Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks
Our Spotlight for the month of September 2013 is Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks, President and CEO of Ivan Walks & Associates, a health policy and disaster preparedness consulting firm; and Chief Medical Officer of Trusted Health Plan, a Washington, DC-based managed health care organization. Dr. Walks formerly was the District of Columbia’s Chief Health Officer. He also is a former Director of the DC Department of Health. Since leaving his posts with the government, Dr. Walks – through Ivan Walks & Associates and Trusted Health Plan – has continued and expanded his efforts in the public health, information and security fields. We will talk with him about what he and his associates are doing in those and other areas. (Click on photos to enlarge them)
Destiny – Pride: Good morning, Dr. Walks.
Dr. Walks: Good morning.
Destiny – Pride: Thank you for agreeing to be our September 2013 Spotlight. Our nation is embarking on a new direction as it relates to health care policy and services, and Ivan Walks & Associates and Trusted Health Plan are available to get folks prepared to successfully deal with this new direction. We will talk with you about your expertise and the services you provide, but before we do that, we want to know about your beginnings. To that effect, please tell us where and to whom you were born, and briefly share what your childhood was like.
Dr. Walks: Well I was born to Rev. Ivan Walks. My mom always reminds me that I’m “borrowing” my father’s name, so I’d better not mess it up! My mother’s name is Erma Walks. My father lived to be 85 years of age and raised seven children; put all seven of us through college, he and my mom. They were married way more than 50 years, so he was a role model to me in a lot of ways, and mom as well.
Dad was a Presbyterian minister; mom is a retired school principal, so there were a whole lot of rules in the house. I was born in Georgetown, Guyana. The first part of my childhood I lived there and then moved to Los Angeles when I was seven. I grew up in LA – different parts of Los Angeles County. My sisters and I grew up all over Southern California.
Growing up was interesting. We did not have a lot of money, but we had a lot of love in the house, we had a lot of “church” in the house, and we had a lot of “education” in the house. I’m one of those folks that understands that you can come from very humble beginnings, but have a very community-focused background. What I remember most in my growing up was that the community was always prominent. My dad was the pastor of a very small church, but at that church we had a neighborhood service center to help people find jobs. We had a head-start program. We had a WIC program. We had doctors that would volunteer and do school physicals and things like that. I think it was on Wednesday evenings that we would have the health clinic at the church. It was a very community-focused, community-oriented church.
My dad was a “community” guy. He was on the Board of the local mental health association. He helped form one of the first police commissions back in the ‘60s in Southern California, with all of the unrest with the Watts Riots and everything else. My dad was always involved in everything that had to do with neighborhood politics and the whole civil rights struggle, and all of that. I remember this was just part of the way that I grew up.
My mom was a teacher and then she became a principal and she, in her own way, did a tremendous amount in terms of civil rights leadership in our community. I remember mom would bring students home from school for me to tutor because she believed in the family being involved in this “uplifting” of the community. So I came from those sorts of beginnings, where your family doesn’t really stop at the door.
I remember that anybody who came over the house for the first time was an honored guest, and if you made the mistake of coming back a second time, you were family – and you can’t get out. Once you’re in the Walks family, you’re in; so I have a whole bunch of aunts and uncles that we don’t have any blood relations with, but it’s “uncle” this and “aunt” that after the first visit to the family. So my childhood was that extended family. Anybody in the neighborhood could snatch you up if you weren’t acting right. There was a lot of structure around what the kids were allowed to do, which is how you come through a neighborhood that is challenged; but you uplift the neighborhood and you bring your family through safely.
All of us had to go to school. School was critical. College was critical. Everybody went.
Destiny – Pride: You mentioned that your father was a pastor. What was the name of your father’s church?
Dr. Walks: South Hills Presbyterian Church.
Destiny – Pride: Is it still operating?
Dr. Walks: Absolutely – it’s in Pomona, California.
Destiny – Pride: You’ve already mentioned that you were not the only child. How many siblings do you have?
Dr. Walks: I have an oldest sister; then I have an older brother; then another older sister; then me; and three younger sisters. So, there’s Barbara; then Brian; then Roxanne; then me; then Krystana; Verlynne; and Cecille. I’m directly in the middle – three up and three down. Out of the seven, I’m that horrible “middle” child that people run away from.
Destiny – Pride: You are married. Do you have any children?
Dr. Walks: I have a daughter – Evon – who is a grown up adult. She’s a Spelman College graduate with a master’s degree. She is an educator. I have a younger daughter – Emani – who is just beginning her second year at the University of Maryland. And I have a son – Ivan Cecil – that is 14 years of age.
