Yoshi Honkawa is, in his own words, a people person. Though it might seem an inadequate description for someone who is renowned in the healthcare administration and policy arenas, the label is nonetheless a fitting one for the 90-year-old leader. During his 50-year career, he has met and earned the respect, admiration and friendship of a who's who list of healthcare and political decisionmakers and thought leaders in California, Washington and everywhere in between.
“He's the master of developing relationships,” said Thomas Priselac, president and CEO of Cedars-Sinai Health System in Los Angeles.
Priselac experienced that firsthand when he joined Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in 1979 as an assistant administrator. Honkawa had come to Cedars-Sinai four years before when he was named its director of finance in 1975.
“It was my good fortune that Yoshi took me under his wing,” Priselac said. “He helped me understand Cedars-Sinai as an organization, where the priorities are and where the challenges are.”
Honkawa knew the challenges well. When he joined the organization, operations were at two facilities—Cedars of Lebanon in Hollywood, Calif., and Mount Sinai in Beverly Hills, Calif.—and uniting them at one location seemed financially unfeasible. Cedars-Sinai needed a $90 million loan to cover construction costs for a new campus, but at the time, the largest state-guaranteed loan being granted was $25 million, $65 million shy of what was needed.
That's when some of Honkawa's earlier relationships, established during his four-year tenure with the State of California Advisory Health Council, came in handy. Ronald Reagan, as California governor, appointed Honkawa to the panel as its first chairman in 1973, and he was just ending his term. The council's role was to help plan for and recruit healthcare facilities and personnel to traditionally medically underserved areas.