I saw a Goldfinch out across your shoulder. I know you’re going to have to go out and put some food out for them and then we’ve got wild flowers to go look at before I fly back to North Carolina, but thank you for this conversation. I believe that this will probably be published before we meet again in Chicago for our Stakeholder Health Advisory Council meeting in which of some of the heroes you mentioned will be gathered together to discern together what’s next.

Winslow: I look forward to it. Thank you.

Gunderson: Thanks Jerry.

Winslow: Thank you.


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