Lars Houmann, President and CEO of the Florida Division at Adventist Health System (AHS) was the speaker for the Orlando chapter of the Adventist Forum on Feb 9, 2013. The topic: “Florida Hospital and the Challenge to the 1863 Health Vision”. The meeting was held at the Florida Hospital Seventh-day Adventist church on the campus of the Adventist College of Health Sciences. Houmann’s profile was featured in the February 2013 men’s health issue of the Lake Mary Healthy Living magazine.
In a typically subdued, european-style presentation, Houmann (born in Ethiopia to Dannish parents and raised in the US) started his talk with a brief overview of the presence of AHS in Florida. In the last couple of decades, Florida Hospital has become an ubiquitous, well-oiled machine and a force to be reckoned with in Central Florida. Several recent acquisitions have increased to 23 the number of hospitals being managed by AHS in the State. With 17,600 employees and a $4.5 billion dollar annual revenue, Florida Hospital has over 2,600 beds, performs approximately 72,000 surgeries and sees about 500,000 outpatients a year.
Mr. Houmann went on to explain how medicine and health care have changed drastically from the 1800’s to today; from the trial and error techniques that bled people to death in some cases, to semi-esterile surgeries of the early 1900’s and today’s vast technological advances. Times have changed the face of Adventist approach to health, which went from the spa-style Western Health Reform Institute opened in 1866 (which later became Battle Creek Sanitarium) to the mostly “acute care” approach to hospital management and cutting edge technology used daily at Florida Hospital and other Adventist hospital across the world. According to Houmann, this was brought on by societal and economic pressures which at times proved a challenge to the vision Ellen White had for Adventist health centers as places where people would be treated solely with nature’s remedies, such as pure air, water, sunshine, exercise, wholesome food and a healthy dose of spirituality. Despite the radical changes, Houmann was quick to add that he believes fully in the health message, which he summarized as an “Indivisible unity of body, mind and spirit”. Florida Hospital exists to support this vision, he argued.
Despite the fact that Florida Hospital is far from the beginnings of the Adventist health centers of the 1800’s, Houmann pointed out that probably no other hospital system in the world offers patients a more holistic approach to health. For example, a major initiative in the system is “Creation Health” an upgraded version of Ellen White’s eight natural remedies whose acronym stands for choice, rest, environment, activity, trust, interpersonal relationships, outlook and nutrition. The program is vigorously promoted in all Florida Hospitals and extends throughout local Adventist churches and schools in Florida.
How does a healthcare institution managed by a religious organization in modern day America reach a balance between its convictions and the demands of the marketplace? Houmann suggested this is reached by the statement of purpose of SDA healthcare:
1. Provide quality medical care
2. Educate people of healthful living practices
3. Create a Christian witness
Notoriously absent is Adventist proselytism, a position Houmann justified by quoting a surprising testimony by Ellen White (Test. 3, 166-7).
Houmann entertained several questions at the end of his talk, at least two dealing with the “pipe dream” that Florida Hospital could one day move from the status of non-profit organization to a full blown charitable institution. Houmann answered that he’d rather see Florida Hospital make an impact from inside the system rather than branching out ahead of the times and end up bankrupt like other charitable health institutions in Florida. Point taken.
On the question of how the Affordable Health Care Act will impact Florida Hospital, Houmann said he was optimistic that healthcare will improve in the State and that the institution is working vigorously to implement changes that will allow it to thrive in such increasingly changing environment. One striking feature of the long term plan for Florida Hospital is the three-pronged approach: (1) reduce costs; (2) improve the community’s health and (3) improve the patient’s experience. In other words, a hospital that intends to survive longterm needs fewer beds occupied and more outreach.
The talk was refreshing and the mid-size audience was engaged. I was impressed with Houmann’s achievements, his commitment to the best of Adventist health concepts and his success in managing such a massive organization. Under his direction, there’s little doubt that Florida Hospital will enjoy a healthy, long life.
—André Reis has a B.A. in Theology from the Adventist University in São Paulo, Brazil, an M.A. in Music from Longy School of Music and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament. He is a member of the Florida Hospital SDA Church where he is active in the music ministry.