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


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 thatof courseis 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.  

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