With respect to my family, the last several years have been just a really amazing time. My ex-wife, Dawn, and I are divorced. Our children that we had together have been just amazing in terms of their handling of that, and they continue to do well academically and grow. We do an every-other-month kind of thing, where they spend the even numbered months with their mom; the odd numbered months with me. But they’re at my house whenever they want to be and are at her house whenever they want to be. She and I talk pretty much three or four times a week.
Then through prayer and at Celebration Church in Columbia, the Lord brought into my life an amazing woman – Jeanell Hines – and Jeanell has been just a tremendous light in my life. She and her two daughters – JaNa and Jocelyn – have come into my life and just have added a tremendous amount of joy, and a lot of credibility as well. JaNa is a lawyer; Jocelyn is a physician. So I get to have doctor and lawyer daughters now that I didn’t have to pay to put through school. That’s always nice. Jocelyn and her husband, Jason, have made me a grandpa in the last couple of weeks, so I have a two-month old granddaughter now.
Life is just a really amazing place. As I’m continuing through this season in my life, I’m able to reflect a little bit, but also look forward to a lot of excitement about what’s happening with my family; what’s happening with my career; and what’s happening with my neighborhood – it always comes back to my neighborhood.
Destiny – Pride: Are you following the same footsteps of your parents as far as being strict with your children?
Dr. Walks: You know, I try to be. I see the value of structure and I see the value in our community of those families that have standards – that really believe that children should behave a certain way: that elders should be respected; that we should train our children on how to act, how to behave, how to speak to each other respectfully, how to respect their elders. I absolutely believe that as African Americans, we have a rich history of tradition; of family; of positive respect for elders; of extended families; of grandparents working directly with their grandchildren. I think that when we get away from that, we get lost a little bit.
Destiny – Pride: Are there any higher educational achievements you would like to mention?
Dr. Walks: Oh, I’ve gone to school for as long as you can go! I remember that they used to tell me: “Boy, you need to stay in school.” Well nobody can tell me anymore that I need to stay in school.
Destiny – Pride: What was that educational journey like – your leaving high school and that ladder that you were climbing?
Dr. Walks: A lot of parents will ask me: “Can you talk to my kid about going to school?” I tell them, “You might not want to ask me that.” I never really “liked” school. I was pretty good at it, but I never really liked it. So I did okay in high school – graduated early, and all of that. But I went into the Air Force after high school. I didn’t go straight to college. It was during that time in the Air Force. I was a medic. I was an ambulance driver. I worked in the base clinic. I realized then that I wanted to be in the medical field, but in order to do that – with my personality – I needed to be the doctor. I was going to have a tough time with any other job in the health care field.
So I didn’t go straight down that path that people say you should do. I went into the Air Force; learned a little bit about the medical field. I went back to junior college. I graduated from American River College in Sacramento, California – not the Harvard of the west or the Stanford of the east, but a good school with a good foundation. I went on to the University of Southern California and, at USC, I had a great time; learned a lot. I did my pre-med stuff there and then was able to get into medical school at the University of California at Davis. UC-Davis was a great place, a great school. It was a challenging place, though.
My academic journey is an interesting one because I got into medical school right after a very important court decision in California called the Bakke Decision, which essentially outlawed affirmative action. So you saw numbers of people in professional school and college that looked like me really take a big dip. So, as I’m applying to medical school, I’d go to my parents, because they were always really good for good advice and good direction. I said to my dad: “Dad, you know, I’m an older student now. By the time I finish medical school, I’m going to be in my late 20’s.” My dad looked at me, and every time dad had something important to say, he would always start with “God.” He looks at me and he says, “God willing, one day you’ll be 30, and one day you’ll be 40, and one day you’ll be 50.” He said, “And you’ll either be a 50-year old man who ‘is’ a doctor, or you’ll be a 50-year old man who ‘wanted to be’ a doctor.” He said, “But whatever you do, the time will pass anyway.” I think that was one of the most important messages for me and I try to share that with younger people because when you’re young, everything takes so long! But no matter what you do – God wiling – the time will pass anyway!
I go to my mom for some sympathy because I got none from dad. I looked at mom and I said, “Mom, you know, when you apply to medical school, they might only let one black person in, in a class of over 100 – maybe just one.” My mom looked at me with a lot of concern. She said, “Only one black person out of a class of over 100?” I said, “Mom! I’m telling you! I looked into it. Only ONE black person might get in, in a class of over a hundred!!” My mom looked at me and she said, “Only one?” I said, “Only one!” She said, “Well, how many seats do you need?” That was my support from my family – always the support of looking forward and recognizing the opportunity in that one seat. And so, of course, I get to Davis. Guess how many black men were in my class?
