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Adventist Health and Blue Zones Celebrate First Year Accomplishments

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   July 01, 2021

Ben Leedle, president of Adventist Health's Well-Being Division, and Shelly Trumbo, vice president of the division, reflect on the first year and look ahead to future initiatives.

A recent Deloitte report found that by 2040, healthcare spending will reach $8.3 trillion, with 60% of healthcare spending projected to go towards improving health and well-being. This projection estimates $3.5 trillion in savings compared to a projection from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, largely due to what Deloitte termed a "well-being dividend."

Adventist Health is one healthcare organization aligning its strategy with the well-being trend, having committed to a 10-year, $1 billion investment in community well-being solutions.

In April 2020, Adventist acquired Blue Zones®, an organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of communities across the country. Six months later, the West Coast-based health system announced the launch of a new Well-Being Division as a "breakthrough move to promote community well-being." Subsequently, Blue Zones® CEO Ben Leedle was appointed president of the Well-Being Division.

More than a year after the acquisition, Leedle and Shelly Trumbo, vice president of the Well-Being Division, spoke with HealthLeaders about their accomplishments in creating a strong framework for serving Adventist’s communities and upcoming plans for the Well-Being Division.

Related: Addressing Community Well-Being: Adventist Health's Transformational Strategy

Being the example

Integrating the two organizations proved to be seamless during the past year, according to Leedle and Trumbo.

The Blue Zones'® mission is to "empower everyone, everywhere to live a better, longer life," while Adventist's purpose is "living God’s love by inspiring health, wholeness, and hope." The two executives said that the initiative was already off to a promising start thanks to the proactive work related to well-being by Adventist prior to the acquisition of Blue Zones®.

"As an organization, our mission is very aligned with well-being," Trumbo said. "When you look at Adventist's heritage, it's deep in our DNA."

Currently, there are two pillars that uphold Adventist's mission and the Well-Being Division's purpose: the continued work with Blue Zones®, including a focus on promoting healthy choices for patients, and a partnership with Synchronous Health, a behavioral healthcare company. Both leaders added that more partnerships are likely to be announced in the future.

Leedle explained that the uniqueness of the Blue Zones® partnership is that the aim is to enable better care for communities in Adventist's footprint, but can also eventually be scaled to help other organizations, through proven tools, processes, and solutions with the help of the Well-Being Institute.

Scott Reiner, CEO of Adventist, previously said that the Well-Being Division is part of a decade-long strategy to "move [Adventist] from a healthcare company to a health company."

During the first year, the Well-Being Division created a strong framework by bolstering their talent and expanding the team, including hiring Dexter Shurney, MD, MBA, MPH as CMO of the Blue Zones® Institute and the Well-Being Division. According to Leedle, this hire defined the division's purpose and culture, and helped integrate Blue Zones® into Adventist Health.

Additionally, the Well-Being Division felt it was important to start at home and launched Blue Zones® at Adventist Health to impact and invest in the health system's workforce of 30,000 employees, Trumbo said.

Over the past year, the Well-Being Division utilized the Blue Zones® Institute’s principles, proven research, and strategies. The team spent time with the broader health system to partner with each associate in an effort to help them live a longer and better life. This was an especially important task due to the stress and burnout caused by the pandemic, Trumbo said.

"This year [we] drew a bold line in the sand that said 'We must walk our talk,'" Trumbo said. "If we as an organization are going to fulfill that lofty purpose of improving wellbeing for everyone, everywhere, so that they can live better and longer lives, that has to start with us and with our associates."

Related: Is Your Living Room the Future of Hospital Care?

Creating Blue Zones® communities

Adventist is also undergoing a three-year initiative to launch a Blue Zones® project in every community within its footprint, which spans over 75 communities on the West Coast and in Hawaii, covering more than 10 million people.

The first community was in the upper Napa Valley California, where Adventist Health St. Helena is located.

"We began there because that community had already launched the Blue Zones® journey before Adventist Health even began here," Trumbo said. "There was a great deal of readiness and excitement there for the project, and so that was our first community that launched."

The next formal launch will be in Mendocino County, where Adventist has three locations: Adventist Health Ukiah Valley, Adventist Health Howard Memorial, and Adventist Health Mendocino Coast. Trumbo explained that all three communities are working together to do a county-wide Blue Zones® project and that a site assessment was completed for Mendocino County in early May.

Adventist will continue to work closely with more communities in its footprint to determine their level of readiness to launch in the future.

Leedle said that launching a Blue Zones® project in a community requires multiple steps as well as an understanding from the community that its population must take initiative and lead themselves with the help of the Blue Zones® team.

1. Readiness

  • Gauging how interested the community leadership is in launching this initiative
  • Confirming the community's desire and willingness to lead themselves
  • Bringing together elective officials, citizen councils, leaders of businesses, and building a 15 to 25-person committee to represent that community
  • Utilizing measurement experts, documentation experts, and analysts to collect data on what wellbeing historically looks like in that community and create a profile of understanding

2. Foundation

  • Experts help create a local Blue Zones® team and governance structure to drive the initiative
  • The team ceates a Blue Zone project blueprint, which includes a dashboard of accountability and a map for moving forward
  • Create alignment and partnerships

3. Launch

  • The community starts the policy transformation work

"We position ourselves with Blue Zones® and our Well-Being Division as the catalyst to co-create this [initiative]," Leedle said. "We believe we're setting up something communities are missing in America, which is collective decision-making to advance health and wellbeing, and the vitality of its communities so that they can be sustaining themselves in a continuous fashion."

Trumbo added that other initiatives in the past that have tried to address communities and have failed are due to the lack of competency and infrastructure given to the communities themselves. The reason that Blue Zones® projects work is because the community has agency.

"One of the reasons why Adventist Health and Blue Zones® are such an ideal marriage is because we both have always had that deep commitment to listening to what matters most to the community, of investing deeply in the development of community agency, and understanding that we are just accelerators, facilitators, and supporters that help a community reach its full potential," Trumbo said.

“One of the reasons why Adventist Health and Blue Zones® are such an ideal marriage is because we both have always had that deep commitment to listening to what matters most to the community, of investing deeply in the development of community agency, and understanding that we are just accelerators, facilitators, and supporters that help a community reach its full potential.”

Melanie Blackman is the strategy editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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