Advocate of Senior Living Innovations to Lead Health Venture of Amazon, Partners

Dr. Atul Gawande, who put the U.S. senior housing and care system under the microscope in his bestselling book “Being Mortal,” has been named CEO of a new health care venture launched by corporate giants Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM).

The appointment of 52-year-old Gawande is effective July 9, the three companies announced Wednesday. In addition to writing several New York Times bestsellers, Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and is a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School.

Gawande’s “Being Mortal,” published in 2014, took a wide-ranging look at the development of senior living models across different historical periods, from poorhouses through the start of the modern assisted living industry. He made the case for more innovation and specifically examined the Green House concept pioneered by Dr. Bill Thomas, currently chief wellness officer at independent living giant Holiday Retirement. He also shared personal stories about his lack of training in end-of-life care and advocated for a more person-centered approach to aging and death in the United States.

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His interests go far beyond senior care, however, and he has made an impact on the U.S. health care system through his analyses of how dollars are spent and how quality is achieved—or not. Another of his books, “The Checklist Manifesto,” popularized the use of checklists in operating rooms and other health care settings to reduce errors and improve outcomes. Checklists have started to be used more often in senior living, including by Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD), which cut costs and reduced hospitalizations through using the INTERACT checklist tool.

Few details have been revealed about the health care venture that Gawande will lead, including its name. It will be a not-for-profit based in Boston.

The new venture was first announced in January 2018, with the goal of finding ways to bring down health care costs. With more than 1.1 million combined workers, the employee bases of the three companies could be the test population for innovation efforts—and successes would translate to bottom-line benefits for the corporations involved, in the form of lower insurance premiums and other health care-related costs for their labor forces.

However, seniors are not totally outside the scope of the Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JPMorgan Chase venture.

One goal of the initiative is “examining the extraordinary amount of money spent on end-of-life care, often unwanted,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon stated in April, in his annual letter to shareholders. 

Written by Tim Mullaney

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