Destiny – Pride: How many?
Dr. Walks: Me! Just one! There were two African American women, Joyce Hightower and Devon Wartell. Also, one of the African American staff at UC Davis, Gail Currie, was an amazing friend and resource. I also made lifelong friends of African Americans in classes above and below me like Anthony Cappelli and Terry Seymour. But I made some good friends from a lot of other ethnic groups. One of my best friends – Frank Shih – is a Chinese guy I met. He and I are still very close friends to this day. I’ve known him since 1984. And there were Carlos Murillo; Heladio Gonzales; Ray Villalobos. All of these people really broadened my perspective.
I had a great time. I learned a lot. I went to UCLA after that for my residency in psychiatry. I did a fellowship in transcultural psychiatry. I then did a fellowship through the White House Department of Health and Human Services in public health policy. I did a leadership training program at Harvard University. I’ve gone to school for as long as you can go. I’m not going back to school! But I continue the Walks family commitment to lifelong learning through all of the continuing education courses I take, the people with whom I interact and the experiences I am blessed to have.
Destiny – Pride: What faith are you and how does that factor into your life’s decisions?
Dr. Walks: I am absolutely Christian and I struggle between my Presbyterian and my Congregational customs. I don’t know. If there’s “Jesus” in there someplace, I’m good! It factors heavily in everything I do. I tell my son especially, who is 14, that I have a song for everything. I keep all of these church songs in my head, so as I’m going through my day, if something challenging comes up, in my head I just launch into “Never Alone. I don’t ever have to worry ‘cause I’m never alone.” I have a song like that all the time. “Be Grateful.” “I Don’t Feel Noways Tired”. All of these songs stay with me – literally – every day. People that work with me just laugh sometimes because I’ll just break out in a song because that’s where my connection is. It’s through that music that I learned as a child and continue to hold on to as I’ve grown up. Now I like other kinds of music as well, but that church music that I learned as a kid, that I used to sing in the choir is really the base of my strength as I go through life.
Destiny – Pride: Who in your life has had a major influence on you to make you the person you are today? You previously talked about you mother and father.
Dr. Walks: My mom now lives with me in my extended family, and she’s just an amazing woman! Mom was an education innovator through her roles as both middle school principal and professor at the Claremont Graduate School. Her leadership in teacher training, professional development as well as education system design has been nationally recognized. Several of my sisters followed her lead into the education arena. In a way, I did also. I was appointed by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to serve on the State Board of Education. I served as the only Physician on the Board for more than four years.
My parents contributed so much to their community and to the larger African American community. When my father passed, the funeral was just huge, with notes and condolences coming from every place – from the local area where they lived, to the State of California, to the White House. My mom has received so many accolades and so many awards and what have you, for what seemed like just basic “being a good person” stuff to her. When my mom was in college, she was just incredibly brilliant – straight A’s. And my dad was very, very smart. So there’s all of these accomplishments academically. Both of them have advanced degrees, but they have gone through and have led by example – not just academically – which is important because with all of us kids, college was just a given because mom and dad had gone. It wasn’t like you had a choice in the matter. But that whole community service piece was a really big influence.
For me, I look at my parents and I look at the fact that, back years ago when the Berlin Wall was up and you couldn’t get in to East Berlin, my father went with a group of pastors and other clergy into East Berlin. They were granted permission to go there and fellowship with those folks behind the Wall. So we’re talking no respect for boundaries and borders. Wherever the Lord takes you, that’s where you’re going. And so for me, as I’ve grown up, I just refuse to believe that things can’t be done. I have seen the future come into being that people thought was impossible. I’ve seen that in my parents’ example, and I’ve seen that in my life.
I’m always influenced by people who do things people say couldn’t be done. I look at my parents. I look at the legacy of Dr. King, especially during this time of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. I look at people like Marion Barry. I look at people like Mayor Anthony Williams. I look at people who have really made a huge difference with what they had and who respect community. Those who don’t think, “Okay, it’s just for me. Look at me. I’m great. Look at what I did”; but those who feel that they’re only successful when they can move others with them – when they can actually lead. You’re not leading unless somebody’s with you. If nobody’s with you, I don’t know what it is, but it’s not leadership. That’s one of the things that I got coming up, and so I look to people who I see refusing to accept the status quo; looking for opportunities to improve community, and then making things happen. Effort is great. “Results” are better!
