Part One: Fortunate to Serve

Award winner follows in the footsteps of his mentors.

The 2022 recipient of Partners in Care Foundation’s Vision & Excellence in Healthcare Leadership Award carries on the work of several past Partners honorees.

Arthur M. Southam, MD, executive vice president, health plan operations, and chief growth officer for Kaiser Permanente, counts among his mentors George Halvorson, the 2008 recipient of the Vision & Excellence in Healthcare Leadership Award, and Dr. Paul Torrens, the 2021 recipient of a Partners Lifetime Achievement Award.

“It’s an incredible honor to follow in the footsteps of the extraordinary people who have been recognized by the Partners in Care Foundation over the past decades. Each of them has had profound impact on health and healthcare in California and across the country,” said Dr. Southam.

“There are many and significant reasons for making this award to Dr. Southam,” explained June Simmons, President and CEO of the Partners in Care Foundation. “His impact shaping healthcare in both California and the nation through decades of consistent and successful leadership are notable. In addition, he has been generous with his time mentoring and coaching so many of the industry’s current leaders. These combined make him an ideal recipient of this prestigious award.” 

Dr. Southam joined Kaiser Permanente in 2001 and has national responsibility for Health Plan marketing, sales, service, and administration to employers, government programs and individuals. He is dedicated to helping Kaiser Permanente deliver high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of its members and the communities it serves. Kaiser Permanente originated in the 1930s as a small hospital and medical plan serving workers building the Colorado River Aqueduct. Today it is America’s largest not-for-profit health system with over $90 billion in revenue. Kaiser Permanente’s 300,000 employees and physicians provide integrated health care and coverage to more than 12.5 million members and patients in eight states.

In addition to his leadership responsibilities with Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Southam greatly values the decade he’s spent as a member of the board of directors, including serving as the chairman of the board, for CHRISTUS Health. CHRISTUS Health is the combined medical care ministries of three Catholic congregations, which have been providing medical care to the most vulnerable for over 150 years. Today, over 50,000 employees of CHRISTUS Health provide care in Texas, Louisiana, Mexico, Chile, and Colombia. “My volunteer work with CHRISTUS has broadened my perspective,” he said. “It’s increased my knowledge about healthcare around the world and about the important role Catholic congregations and ministries have played in providing healthcare to some of the most vulnerable populations in America and abroad.”

Additionally, Dr. Southam is a member of the board of advisors of the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, and is past chair of the Council for Affordable Quality Health Care, the California Association of Health Plans, the Integrated Health Care Association and Easter Seals of Southern California.

Dr. Southam served as a member of the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on the Quality of Health Care in America, contributing to two widely cited publications: To Err is Human, a landmark report that broke the silence that surrounded medical errors and set forth a national agenda to reduce errors and improve safety;and Crossing the Quality Chasm, which called for fundamental changes in health care and financing to improve quality with focus on making care safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable and patient-centered. 

One of the key turning points early in his career was meeting Dr. Paul Torrens, Professor Emeritus of Health Policy and Management at UCLA and founder of the Paul Torrens Health Forum at UCLA. Southam was in his first year of medical school and wondered if taking some classes in public health would be possible.

“Many people who are part of the Partners community have been mentored and guided by Dr. Torrens,” said Dr. Southam. “I was a wet behind the ears medical student, and he was a physician and a professor, but I was able to get time on his calendar and he welcomed me into his office. He met with me for an hour, starting with questions about my family, my interests, and my well-being. I told him I was interested in healthcare systems and public health, and he said, ‘You should take a course in public health and if you like that, you should take another. And if you like that, you should take another, and the right thing for you to do will become clear. And I will support you in doing what you want to do.’ That simple advice, his unconditional support, and the caring wisdom he has given me over the last 40 years has had a profound impact on my personal and professional life.” 

“Attending the UCLA School of Public Health and the School of Medicine in the early days of the AIDS epidemic helped me to think broadly about the opportunity to pursue a career involving medicine, public health, and management. It wasn’t a combination that was common at that time, or understood by most people, including my classmates, friends, and parents! Through UCLA, I met many life-long mentors and colleagues who provided encouragement, support and unexpected opportunities. Dr. Torrens, Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Dr. Lester Breslow, Dr. Roger Detels, Jack Schlosser, Layton Crouch, Paul Teslow, Dick Marciniak and Jeff Folick are among those I met through UCLA who have helped shaped my path and perspective. I am grateful to all of them.”

“My career took an unexpected turn following the first year of my internal medical residency at Cedars-Sinai when Jeff Folick, Layton Crouch and Paul Telsow offered me the chance to help create a new provider sponsored HMO called CareAmerica,” said Dr. Southam. Few, including my new bride, thought it would be possible for a handful of enterprising 20- and 30-year-olds interested in health car with no track record to start a new company to compete with the big insurers: Kaiser Permanente, Blue Cross, TransAmerica, Maxicare, Pacificare, Health Net and others. But – through creativity, conviction, agility, long days, naivete and good fortune – ten years later, CareAmerica grew to be one of the nation’s largest provider sponsored health plans offering HMO, PPO, Medicare, Life, and Workers Compensation coverage across much of Southern California. There is nothing more terrifying and thrilling than creating a new company from scratch as part of a close-knit team.”

