Health Care Council president knows all the key players
Caroline Young is, in a way, the gatekeeper for the Nashville health care community. She is the president of the Nashville Health Care Council, which has existed as part of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce since 1995. Today, its members include prominent health care executives and young up-and-comers alike.
Young keeps tabs on all of it and oversees the “family tree” that the council produces annually – a sprawling infographic that marks the relationships among health care companies in this town, many of them the progeny of HCA. Young joined the council as president in 2004. Before that, she was the founding executive director of the Tennessee Biotechnology Association, which has since become Life Science Tennessee.
She sat down with Tennessean business of health care reporter Shelley DuBois to talk about how the council stays above the polarizing fray around health care and how her early training, in a nonclinical field, taught her how to problem-solve.
How did you get started in this industry?
I have no clinical background. My formal education was in journalism and communications. And I worked in that field at the state level and at the agency level before taking the job at the biotechnology association.
Did you learn anything as a journalist that helps with what you do now?
My experiences in journalism and communication taught me that “no” was never the answer – there was always a way to solve a problem. At times, you might need to get more creative than you had anticipated, but there’s always a way to come to a successful conclusion.
What do you see as your role at the council?
Even though we in the health care industry here know it, many within our community and outside of Nashville do not know that health care is our No. 1 economic driver. We are well known for our outstanding music industry, but not so much for our leading health care industry. So that is a key focus of mine – to continue to tell the story of Nashville’s health care expertise. In this position, I’ve had the opportunity to do that now on five continents. And that’s provided me with some unique perspective and appreciation when I come back home and get to interact in this premier health care industry cluster.
Some of our health care leaders are as interesting as our musicians.
Music and health care lend Nashville an entrepreneurial and interesting vibe. Working together, they make us a very special place.
Have you faced any challenges managing this health care community?
The council membership, just like the industry here and the community, is extremely diverse. Our members include hospital leaders, companies that run outpatient services operations, information technology leaders and a whole host of professional services organizations. So there can be challenges in providing programming that appeals to a wide array of organizations.
Health care is changing drastically. Is there any tension between council members who may run companies with competing business interests?
I think, from its earliest days, the industry here has definitely reacted to changes in the marketplace with innovation and entrepreneurship. That culture is already here, so I think there is more excitement around startup activity than apprehension.
I’ve noticed that council members do generally seem less panicked about changes in health care than you’d think, given the national narrative.
With the changes the Affordable Care Act has brought on, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there. We strive to provide timely, relevant details on these policy issues because as people know more and hear directly from policymakers, the issues may not be as divisive.
How do you keep the council above the vitriol that surrounds the conversation about health care?
Our role as an organization is to provide information on policy changes. Our organization does not take a side of an issue; we’ll leave that to our members. I think for that reason we’ve been able to stay somewhat above the fray and agnostic, and our member company executives appreciate that.
I think the collegiality and collaboration in the community and around council events especially helps maintain that objective sense.
That’s another part about the Nashville health care industry – everybody is acquainted; lots of times, people are relatives or buddies.
Well, as our health care industry family tree illustrates, there is deep connectivity in the industry here. So many of our leaders have worked together at some point in their career, and that is really unique to Nashville and, I think, key to our success.
Ah yes, the tree. I have trouble keeping track of all the connections. How much of everybody’s name, status and relationship to others do you keep in your head at any given time?
Well, I’ve been with the council since 2004, so I’ve had a great opportunity to get to work directly with a number of the executives who have left their mark on the tree.
What I’m hearing is that you’ve pretty much got it locked down.
With the help of my team, we try to keep tabs on innovators in the community and the interesting activities our member companies are involved in.
It’s a lot to track.
There is never a dull moment in Nashville health care.