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If you ever doubt the Kevin Bacon “six degrees of separation” theory, you just need to sit in a packed lobby in the coolest building in our city (known as Nucleus), and get ready to unveil the Health Enterprises Network Family Tree of Health-Related Companies.

The magical intersections are everywhere and as Malcolm Gladwell contends, you realize no one was really, truly self-made, because we all had unique opportunities. In Louisville, the original healthcare pioneers gave us a rewarding and deeply meaningful career path from day one. I stood there knowing it was only possible because of healthcare giants like Wendell Cherry, David Jones, Hank Wagner and so many others.

Our ‘healthcare tree of abundance’ has deep roots to our greatest visionary, Mr. Jones, co-founder of the world-class Humana, who dreamed the company could connect the community and the outside world into a healthcare ecosystem where we would have a hotbed of innovative spin-off organizations.

And Mr. Jones was right, like usual – today, this room is a testimony to that vision. If you just look around and take it in, it will all make sense.

During one of my mentoring sessions when I first moved back to Louisville, Mr. Jones once told me that, to him, it was a great honor to work in healthcare. He said it was so personally rewarding to contribute to a great body of work as he and his team worked closely with management gurus like Peter Drucker to modernize healthcare management systems, develop some of the first universal quality metrics and fund innovators like Dr. DeVries because they were going where no man had been yet.

As we know, healthcare matters to the whole world now more than ever, and it is one of the single most important secular issues that can change a major election, and impact foreign countries’ view of political justice – and a breakthrough can save thousands of lives, all at the same time.

We are truly part of a connected world. This room impacts every part of it.

As the newly-appointed chair of the Health Enterprises Network, I was lucky enough to be one of only a few leaders who got to pull off the sheet and reveal the tree, which has grown to 625 companies and organizations since it was created in 2003. It was a time to reflect and see all that has happened since our humble beginnings.

I am now one of the ‘old guys’ who remember when the healthcare explosion first happened with the advent of DRGs for hospital reimbursement, the creation of the first hospice regulations, the first ventilator program in little Rockcastle, Ky. that helped start Vencor, the booming sub-acute craze, the devastating portrayal of Humana by 60 Minutes, the temporary Columbia Louisville engagement, the founding of the ancillary therapy concept that has created gold-plated jobs, and so on.

My healthcare roots started at the firm Coopers & Lybrand, in the old pits where great leaders like Rich Lechleiter came from, three over desks over from John Reinhart, who led us to the founding of InnovateLTC. And seven work stations over was a young kid named Nick Walker, who now leads my old famed firm (PricewaterhouseCoopers). Along the way, back in 1990, I worked on the audit of a small company that was doing vocational work called ResCare, which became an amazing organization that serves a vital mission while becoming the national pioneer of group homes, where my own brother lives.

My big break came when I met a man named Earl Reed through his brother Eric, who was on his seventh hospital with Bruce Lunsford, who still seems to be undervalued in our healthcare pioneer discussions. During the rise of the LTAC concept, taken nationally by Vencor, I had a chance to partner with a young star named John Thompson, from the recent Merit hospitals success, and Tim Wesley, new president of Elmcroft, who was just around the corner from my old office. I knew two decades ago that both friends would do big things because you could feel it.

I went out one day for a secret meeting to learn what sub-acute was all about, hearing a rising leader named Randy Bufford paint a vision for the future of something bigger that definitely came true before he founded Trilogy. I watched the Vencor development team, at a distance, create what is Atria today during a three-week business planning process, and sat in Earl’s kitchen seeing the early beginnings of what is now Ventas…the best and last piece where we can see the artifacts of something named VEN. At one time, everything I worked on had a VEN in front of it.

Then I moved on to help found a consulting firm called PHS that secured a small family client in South Florida called Home Quality Management, which was struggling. That sent me south for over a decade.

In the end, HQM was sold as a great turnaround success story in late 2007 and Signature HealthCARE was formed out of that transaction with the help of attorney Ben Fultz, along with a great group of West Coast sponsors called ARBA. This helped create our organization, which moved here four years ago so we could be part of today. I even kept a copy of the last tree in my old office in West Palm.

I know I missed so much while I was away and all of you have done great things…big, small, profit or non-profit. Because of all of your great leadership, our tree is full and vibrant with more than 600 companies despite these being the most challenging times ever in healthcare. Thank God we have professional friends, trusted advisors right here, amazing peers and a talent pool like no other to try to flourish and innovate through the third wave of healthcare public policy called cost containment!

We have the best-connected healthcare community anywhere in America and if you don’t believe it, call me. We can review the tree together branch by branch and I will tell you old stories, or come meet my friends at our Healthcare Enterprises Network and get engaged – it will all make sense, finally.

Vision does become reality! It just takes time.

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