Dr. Bob Waller

Dr. Bob Waller is the former CEO of Mayo Clinic and emeritus board member of Church Health Center. Dr. Waller shares some of his thoughts on health, faith, and community.

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Dr. Bob Waller, former CEO of Mayo Clinic and emeritus board member of the Church Health Center

I came to Memphis because…

When I finished my job as CEO [of the Mayo Clinic], my wife, who grew up in Memphis, said, “I’d like to come home and be with my sister.”

How faith plays a role in my life…

I had no plans other than to be a family practitioner in Jackson, Tennessee, and somehow I wound up at Mayo Clinic and then all I wanted to do was a surgical clinic at Mayo Clinic. I didn’t ask to go on the board. I didn’t ask to be the chief executive, but I was guided in that way.

I have seen miracles. I’ve seen people who weren’t supposed to be on this earth and were. I’ve come to pay no attention to statistics when somebody would come into my office and would say, “They say I have a 42% of living and a 58% chance of dying.” Never paid any attention to that because I’ve learned that the time on this earth is decided by God and not by man.

Personal faith has meant the world to me and I think patients have taught me a lot about faith. We’re all on this earth a short time getting ready for the next time. And I want to be sure I’ve been right so I can make the next trip, which I hear is a little longer than this trip.

Why I support the Church Health Center…

Church Health Center is a joyful place. I think the Church Health Center is all about the church, which is why I’m here. The Bible tells us that’s what we’re here to do: Teach, preach and heal.

There’s a quote: “A nation that fails to attend to the needs of others less fortunate risks losing its soul.” And I believe that. And I think the Church Health Center exemplifies what it means to take care of people less fortunate than you and me.

Our responsibility as healthcare providers…

If we’re going to take care of patients, we have “an immediate, personal, nontransferable responsibility to protect their interests.” [J. Cardinal Bernadin] I had this pasted on my locker in the surgeon locker room and I read it every day. So don’t ever forget it.

In these days and times, patients, particularly those who are sick, need a personal advocate to help them navigate through an increasingly complex and often times impersonal healthcare delivery systems.

Church Health Center’s whole-body care approach…

At the Church Health Center, we’re here to look at everyone’s life and to help you, as a patient, lead a healthier life. If you have high blood pressure, we’ll treat that, but are you smoking? Are you getting your exercise? What’s your nutritional status? What is your spiritual status? There’s just a whole host of issues that surround what it means to be healthy. Yes, healthcare is a piece of it, but it’s looking at the individual.

The Affordable Care Act and the Church Health Center…

There’s a tendency for some people to say, “Well Obamacare is going to take care of everything.” Never will that happen. I don’t see the day when Obamacare plus other nonprofits plus money is going to care for those less fortunate in Memphis, Tennessee, in the way that Church Health Center does.

Good health is…

Good health is not the absence of disease. Good health means that we live in a safe environment, we have meaningful work, we have companionship and we have the opportunity to rest.

Changes I’ve seen over the years…

There’s an increasing emphasis on prevention and wellness. I hear more about personalized prevention as well as personalize medicine, and I think that’s a big change.

But here’s the problem: How much of our three trillion dollar budget goes to hospitals and clinics and the reactive management of disease versus wellness and prevention? 95% goes to the hospitals and clinics and drugs. 5% goes to wellness and prevention. That can’t happen going forward.

Flipping healthcare…

If instead of “What’s the matter?” you say, “What matters to you?” That changes the entire dynamic of the relationship between the physician and the patient. It also changes how you should design the care system that you have.

Community and healthcare…

To be a healthy community, you have to address these non-clinical determinants of health. It’s not a top-down process, it’s a community process. And the major healthcare providers need to partner with those who understand and are knowledgeable about the nonclinical components that contribute to ill health.

Unfortunately we’re spending 95% of our money on the hospital and not enough on the schools and other community social services.

The equation for value…

We need to pay for value. Value equals quality over cost.

Health, poverty and community development…

Health, poverty and community development are inseparable. The factors that influence health are the same factors that are integral to poverty and you can’t improve health and reduce poverty without redeveloping the community, revitalizing the poor neighborhoods.

A child’s life expectancy in Memphis, Tennessee, is far more related to their zip code then their genetic code.

The Eastlake Project and the Crosstown Concourse…

I’ve been to Atlanta to visit the East Lake Project. Tom Cousins has fiscal capital, social capital and political capital. And he went into a neighborhood in Atlanta called Eastlake, where the unemployment rate was 90%, the houses cost $40,000, the police would not go into the community because people were killing each other and he decided to take it on. 10 years later, houses sell for $200,000, the unemployment rate is 5%, there’s a charter school.

As the vertical urban village develops at Sears Roebuck Distribution Center, you can see the businesses start to take down the boards and open up their doors. And I think what’s gonna to happen, hopefully, will be a revitalization of that neighborhood.

What Memphis is doing right…

As I look at the hospitals, they’re on a journey of continuous quality improvement and I think they’re all about safety, efficiency, effectiveness, equitable care, timely care and patient-centered care. I think that they’re trying to do that and they’re very good at it, as a matter of fact.

I think that there’s a growing understanding that health, poverty, and community development are inseparable and hospitals are beginning to look at how they can relate to community partners and others to deal with the nonclinical determinants of health.

My recommended readings…

Learn more about the Church Health Center, Mayo Clinic, and the East Lake Project

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