Dr. Donald Berwick's keynote and homecoming message to the 23rd annual forum of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Orlando, Fla., ultimately was one of hope.
Berwick decries cynicism in IHI keynote
Berwick received the Picker Institute's award for lifetime achievement in the advancement of patient-centered care. In presenting the award on Wednesday, the institute's executive director, Lucille Hanscom, said Berwick "has been at the vanguard at every innovative effort to improve the system and the way healthcare is delivered."
And in returning to the organization he once led after a stormy 16 months in Washington as administrator of the CMS, Berwick received a standing ovation before delivering a speech (DOC) in which he fired both barrels at the politics and cynicism that dogged his CMS tenure.
"I would have loved to keep that job longer," Berwick said, but the politics of Washington, and, in particular, the politics of the Senate thwarted that aim. "I freely admit to extremism in my opinion of what patient-centered cared ought to be," Berwick said. "I find the extremism in a specific location, my own heart."
Berwick referenced a quote from Hubert Humphrey, vice president under Lyndon B. Johnson, that appears at the entrance to the Washington building named after him that serves as HHS' headquarters: "The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life—the sick, the needy and the handicapped."
Within the past couple of weeks, Berwick noted, "Congress' approval rating had fallen to an all-time low, 9%."
"How did that happen?" he said. "It happens when cynics are winning. When everyone wants to be in a room they're not already in, it's easy to say everyone is on the make. But the cynicism diverts energy from the moral test."
Berwick described death-panels rhetoric as "nonsense," "fabricated" and "hogwash."
He also challenged leaders in the U.S. healthcare system to pull out all the stops to improve quality, saying such an effort is the only way to contain soaring healthcare costs without massive cuts in healthcare services.
"In this room," he said, with the successes that have been achieved and demonstrated, "you already have the ability to cure the American healthcare system, right now, and the only question is, are you going to do it?"
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.