Destiny – Pride: What led up to your being selected as DC’s Chief Health Officer and subsequently as the DC Director of the Department of Health, and briefly explain your responsibilities in each of the positions.
Dr. Walks: When I started my career, I wanted to make a difference in my community, so I opened a medical office in Southern California, but quickly understood that the politics of health care was huge, even back in the late 1980s, early 1990s. It was just huge! Managed care was coming into being and there was this whole transition going on. I began getting involved in medical policy and medical politics and became the first African American ever to chair the Committee of Residents and Fellows for the American Psychiatric Association, and sat on the Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association. From the American Psychiatric Association Board I was afforded the opportunity to go to meet with the Pope at the Vatican as one of a select group of psychiatric leaders from around the world who were selected to have an audience with the Pope. It really got me interested in how I could leverage my education and my interest in community in a more substantive way in terms of changing the world. I think you change the world one person and one community at a time, but ultimately, you’re trying to change the world.
I got involved in policy back in Southern California. I was made one of the Mental Health Commissioners for LA County. From there, I was asked to actually build a managed health care program within the County of Los Angeles, and did that very well – I got a lot of great folks to work with me. We did things that people didn’t really expect could be done. LA County is by far the biggest county in terms of demographics in California. We built a great program and we ran it under budget with no complaints going above our office to the state, which nobody thought was possible.
From there, I got pulled into a large managed care organization by a gentleman named Ronald Dozoretz. Ron Dozoretz is one of those other people that I look at as someone who’s a mentor and someone who I really respect for “how” he ran his business, and I mean his personal business and his family business. He’s just, in my opinion, a really, really good guy. From his corporate commitment to quality health care delivery at the national level to his personal financial commitment to Historically Black Norfolk State University, Dr. Dozoretz is the sort of high character role model that we should all strive to be. I worked with Ron’s company all over the place. We started programs that did very well in Arizona, Massachusetts, Colorado, Nebraska, Florida and Puerto Rico.
One day Ron comes to me and he says, “You know there’s this new Mayor in DC. I like him. His name is Tony Williams. You should go and help him.” I responded back to him, “Hey! Am I getting fired? What’s going on? I’ve got a good corporate job! I’ve got stock options. I’m having a good time!” He said, “No, but I think you can make a difference in DC with Tony Williams.” I said, “Well, what does he need?” He said, “Well he needs someone to run the Public Health Department.” I said, “I’m a psychiatrist, man! I don’t know anything about running a public health department.” He said, “No. You can go and help him.”
So I went to meet with the folks in the District. The City Administrator said, “Well, why do you want to come work in the District?” I said, I don’t want to come to work in the District! Ron Dozoretz told me to come and talk to the Mayor.”
Destiny – Pride: You didn’t tell the Administrator that!
Dr. Walks: I told him that in the interview. He looked very confused! I did tell him, though, that I thought there was an opportunity to make a difference, and that’s who I am. I’m that guy! So I talked with him; I talked with the Mayor. I liked Tony Williams. I liked his ideas. I thought he was really smart, but I thought he also cared about what he was setting out to do.
So I went in to the District of Columbia to run the Department of Health. At that time it was very different than it is now. The Department of Health at that time contained Health Care Finance, Environment, and the Medical Examiner. About one and a half billion dollars – 20-something percent of DC’s total budget – sat in the Department of Health. I walk into this job and I’ve got people in 29 different buildings across the District. It really was a huge undertaking. But, once again, I prayed my way in. I got a lot of people around me who wanted to do good things, and we did amazing things.
One of the most rewarding times of my life was working at the Department of Health because everybody just tried so hard. I remember I would go around the District Department of Health Headquarters at 10:00 at night and send people home. Literally, I would send them home because they would be there still working – still trying to get things done. As I said before: Effort is great; results are better. We did great things. We had several initiatives – “partnership” initiatives.
I don’t think you do health care by yourself because diabetes never walked into my office. A person with diabetes would walk into my office. So the reason that your illness is a challenge for you may have nothing to do with your health care provider. It may have to do with the fact that you’re homeless, and so you can’t store you medications properly. It may be a legal problem that you have that’s really wearing on your mind. It could be some violence in your family that’s a challenge for you. It could be so many other things.
One of our most exciting campaigns was “No shots; no school” – a partnership with Superintendent Vance of the DC Public Schools and the Department of Health. Everybody was involved. This is where you talk about community. We had all of the radio stations, TV stations and newspapers all following this: “In four months, they’re going to lock all the kids out of school that don’t have their shots up to date.” So the countdown began. DC was at a 40-something percent immunization rate. We got it up to 99.9 percent in just those four months. Everybody noticed it. The whole country noticed. We did presentations at large national conferences because this was proof that you can come into an urban community that has a lot of health challenges and you can make a huge difference. DC went from “worst” to “first” in the country.
