On March 29, 2016, National Health Foundation (NHF), in association with the Hospital Association of Southern California (HASC), will honor Benjamin K. Chu, MD, MPH, MACP, executive vice president, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan, Inc., and group president of Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California and Georgia regions.
Dr. Chu has recently been named president and chief executive officer of Memorial Hermann Health System, effective June 2016. With its 13 hospitals and more than 24,000 employees and 5,500 affiliated physicians, Memorial Hermann is the largest not-for-profit health system in Southeast Texas.

During this Celebration of Leadership, Vision, and Commitment we are honoring Dr. Chu’s illustrious career. He is a leader in the development of strategic and operational innovations to foster high quality, safe and efficient health care, as well as a strong proponent for electronic health records – a powerful tool that improves quality and outcomes for patient care. In his current role at Kaiser Permanente, he directs health plan and hospital operations for 14 hospitals and 237 medical offices that serve 4.2 million Kaiser Permanente members in Southern California and Georgia. Prior to joining Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Chu served as president of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, the largest public hospital system in the United States.

Dr. Chu is a past chair of the American Hospital Association Board of Trustees and is chair of the board of directors for the Commonwealth Fund in New York. Dr. Chu is also a member of the advisory committee to the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, he was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, widely considered to be one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.
Dr. Chu’s philosophy on how medical care should be delivered underscores his vision of a national-scale framework for compassionate, effective health care. “The world is really about how you build and sustain relationships.” Notes Dr. Chu. “In fact, that is what medicine should really be about, building relationships with your patients, their families and with the community.”

Early in his career as a physician, Dr. Chu began to reimagine a system where the patient could access needed care and gain the tools necessary to be an active participant in their own health journey. He also focused on how health care can become integrated into the community.

It began with a story Dr. Chu likes to tell. “Three weeks before I formally started my first leadership position at the Kings County Hospital Medical Clinic, I went in and ‘did every job’. I sat as a clerk trying to figure out how to register people – how to navigate for our patients their pathway to see the doctor and the nurse – I oversaw the residents, I saw patients, and I sat in on post-op visit conferences with the nurses.” The experience taught me a lot about both the patient experience and the work environment of the people who were charged with their care.”

Dr. Chu brought about systemic changes. By removing or modifying systems that depleted staff or created frustration for patients, the delivery of care became more effective. The very people who came to the health care field with a deep desire to serve and care were once again doing exactly that. “It is never about us as leaders. Rather, it is about creating the capability so that people who work for us can actually do the things that they do best,” shared Dr. Chu.

Realizing that the hour or so a year a health professional might spend with a patient is simply not enough to affect the health of a community, Dr. Chu has committed his career to understanding how to influence public policy and how that contributes to better community health and better health care, “I knew that I needed to understand how policy was made and how the economics work before I could become effective in changing the system.”

Over the past decade, Kaiser Permanente has had an active strategy to locate health care services much closer to where members live and work. In addition to providing the physical proximity, this presence in the community has led to health strategies rooted in the social determinants of health such as education, the availability of healthy food and access to physical activity. It has also led to fruitful conversations with banks, grocers, schools, service providers and more in an effort to have the entire community invested in this idea of health. “It takes a community-wide effort. The concepts of life integration, leveraging our investments and bringing together like-minded people intent to benefit the community is what we are all about,” said Dr. Chu.

“Delivering health care in Southern California, a ‘community’ of more than 20 million people, is poised to evolve,” notes Dr. Chu. “I look around, I see other hospital systems, and I appreciate how they are also preparing to meet this challenge. I want to learn from them, and hopefully they want to learn from us. We can make a difference in the community's life. It is a privilege and it is really a sacred mission. That is why I love what I have been doing for 35 years in the health care world and why it has been such a gift to be part of Kaiser Permanente. We have invested in Southern California and we have worked with many partners because we know we cannot do it on our own. It is a privilege. It is an absolute privilege to be here.”

For National Health Foundation, honoring Dr. Chu is also a privilege, as is echoing his vision in the work that we do. We believe in the power of the individual as well as that of the community and have seen first-hand the inspiring outcomes of programs and initiatives that were born of a community’s desire for improved health and greater equity. Dr. Chu’s boundless passion has created a new era of access. We also have a passion. Our mission to develop and support innovative programs that provide systemic solutions to gaps in health care access and delivery drives our continuous efforts to connect our neighbors to the tools they need to create healthy, vibrant communities. The Leadership, Vision, and Commitment that we are celebrating on March 29th is a shared creation with the communities we are empowering. The prospect of a healthy ‘greater California community’ is in our sights and certainly worth celebrating.