Charles Barnett spent more than 20 years of his career with Seton Healthcare Family. He most recently served as executive board chair and was Seton’s president and CEO from 1993-2012. Under his leadership, Seton underwent many milestones as a health care organization, including taking over operations for University Medical Center Brackenridge, which is the city of Austin and Travis County’s safety net hospital for vulnerable populations. Seton’s nurses also began offering health services to Austin ISD in response to the districts budget cuts.
Barnett announced his retirement from Seton in February and is now involved in multiple organizations, including serving as executive in residence at The University of Texas McCombs School of Business and as a board member of Cognitive Pulse, an Austin-based company that uses advanced analytics, including IBMs Watson technology, to develop data used to improve health care for patients. He also serves an adviser for Cognitive Scale, a cognitive cloud company for health care, retail and financial services, among other industries. Although Barnett retired from Seton, he said he will continue to work to improve patient care.
What made you want to become involved in a career in health care?
In some ways, it was accidental. I [attended]The University of Cincinnati [to study]the history of ideas and the history of medicine. I had a collapsed lung. I was a graduate student, and I had no insurance, so I had this eight-day hospital bill. [The Jewish Hospital of Cincinnati] was starting a class in operating room technology with The University of Cincinnati Medical School. I went through the class and became a certified operating room technician. I loved working in the operating room. I quit doing dissertation research, and I was happy, as you can imagine, working in an OR.
I was very fortunate. It continues to be a wonderful career and vocation.
What is next for you?
Ive been helping [The University of Texas McCombs School of Business] with their health care initiatives program that they have. I think the work they are going to be able to do with the medical school will be useful. I am going to stay connected to them and help them on a continuous basis.
What is your ideal vision for health care in Central Texas?
My ideal would be to really have a system for delivering care and services that is person-centric, not provider-centric, which is what we have today. The whole [system]has been built around the needs of the providers–doctors, nurses, hospitals and hospital administrators. A true system is sustainable because it’s affordable. You can do that if you can optimize the system.
What we’ve done in the United States is essentially only have a financing approach to health care. [It’s] never been a systematic approach to delivering health care and services. We need to do that here in Austin.
What are the biggest health care needs in Central Texas?
In some ways there are structural changes that have been made that will help provide [for]those [needs]. One is the work that is being done by the Community Care Collaborative to care for the poor and vulnerable. We have about 205,000 uninsured persons in Travis County alone. That number is bigger for the nine-county region in Central Texas. We know that if we can create a system for delivering care to these individuals we will reduce the dependence on [hospital visits]. What happens today is that we don’t do anything for [the underinsured and uninsured]. Then, they get sick enough to go to the hospital. We have to continually support, learn from and implement the lessons that are being learned at the CCC.
I think we are going to have to train and educate health care professionals differently, and that is where [Seton’s] teaching hospital comes in. [The University of Texas Dell Medical School dean] Dr. Clay Johnston, he is such a remarkable visionary for the changes that need to occur within the medical education system as well as the system for delivering care and services.
If you wanted to understand U.S. health care, the two things you need to know most are epidemiology and demographics. As we think about the 157 million Americans with chronic conditions, which now they say represents 85 percent of all costs associated with health care, unless we begin to deal with chronic conditions differently we will never, ever be able to develop anything that is going to be financially sustainable. I think making information available to persons who have chronic conditions so that they can be more effective in self-management; in the end, what you want is 157 million Americans who are working hard to self-manage their chronic conditions to keep themselves as healthy as they can be.