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Dr. Donald Berwick Addresses Catholic Health Leaders

ATLANTA (June 6, 2011) — "Defects help no one; excellence helps everyone," said Dr. Donald Berwick, in a keynote address to the Catholic Health Assembly on Monday afternoon.

Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and former president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, cited several examples of hospitals that have dramatically reduced rates of infection, complications and mortality following procedures and he said that the knowledge and techniques underlying those successes need to be shared and replicated.

"If it can be done somewhere, it can be done everywhere," he said.

The problem with American health care, he said, are well-known: costs are too high, value is too low. The easy but wrong answer to those problems is to simply withhold services. The right way to correct those wrongs is to deliver more efficient, more effective and safer care and to reduce waste. This approach is harder to explain and execute, but far better, he said. "I am trying every way I can at CMS to make a case for that — that American health care, which has serious problems, can improve its way to sustainability, and to a future in which no person is ever harmed by health care. Not one hair."

Berwick cited five constructs that will help to move U.S. health care in the right direction: eliminating siloes and boundaries, moving quickly, using unconditional teamwork, supporting innovation and focusing on the customer.

"We need a new relationship of humility" in contrast to "a culture of control and distance and mistrust," Berwick said. He added that the optimism and dedication of Catholic health care leaders is among the nation's greatest resources for moving forward. And he is optimistic himself.

"We will never go back," he said. "The mentality has changed in our country. And so in some really important sense I've never seen a more promising, readier time for the changes we need.

As a result of the Affordable Care Act, "we have it in our grasp for sure," he added. "But frankly, we could do it anyway. The key is to do it together."

The Catholic Health Assembly is the largest annual gathering of leaders of the Catholic health ministry. Organized under the theme, "The Opportunity Now; How Reform Will Advance the Healing Mission," the sessions examine the opportunities, the challenges and the realities of implementing the new health reform law. The program is presented by the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA).


The Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), founded in 1915, supports the Catholic health ministry’s commitment to improve the health status of communities and create quality and compassionate health care that works for everyone. The Catholic health ministry is the nation's largest group of not-for-profit health systems and facilities that, along with their sponsoring organizations, employ more than 750,000 women and men who deliver services combining advanced technology with the Catholic caring tradition.

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