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Tyler Norris, Vice President, Total Health Partnerships at Kaiser Permanente speaks about mission-driven alignment

 Interview by Christina Dong

As part of a recent meeting Partners in Health: Aligning Clinical Systems, Faith and Community Assets taking place at the White House, Tyler Norris, the Vice President of Total Health Partnerships at Kaiser Permanente was invited to give a “beacon” talk on Kaiser’s innovative Total Health approach. I had the opportunity to follow up with Tyler to learn more about how his institution was realizing its strategy to align Kaiser’s operational activity with its organizational mission of providing high-quality, affordable health care services and improving the health of its members and the communities it serves.

Whether by using its purchasing power to buy local, from women and minority owned firms or by committing to purchasing green energy, Kaiser is actively pursuing a values and mission-guided corporate strategy that is deploying all its assets in ways that will support the total health of the communities they serve.

To further learn about Tyler’s work, please visit him on LinkedIn, or go here

What is Kaiser Permanente’s mission?

strategic decision connect and deploy all assetsTo provide high quality affordable healthcare services, and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We do this through the care and coverage services we provide, and through the promotion of clinical, educational, economic, environmental, and social actions that improve the health of all people. For us, it’s about making lives better.

What is Total Health and what are you and other early movers doing as anchor institutions?

At Kaiser Permanente, “total health” starts with addressing the well-being of the whole person—spirit, mind, and body. Eating healthier, moving more, moderating use of alcohol, and eliminating tobacco consumption are four vital places to start. But increasing health requires more than improving these behaviors alone. It requires that people have access to health promoting environments at work, school, and community settings—notably: social inclusion that creates a meaningful sense of belonging, access to affordable fresh nutrient-dense foods (ideally locally grown) and safe places to be active. Health is increased by well-being and resilience factors such as: having purpose and meaning in one’s life, a strong sense of belonging and connection, experiencing gratitude, and the opportunity for service and generosity.

Kaiser Permanente’s Total Health approach work includes bringing all our assets to bear on addressing the determinants of population health—in part by identifying, measuring, and deploying our non-clinical assets as a powerful complement to clinical and community assets. Beyond Community Benefit investments and strategies that we deploy to address health determinants, there are many non-clinical KP assets (for example, employment and payroll, procurement and sourcing, facilities and real estate, investment portfolio, etc.) that we are applying to create health-promoting physical, social and economic environments in the communities we serve.

Some of our key initiatives are focused on workforce wellness; increasing physical activity levels and access to healthy foods in schools; and helping our members access resources to meet their non-medical and social needs—such housing, transportation, employment, education, legal and financial services, etc.

How is Kaiser Permanente leveraging all its assets?

A couple of examples:

  • Via our supplier diversity work, we recently reached the level of $1.4 billion a year in purchasing from women and minority owned firms. Further, we are increasing our purchasing from local companies based in the communities we serve—to help drive local economic development, job creation and income levels of vulnerable populations.
  • Recently we made a long-term commitment to purchasing green energy, to reduce our carbon footprint, and to do our part in contributing to reduce the health impacts of climate change. In the years ahead, wind and solar power (including off and onsite) will meet over half of our energy needs.

What technical assistance would you suggest to others who want to emulate a corporate strategy that aligns their operational activity with its mission?

An analytical view of total healthBegin conversations inside your organization, and with community partners, about the needs and assets identified via your community health needs assessment (CHNA). Host dialogues about the meanings and implications of the findings. Listen to community residents, and invite them to be part of the solution. Rooted in your mission, consider if and how your programmatic priorities are aligned with the CHNA data reveals, and what the community listening/stories point to.

What are the unique contributions your organization can make vis-à-vis your community partners? How might you best leverage your grant making, purchasing power, payroll and hiring, use of technology, facilities and other levers to address the determinants of health? Approach the work as you would raising a family—take a long-term view. It is fair to want to see initial outcomes in a 3-5 year period, but recognize that meaningful impact requires a long-term commitment. At least 7-10 years. The most effective leaders and communities are taking a generational view.

Please say a bit about your background.

Before becoming Vice President, Total Health Partnerships at Kaiser Permanente in 2012, my work over the previous 25 years focused on measurably improving the health of people and places, and increasing equitable prosperity. This included curating the spread of the healthy cities and healthy communities’ movement in the US, and growing the efficacy and impact of hundreds of place-based, multi-sector initiatives around the country. Starting in the mid 1990’s, I was founding CEO of Community Initiatives, and later also co-founded IP3 and the Community Commons—a free-to-end-user GIS mapping and peer learning platform. In the past decade, I also helped initiate and advance such social ventures as the Convergence Partnership, the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance, the Association for Community Health Improvement, Active Living by Design, and the Y’s Pioneering Healthy Communities.

What are the implications of the Affordable Care Act on the health of the nation?

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Over 12 million more Americans now have health coverage through state exchanges and Medicaid expansion. These people increasingly have affordable access to a care provider, a medical home. This important development reduces human suffering, increases health promotion and disease prevention, and improves the management of chronic conditions. Over time, these factors, can contribute to making care more affordable for all Americans.

The healthcare sector is increasingly incentivized by the ACA to move towards population and community health, not only disease treatment. The ACA is accelerating this movement by beginning to reward value not just volume, and by seeding investment in innovation via such entities as the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI).

With healthcare spending nearly 18 percent of the US economy, it is essential that the nation gets a better return on that investment—in terms of improved health outcomes and care experience, at lower cost, while improving overall population health.

How do you increase the level of involvement of community residents?

Radical inclusion must be a core design principle for meaningful civic engagement. Our democracy depends on it. A key role of civic leadership is to engage diverse community assets for the common good, and to build shared responsibility for outcomes by bringing diverse people together to work across lines of sector, issue, jurisdiction, political perspective and age. To address the complex challenges before our nation and communities, all of us need to be part of the solution.

It is Kaiser Permanente’s objective to deploy all our clinical and non-clinical assets to deliver on the mission of our organization. A key objective in all we do, is delivering high quality care that is increasingly affordable for all. We see a vital role of mission-driven health care organizations serving as “anchor institutions” that invest in the determinants of health and equitable economic vitality, as well as treating disease.