Then we had the high infant mortality rate in DC – a lot of problems. You don’t have to spend money to fix everything. You just have to engage people. We did something called “The Mayor’s Home Visitation Program.” Every child born in the District that came home to a home in the District got a visit from a Public Health Nurse bringing a basket of free stuff. We all like free stuff. I love free stuff! We got donations from the different manufacturers of those little safety plugs for little kids in the house; the diapers to whatever else. They came and actually contributed this stuff. We gave these big baskets and we took infant mortality down by more than 20% in a year.
When you go and look into somebody’s house when they let you come in, you can see so much opportunity to support them. We didn’t come in looking to get anybody into trouble. We came looking for opportunities to help, and it made a huge difference. It made a difference for the entire community and it made a difference, again, showing that the District of Columbia could do and could lead. I could talk about that job forever. I will say that during the time I was there, we had Hurricane Floyd. We had West Nile Virus. We had DC General. We had the anthrax attack. I jokingly tell folks that since I left, everything’s much better.
Destiny – Pride: Now tell us about Ivan Walks & Associates and describe the programs and services you offer.
Dr. Walks: Well Ivan Walks & Associates was something I chose to do when I left the District of Columbia Government. I remember I came home one day from work and two of my kids, who were very young at the time, asked me, “Dad, do you like being our father?” You can imagine how I felt. I just dropped to my knees and I grabbed them and said, “Do I like being your father?” They said, “Well, we never see you.” The District Government was such a tremendous love for me and I loved working with the folks. I was out all over the District all the time. On almost every evening, there was something I could go to; some community meeting or something.
Ivan Walks & Associates gave me a chance to be home a little bit more, but also an opportunity to do different things. We did a bunch of different kinds of things. Ivan Walks & Associates did national obesity programs with the Federal Department of Health and Human Services. We did education programs with the Department of Mental Health in different areas. I was in Alaska with the US Department of Homeland Security developing continuity of operations plans and continuity of governance plans for times of crisis. I was out in California working with the California Department of Homeland Security looking at how they were preparing for everything like wildfires in the California mountains – like the one in Yosemite that was raging in the month of August. I was also one of the Cadre of Consultants, a group deployed by the Federal Government to support recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast and community integration efforts in the Midwest after Hurricane Katrina. We’ve had all of this opportunity, doing work in everyplace from Montgomery County, Maryland, to the State of Florida; and that’s been for more than ten years now.
The work that we’ve been doing for the last few years is working with those folks in the Army who had been injured, mostly in combat, but just on active duty. If the Army can fix you and send you back to work, they do that. If you are injured and the Army can’t reasonably expect your return to being fit for duty, and the disabling condition is stable enough for a permanent disability rating, then you are permanently medically separated or retired. If they don’t know exactly how bad your illness or injury is going to be when it becomes stable, they then put you on something called the Temporary Disability Retired List – TDRL – and the Army has five years to determine your permanent rating for just what your level of disability is going to be, or if you’re going to be able to get better and maybe reenlist and go back on active duty.
It’s the same kind of a problem for the Army, for the Navy, for the Air Force, for the Marines. The other services do it in-house. The Army does these periodic assessments in-house, but Ivan Walks & Associates is the only private sector company that does them outside of the Army. We do all of the TDRL disability, combat injury-type assessments in the 23 northeastern states, so we cover the range from Maine across to Minnesota, down to Missouri and back across to North Carolina. We have a network of doctors that are contracted with Ivan Walks & Associates to do all of those exams across those 23 states. We’re in our third year of doing that.
And then we have some other human services work we do within the state of Maryland, and we’re like any other Veteran-owned Minority Company. We are out there trying to do more business, but always something that matters. I’ve never been someone that really wanted to just – as they say in the contracting world – “put butts in seats.” I don’t just want to put butts in seats. I want to look at projects that are meaningful and that can make a difference, and we have been able, over the last three-plus years, to really support the Army in working with these Veterans to better understand what it is that these folks are dealing with as they come out of active duty service – whether it’s Reserves who are Deployed or Active Duty folks that are stationed in dangerous areas – what it’s like when they come back and the challenges that they have. I’m a Veteran myself, as are most of the folks that work with us. They are either Veterans or are married to Veterans, and so it really allows us to bring a certain sense of “I understand, and I want to really work with you.”