“After 11 years at CareAmerica, I became CEO of Health Net, one of California’s largest health plans during some very challenging years for California’s health plans and many physician groups. After Health Net, I served as CEO of Health Systems Design – a small publicly traded health care software company. Both Health Net and Health Systems Design provided great opportunities and valuable learnings.”

Dr. Southam joined Kaiser Permanente in 2001 in a newly created role focused on enhancing its ability to compete, grow and adapt in the rapidly changing health plan competitive environment. “I came to Kaiser Permanente because I thought its mission, long view, operating, and economic model was the best way to provide care and coverage. And, that Kaiser Permanente could be a model for providing and improving health care across America.”

“Since its inception, Kaiser Permanente has had a distinctive, highly integrated strategic and operating model that allows us to provide coordinated, comprehensive high quality affordable care and coverage to customers, members and patients,” said Dr. Southam. The level of operational and technological integration across all parts of our delivery system and with our Health Plan is unique in the American health care system. And the model allows for investments in prevention, quality and care coordination that improve personal and population health. The Kaiser Permanente structure and model avoids the perverse incentives of classic fee for service payment.”

Over the past two decades, Kaiser Permanente has rapidly expanded and made major enhancements to its integrated care delivery capabilities and information technology ecosystem.  “At the same time, we have had strong and consistent growth and improved our competitiveness,” said Dr. Southam. “We’ve done this through better branding, marketing, products, sales, and digital and service capabilities, that serve our customers and respond to changing government policy, including the Affordable Care Act. The ACA dramatically reduced the number of Americans without health coverage, and we are proud to have been a leader in making it a success in California and across the nation.”  

“At Kaiser Permanente, I have been fortunate to work directly for four exceptional CEOs, each of whom have maintained Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to our distinctive integrated model and providing high quality affordable care and coverage that improves the health of our members and communities,” said Dr. Southam. “Dr. David Lawrence was a visionary and tireless advocate for quality, safety, and affordability. George Halvorson sharpened our focus on the marketplace. He boldly launched and led the successful implementation of Kaiser Permanente’s enterprise-wide electronic medical record, consumer digital services and pharmacy IT systems. Bernard Tyson, before his untimely death, was a constant source of smiles and inspiration. He brought the voice of the consumer and the most vulnerable to the table, focusing on the need to address the social and environmental disparities that undermine health and opportunity. And Greg Adams has successfully led Kaiser Permanente through the long days of the pandemic, economic disruption, and civil unrest – while maintaining focus on building a stronger, more agile organization.”

Dr. Southam said he is grateful to be the latest recipient of the Vision & Excellence in Healthcare Leadership Award.

“The prior recipients of this award are my heroes – many are close friends and colleagues. It’s a privilege to be recognized for this honor in the company of leaders who have had profound impact. Creating a better world, and a better future for communities, families and individuals is at the center of what brings many people into healthcare. I am fortunate that I have the opportunity to work in a field, in an organization, and with people who are committed to bringing better health and great medical care to everyone in our communities.” 

It’s also an honor to be recognized alongside Dr. Sachin Jain, CEO of SCAN Health Plan,” said Dr. Southam. “His accomplishments are many and the organization he leads is at the leading edge of serving the most vulnerable with creativity and compassion.”  

“I am particularly honored to be recognized by the Partners in Care Foundation. June Simmons and Partners serve the most vulnerable. And they are long time leaders in bringing increased attention to the impact of social factors on health, quality of life and medical outcomes for individuals and communities. We know that we cannot achieve the goal of improving health, independence, and medical outcomes without identifying and addressing hunger, shelter, transportation, isolation, and poverty. We are all indebted to Partners for their powerful and clear voice about the need for government, payors, providers, and communities to work together to systematically address these issues.”

Part 2 – Honor and duty

Recognition comes with responsibility to do more

Dr. Arthur M. Southam, MD, the recipient of Partners in Care Foundation’s 2022 Vision & Excellence in Healthcare Leadership Award, said the recognition is an honor but also a responsibility.

“It’s a great honor to join Dr. Sachin Jain in being recognized by Partners in Care, and to be included in an extraordinary list of previous award recipients. The award and Partners’ annual dinner are an opportunity to reflect on the important work and accomplishments of Partners, our industry and our organizations. It is a time to reflect and give thanks to the scientific, public health, health care and other professionals who have provided expert, compassionate and heroic service during the pandemic. It is also an opportunity to focus on lessons learned and many things we must do better if we are to improve health and care for all people in our communities, particularly those who are most vulnerable and lack the privileges and resources many of us enjoy. We can’t become a healthy society by medical care alone. We must also attend to social factors, our environments, disparities and the most vulnerable.”

We must remember the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” We must recommit to making the needs of the most vulnerable, the elimination of health inequities, the diversity of our workforce and the inclusiveness of our organizations a central focus of our daily work and advocacy.

