November Update

The fall has been exceptionally busy around here with several international trips and speaking engagements, but I was able to be home for Thanksgiving and got to enjoy some of the beautiful autumn color that Middle Tennessee has to offer.

I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving holiday. Here’s an update on some of what we’ve been up to.

Hope Through Healing Hands (Global Health)

We are very glad that some of the panic associated with the Ebola outbreak has calmed. Infections in the U.S. have been few and none of those healthcare workers who were infected here have succumbed to the disease.

But in Africa, the problem is still very real. Last month there was a panel at Vanderbilt University on U.S. leadership on Ebola in West Africa and at home. My notes from the event were published at Forbes. Now is the time to think carefully about what we are learning from this outbreak. Not only how do we best help and treat those sick with Ebola, but what can we learn about how our country responds to international health crises? What can this virus tell us about other hospital-acquired infections? What are containment best practices?

We must also remain aware that the countries battling the worst of Ebola are facing many other health challenges as well. The infrastructure questions for these health systems are complex and many. Foreign aid will still be needed after this outbreak is contained.

With foreign health systems at the front of mind, I had the opportunity to twice visit Cuba over the past six weeks. They were powerful trips. Cuba is a fascinating country, rich in culture and art despite severe and widespread poverty. Immediately after returning I got my first impressions down in a blog post. I was struck by some of the strengths of the primary care system—a system that in many ways reminded me of my father’s medical practice. But at the tertiary care level, the system falls apart to the detriment of the Cuban people. As we always find with international travel, Cuba yielded observations that will shape and inform thinking.


Falling between the two trips to Cuba was one of my favorite dates all year: the annual SCORE Prize event. We awarded three $10,000 awards to individual schools and one $25,000 award to a school district for outstanding work with Tennessee’s students.

It is always an honor—and such fun!—to be a part of this night. Congratulations to Dresden Elementary School; Hillsboro Elementary/Middle School; Covington High; and Kingsport City Schools.

Also last month our friend Touch left for new horizons. Touch the Dog was auctioned off to benefit the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary at the beginning of October. His new home is in South Carolina, but he’s sure to keep spreading his message of compassion, healing, and connection.

Domestic Health Reform

We’ve noted over the past several weeks the challenges that still lie before the VA. Congress wisely passed bipartisan legislation in July to bring greater accountability, transparency and patient choice to VA. Additionally, a new VA secretary, Robert McDonald, was appointed who will hopefully implement real change. As a former VA staff surgeon, I’ll be closely watching the progress.

But it’s not only our veterans who are faced with ongoing health challenges. The nation as a whole is struggling to reconcile our health goals and our realities. There have recently been great strides forward for the 86 million adults who have diabetes. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force last month proposed new screening guidelines aimed at reaching a greater percentage of individuals at risk for diabetes. It’s a step in the right direction.

But really it’s up to all of us to take control of our health for ourselves and our communities. Yesterday we encouraged everyone to take a look at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings. You—like me—may be surprised and dismayed by what you learn. It’s time for us all to take action!

Finally, if you’re struggling with how insurance works, can we suggest the YouToons? The Kaiser Family Foundation’s series of animated videos is an amazing resource, and the latest short gets to the heart of the insurance structure. Maybe you’ll even recognize a voice there?