Destiny – Pride: During your tenure with the DC government, you had witnessed both the successes and failures of health care in America. Where do you envision our nation, and particularly the District of Columbia, in the coming years, especially in light of the upcoming changes in the deliverance of health care services?
Dr. Walks: Okay.
Destiny – Pride: I know. It’s a lot to talk about.
Dr. Walks: Actually, I have an answer for that. I do a lot of other things. One of the things that I’ll talk a little bit about is the work I’m doing with Trusted Health Plan here in the District, but let me work up to that. Let me start back.
I sit on a lot of different Boards. I have sat on the Board of the University of DC Foundation. I’ve sat on the Coppin State Foundation Board and other corporate boards across the country. One of the things that I’ve done is I worked with the Clinton White House years ago, looking at mental health parity. I sat on the Board of the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign with Hilary Clinton and with Tipper Gore and we changed the law of the land to create parity between mental health and physical health. I know that health care law on a national level can be impacted and can be changed, because we did that.
For the last three-plus years, I’ve been a part of something now called the “Federal Health Futures Group.” It was the “Defense Health Futures Group.” It was started by the Air Force Surgeon General Bruce Green a few years ago through the leadership of USAF Colonel Brian Masterson. What General Green wanted to do was to look at what the future of health care is going to be in this country 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now. If you try to look at the future of health care in two years or five years, you get into somebody’s budget because budget cycle planning can go out up to five years.
So if you go out beyond that and begin looking at ways that the future could unfold, then it allows you to do what’s called “backcasting.” If something is going to be blue tomorrow, you might want to start getting some paint together today. Then you might want to start getting the brushes and rollers so it can be blue tomorrow. So it’s sort of looking at what you want in the future or what you think will happen in the future, and then going backwards to see what needs to happen. If you’ve got a future of 50 years from now, what would you need to be in place 25 years from now? And if that’s the case, what should be in place 10 years from now? So you kind of “back” your way into clarifying initiatives that should be put in place.
So we built an organization and developed a construct called “Future-based agile thinking.” Then we began to pull other people in. From the Air Force, the Army Surgeon General – at the time it was General Schoomaker – came on board and brought the Army folks to the table. Then the Navy came on board and brought their folks to the table. Then we began to look beyond just the military leaders. The US Public Health Service and the US Surgeon General came on board – at the time, it was Regina Benjamin and her deputy – now the Acting US Surgeon General Rear Admiral (RADM) Boris Lushniak. You have all of these folks coming together and thinking about the future of health care. The leadership of the organization has transitioned to Dr. Woodson, “the senior health person” in the Department of Defense (DOD). Dr. Woodson is the Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs at the DOD. Dr. Woodson was responsible for bringing in the Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Health, Dr. Howard Koh.
The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs is an African American gentleman – Dr. Jonathan Woodson. Dr. Woodson took this on and said, “You know what? We are going to take this to the next level,” and he has really taken on the leadership of all of this because all of these folks report to him anyway. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Surgeons General – they all report to Dr. Woodson. He’s the man, so with his commitment to this and his leadership, and then Dr. Koh, who is his counterpart on the Health and Human Services side, we really have looked at bringing in the private sector. So you’ve got a program that started with the Air Force and then bringing in smart people from Harvard, from MIT, Stanford and then looking at people from private industry from all of these companies that are engaged in health. So when you ask me about the future of health care, it’s something we do.
Two weeks ago, we were at the Defense Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, meeting with this group from all of the different services and private industry, different think tanks, academic folks from all over the place, thinking about how to take a vision for health in the future. How do we bring the issue of leadership into that conversation? And then, how do we move the country from this “health care” culture that we have to a culture of “health”? Moving from “health care” to “health” is really our focus at this point with the Federal Health Futures Group.
Destiny – Pride: Now how does that intersect? I’m hearing the majority of this is dealing with the service and the military. How does it intersect with everyday, private health care for people like me and others?
Dr. Walks: Well, back when I was in the Air Force – and it seems like a hundred years ago – you wake up one day, you go down and you would enlist and then you would go and live on base. You got your health care on base and after you finished your four years or your 20 years, you would come back out. That’s not true anymore. Now you can be in the Reserves. You can get deployed and go fight and come back. So our TDRL work at Ivan Walks & Associates helps me to understand that it’s not just military folks; it’s folks in the community that you see every day walking around on crutches. They’ve lost a leg. They’ve lost an arm. So military health impacts community health, which is why that Defense Health Futures Group became the Federal Health Futures Group, and folks from all over the place are now involved. It’s not just military. It’s leadership across the country involved in this focus on the future of health care.
