Local Kaiser Permanente exec Ruth Williams-Brinkley discusses the impact of the pandemic

December 8, 2020

Ruth Williams-Brinkley assumed her post as regional president of Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States in June after leading the parent organization’s Northwest division since 2017. It was three months into the Covid crisis.

A registered nurse by training, she arrived with big ambitions — to double down on the quality, access and affordability of care while, yes, continuing Kaiser Permanente’s aggressive expansion in the region. It’s grown to 34 medical centers in D.C., Virginia and Maryland with another eight on the way, and now counts 8,200 local staffers and $4.5 billion in local revenue. It’s in part why Williams-Brinkley said she couldn’t pass up this coast-to-coast career change.

On moving during a pandemic: It actually went very smoothly, but I had a lot of anxiety about it because of Covid. I hadn’t flown for a very long time. I got here in one piece. I would not want to repeat it, but it worked well.

On starting in a new health care leadership role during a pandemic: Starting in a new region of Kaiser Permanente with new people, all of whom are behind masks and are socially distanced and are on video calls, has been really interesting. I am very much a people person, so it’s been very strange. Normally, I would be out in the community, meeting people face to face — you can’t do that.

Biggest current challenge: Getting through the pandemic. We got through the spring and summer, and we’ve learned a lot from that period of time. Now we are in a resurgence. The biggest challenge is keeping our employees and those who care for our members healthy and safe. 

What does that entail? Trying to make sure that we have products and services that are affordable and accessible for people to get health care. 

What will it take? Getting through the pandemic requires a lot of resilience, both physical and mental resilience. People are struggling because of isolation, because of the death and illness of loved ones. We need to help each other get through this.

Biggest lasting impact of the coronavirus: From a people standpoint, we don’t know what the residual effects of the illness itself are going to be. We don’t know what the economy is going to be like, so we want to make sure we keep an eye on helping our partners in business and those who provide services to recover.

What else will be a permanent change going forward? Virtual clinical care. Telehealth. I don’t see that leaving. I think people have gotten used to the convenience of virtual care. We are rolling out a new virtual product next year at a much-reduced cost, and it will be leveraging our telehealth structure.

On the latest news for potential Covid vaccines: I am very, very hopeful. And more than hopeful, I am excited. It won’t be perfect. We very much want to participate in vaccine distribution if we have the opportunity to do so.

What got you interested in health care? I didn’t want to be a nurse to begin with. My grandmother sort of picked that for me. Being the usual teenager, I resisted, then came back to it. And once I came back to it, it felt like such a place for me where I could be passionate about caring for people. 

What do most people not know about you? That I grew up in the segregated South on a farm in rural Georgia, a farm that’s been in our family for over 100 years. It meant a lot to my grandparents when they bought it. I haven’t lived there in many years, but I have a few relatives that still live there. 

Where will you travel first when it’s safe? I have not been to Antarctica and Australia. I want to do all seven continents. Then I want to visit some countries in South and Central Africa, revisit Madrid and Barcelona, and go back to the Amalfi Coast.

Go-to meal: Really simple, from Panera Bread. The Fuji apple salad and broccoli cheddar soup. 

Pet peeve: People who don’t keep commitments.

Guilty pleasure: I have been watching “Grey’s Anatomy” since it came on. I really love that show.

 

The basics

Ruth Williams-Brinkley

Regional president, Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States

  • Family: Son, daughter and three grandchildren
  • Residence: Virginia
  • Education: Bachelor’s in nursing and master’s in nursing administration, DePaul University; honorary doctoral degree, Spalding University
  • First job: Working on family’s farm in Georgia

 

Originally published on The Washington Business Journal. 

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