Editor’s Note: Jessie Christine Gruman, founder and President of the Center for Advancing Health (CFAH), died on July 14, 2104, while battling her fifth cancer. In honor of a Memorial being held in her honor in Washington D.C., we wish to share our own tribute, written by two CPCE leaders who worked closely with Jessie for many years: Dr. Kristin Carman, the Executive Director of CPCE and AIR Vice President in Health Policy and Research, and Dr. Shoshanna Sofaer, Senior Director of Strategic Research.
Most of us wish for an enduring legacy. Jessie Christine Gruman’s legacy was to alter how we think about health and health care. She accomplished this through personality, will, and prodigious intellect. In short, Jessie was an intense force.
Jessie’s efforts and ability to mobilize people and organizations transformed the landscape of health policy and practice. She was central to the movement to connect health and illness to behaviors, and in turn to where and how people live. She focused her intellect on the daunting task of translating research into practice. She insisted that healthcare knowledge overcome the laws of inertia—that it be used to create better outcomes and experiences for patients and families—immediately. She cajoled and sometimes forced many who may have initially been wary or cynical to embrace patients and families as active participants in their care, and she led by example when addressing her own health challenges.
While others will draw their own enduring lessons from Jessie, we draw these:
- Speak in your own voice. Be authentic and speak from your own experience and thinking. Don’t shy away from saying what is difficult, uncomfortable, or hard for others to hear.
- Engagement is not just about patients. While patients and families engage, it is clinicians, managers, policy-makers, and the rest of us, who need to make it easy and valuable for them to do so.
- Change is possible, but be wary of fix-it-quick solutions. Patient engagement is more than just raising a score, marketing a brand, or simply making more money. At the core, it is a way to return to what drew us into health work in the first place: the desire to improve the lives and functioning of people and communities. Real change will require all of us to recognize and address head-on what isn’t working. And we will have to pull from our deepest selves to find ways to partner creatively.
- Act. This work is a journey, not a destination. Failure comes when we don’t embark on the journey. Whatever time it may take, however many actors and steps involved, change can only begin by doing.
Jessie’s unique combination of life experience, personal charisma, and intellectual prowess made her a powerful and beloved leader in healthcare reform and patient advocacy. But make no mistake, shifting the health care landscape and forging new paths can be messy and contentious—and it takes enormous courage to call out what isn’t working and be a disrupting voice. Jessie recognized all this. We are all the better for her life and work.