Which brings me to Trusted Health Plan. Where I’m sitting right now as we’re talking, I’m the Chief Medical Officer for Trusted Health Plan: an African American-owned HMO, in the District, Medicaid managed care organization. I’ve been talking about Trusted Health Plan at the Federal Health Futures Group because the future of health care, in my opinion, is local people who understand the problems of those communities looking at the individuals who live there and how do we address their challenges. You’ve got three Medicaid HMOs in the District. Trusted is the only one that’s headquartered right here.
I met the CEO, Thomas Duncan, about a year ago now. He has been on the ground in DC for a while doing something that isn’t ordinary. He had been actually “studying” the District; studying the health challenges; studying the things that have been done in the District. I met him and we started talking about his vision for actually building a District-based organization that would focus on the places where people were having the most challenges with their health – in maintaining their health in DC. I said, “Okay.” That’s what I like, because I was here back when Tony Williams was Mayor trying to impact those same issues at the District’s Health Department.
He and I began talking about Trusted Health Plan and how you would actually put that into place. We worked on getting the bid in to the District and were successful. Trusted Health Plan was awarded a contract. Actually, the Trusted Health Plan submission scored the highest out of everybody who applied. So we’ve got this brand new Medicaid HMO with, objectively, the best plan, now working in partnership with the Trusted staff and membership and the broader Provider community to innovatively and measurably improve the health status of District residents.
What you get is a mix of experience in the District and fresh ideas. When you can mix experience with new ideas, you can get some amazing stuff happening. That’s why Trusted Health Plan is such an exciting place for me to be, working with somebody who is bright, young, energetic – like Thomas Duncan. Working with other folks who’ve been in District health care for a long time – like Kenny Green, who introduced me to Thomas Duncan. And then, being able to still have some of the folks that I knew from more than ten years ago in leadership roles in the District. I’ve known Vincent Gray, who is the Mayor, since the middle 90s. I’ve known Phil Mendelson since the late 90s. I’ve known Yvette Alexander since before she became a City Councilperson. I’m looking at who do we need to work with to make health care changes in the District – Vincent Gray, Phil Mendelson, Yvette Alexander, Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Marion Barry, Tommy Wells, Jim Graham, all of these and other folks that have been in leadership roles here for a long time. What I’m seeing in just the last couple of months with Trusted Health Plan passing its Readiness Review at the local level in the District and at the federal level, going through a tremendous amount of scrutiny through the City Council about, “Hey you guys are brand new. What do you know? Should you have won?” All of those kinds of reasonable questions that were asked, but all were answered on the positive side.
Now you have a health plan that’s been in business since July 1. It’s not even been two months at the time of this interview, and claims are being paid. People are being seen. I was talking with some City Council folks just Saturday out on the mall at the March [50th Year Anniversary of the March on Washington], and they said, “No. No complaints. Nobody’s come knocking on my door yet.”
So Trusted Health Plan is off to a good start. I’m real excited to be a part of that, and I think that the goal of Trusted Health Plan is the same goal that I’ve had. That’s why I’m here. It’s to really prove – just like we did with immunizations; just like we did with infant mortality – that we can come into an area that is challenged and bring experience and fresh ideas, and then measure the difference that we make. You can’t just come in here and say, “Oh, I’m doing a good job,” but you must be accountable for the work that you do. Measure the progress that you make. I’m excited that over the next several months and several years that we will see Trusted Health Plan prove to the rest of the country, and the world, that you can come into an urban community; you can work with that community – partner with that community – in a way that’s effective; and raise the level of health in that community.
Destiny – Pride: What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment so far?
Dr. Walks: My kids. I’ve got great kids! I really think that would be number one. I have three children that are just amazing. I also think it’s my contributions to my family. We have a wonderfully intertwined family. I have children, nieces and nephews that have graduated from Spelman, Bethune-Cookman, Harvard and all over the place. I think that I’ve been able to play a role in that and I think my father would be proud of how his son is contributing along with the other members of the family. For me, knowing that my parents put so much in and that I’ve been able to do something. That would be number one, I think.
Once I go beyond that, I have to go back to the work that I did in DC because I got all the plaques and everything, and was given the Leadership Greater Washington Founders Award, Proclamations from the Council and from the Mayor. I received the Distinguished Public Service Awards from the District Government and many other recognitions. But also during that time, we stood up. When crises happened in America, the District stood up.
The District Department of Health: we were everywhere during the time of anthrax. They used to call me “Dr. Anthrax.” I didn’t mind that because it was a time of pride for the District that something really bad happened – Mr. Morris Jr. and Mr. Curseen died during this terrible and evil attack – but the District Department of Health stood up and made people a little more comfortable. We made people confident that we were doing our job. I got to be the face of that, but from Mayor Williams all the way to people that you never heard of, everybody did a tremendous job.
I think I was on CNN nearly every day for almost a month. I did the Oprah show; she called me “Dr. Ivan.” I was on the Today Show with Matt Lauer. The District Department of Health was everywhere because we stood up; because we as the District of Columbia stood up and did our part. We worked very closely with the US Centers for Disease Control. We worked closely with the White House. I’m proud to be an African American, and I take pride in seeing us do well. Goodness knows people try to point out when we don’t do well, so I’m happy to point out when we do. So the greatest accomplishment I think, outside of my work with my family, would be looking at how many people came together to enable the District to really perform well during that time.
Destiny – Pride: What about your major disappointment?
Dr. Walks: Some of the lack of continuity in things that seem to be dependent on personal ego. I don’t think everybody is always happy when things change for the better for the community. I’ll tell you a quick story that illustrates that.
Many years ago, I was presenting at the State of California Education Summit – a big statewide meeting. The Governor was there. All of the state legislature was there. The Governor stood up at this big meeting. I was sitting next to him at the head table. He said he was the education governor because during his tenure he had spent more money educating children than any governor in the history of the great state of California. Then I got up to speak, and I said, “The Governor’s right. He has spent more money educating children than any governor in the history of the great state of California. That’s because he’s put more children in jail than any governor in the history of the great state of California. And it costs more money to educate kids in jail than it does in public school.”
Needless to say, I was never asked to sit next to the Governor again. But it illustrates that no matter how bad things are, there’s always somebody making a profit or somebody making a career from it. For me, my disappointment is that we don’t always get a chance to see how great things can be because somebody’s ego or somebody’s career gets in the way because it benefits them, and they happen to be in a leadership role.
Destiny – Pride: What hobbies or activities help you to relax?
Dr. Walks: I love going to the movies. It gives me two hours of getting away – they can’t find me. I’m in the dark. Nobody knows who I am. I love going to the movies. Beyond just enjoying the movies, one of my best friends, Tim Gordon, who is the president of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association, and I spend a lot of time thinking of how to share our love of the movies in creative and educational ways. Tim is also the founder of the Foundation for the Advancement of African Americans in Film and The Black Reel Awards.
So movies are probably my number one escape. But yesterday – Sunday afternoon after church – I was in the front yard throwing the baseball with my son. We lost the baseball, by the way. Brother threw it too hard and it went into the bushes. I still can’t find it. Getting outside, being physically active with my children, I think is important. I think that’s part of a healthy relationship and a part of personal health, to be out, moving around – running, jumping and all of that kind of stuff.
Destiny – Pride: What last thoughts or words of wisdom would like to leave with our visitors?
To see the video of Dr. Walks’s response
To read his response, continue below.
Dr. Walks: My last thoughts and words of wisdom would be that everything you see is temporary. All of our current relationships, all of our current challenges, are temporary. The things that we want to keep in our life, we have to work to preserve. The things that are in our way, we can work to move them out of our way. I think that a good relationship with God; a close relationship with God – whatever that means to you; whatever your faith in your higher power – allows you to feel like you’re never alone, and I think that opportunity to start everyday knowing that you’re surrounded by grace. Knowing that there is, there’s something in your life that you’re supposed to do – that there’s a contribution that you can make. That old song, “If I Can Help Somebody Along the Way,” there’s something about that – being able to feel that your life is worthwhile and that your contributions matter and make a difference. I think it’s wonderful. So I would just say to everyone just to pray every day. Work like if everything depends on you. Pray like if everything depends on God.
Destiny – Pride: Dr. Walks, Destiny – Pride thanks you for being our September 2013 Spotlight and sharing with our visitors your life’s journey. We have learned about what Ivan Walks & Associates and the work you are doing and will be doing at Trusted Health Plan, as it relates to health care in a number of areas including services, policies and procedures, information exchange security, and research and analysis. We wait in excited expectation as to what the new health care laws will bring about and we look to see Ivan Walks & Associates and Trusted Health Plan in the forefront of paving the way to better services and accountability. We wish you much success both now, and in the years to come!
Dr. Walks: Thank you.
Click below to reach Dr. Walks
at Ivan Walks & Associates
Did you enjoy our conversation with Dr. Walks? Let us know how much by leaving a comment in the box provided below.