“For decades Partners has been on the leading edge of raising awareness about the importance of social risk factors and how they impact health and outcomes of medical care. They have been advocates for improving the coordination of medical and social care across the continuum and over time, particularly for the most vulnerable. They have done this through the service they provide to patients and their families. And they have done it through advocacy and education. It is an honor to support the past and future work of Partners.” 

Dr. Southam, executive vice president, health plan operations, and chief growth officer for Kaiser Permanente, will receive the award at Partners in Care Foundation’s 22nd Annual Tribute Dinner on June 20, 2022.

Dr. Southam received his medical degree and MPH from UCLA, and his MBA from Pepperdine University. He received his BA in neuroscience from Amherst College. He joined the Kaiser Permanente national leadership team in 2001.

“My parents encouraged and inspired me to pursue a career in medicine. Their examples have shaped my dreams and career choices. Both came from modest backgrounds, became academic physicians, and had fascinating careers involving a mix of patient care, research and teaching around the globe,” he said. “Starting when I was about seven, I remember listening to kitchen table conversations about virology, immunology, pregnancy, infertility, contraception, curing cancer, and the catastrophic impact of the population explosion on people in developing countries.”

His mother grew up on a farm in northern Idaho and attended college on a bookkeeping scholarship. His father went to the University of Idaho to be a forestry major.

In the middle of World War II, they graduated from the University of Idaho, had a child and were accepted to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“They drove from Moscow, Idaho to New York with their new baby.,” Dr. Southam said. “My mother was one of a handful of women in their medical school class. She was asked by a professor why she hadn’t disclosed that she had a child on her application. She said it was because they hadn’t asked. Until her death she would say that the fact she was a woman never resulted in discrimination or held her back – hard to believe. She became a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia and did research on the physiology of pregnancy and infertility. She became involved in early work on IUD and oral contraceptive development. Later she worked with the Population Council and the Ford Foundation on contraceptive research, development and training in the US, Asia, Africa and South America, returning to work part time in rural Planned Parenthood clinics in the last years of her career. My dad was an immunologist/oncologist involved in research to understand and address the causes of cancer. After serving in the US Army virology lab in Tokyo, he worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering traveling frequently throughout the US, Japan and the Soviet Union research collaborations.”

“Their passion for science and medicine rubbed off on me. They helped me understand that a medical career is about commitment to patients and can be much much more. Their life-long pursuit of solutions to enormous scientific and social challenges continues to be an inspirational reminder of what is important and can be possible.”

“Among the many people who influenced my development and career was Professor James Nelson, an Amherst College professor who specialized in the economics of public policy and regulated American industries. During his lectures on railroads, telephone companies, energy and IBM, he would go on long tangents about the American healthcare system and its dysfunctions. He was dying at the time and had personal experience. At the time Sen. Ted Kennedy was proposing a national health insurance plan, which didn’t go anyplace. Professor Nelson sharpened my awareness of the American healthcare systems as a massive, critically important, fragmented, unorganized, inefficient and underperforming non-system with profound societal impact.”

After coming to UCLA Medical School, I was introduced to Dr. Paul Torrens [the 2021 recipient of a Partners Lifetime Achievement Award]. Dr. Torrens nurtured my budding interest in public health, public policy, healthcare financing, healthcare systems and how they impact medical care, public and personal and health. The introductions, opportunities, wisdom and support he provided have allowed me to pursue a career that has blended health care management, care delivery, public health, public policy, information technology and leadership.

Dr. Southam said healthcare and the medical care industry have changed “an incredible amount and not a lot, all at the same time,” since he earned his medical and public health degrees in 1984.

“As a third-year medical student, I helped take care of two of the first four reported cases of AIDS, who were inpatients and died at UCLA,” he said. During the next decade and beyond, the tragedy, uncertainty and impact of AIDS affected our nation and the world. As with COVID, AIDS highlighted the best and worst features of our medical care system, biomedical science, public health and society. “Certainly, one of the great triumphs of modern biomedical science has been the advances that have been achieved in the control of AIDS. Due to the efforts of scientists, clinicians, social activists and many others, AIDS in the U.S. has gone from a death sentence to a preventable and treatable disease.”

Over the last 40 years we’ve seen many other incredible advances in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of many conditions that previously had resulted in death, disability and suffering. These have included amazing advances in vaccines, cardiovascular disease, neonatal care, organ transplants, ophthalmology, joint replacements, cancer care, mental health pharmacotherapy, mRNA vaccines for COVID and many other areas. We are grateful for all of these and the extraordinary people who have made them possible. These advances are wonderful examples of the ability of biomedical technology, dedicated medical professionals and great health care organizations to save lives and reduce suffering on a massive scale.

Meaningful progress has also been made in improving access to health coverage and medical care through the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) in 2003 and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the most consequential and comprehensive healthcare reform in over half a century. The ACA dramatically reduced economic and other barriers that had limited the ability of all Americans, particularly the poor, sick and vulnerable, to obtain and retain affordable, comprehensive health coverage. It has reduced the number of uninsured Americans by more than 20 million while assuring that all American’s, regardless of prior history or health status, can get and keep (relatively) affordable comprehensive coverage that includes preventive and reproductive health services with limited or no out-of-pocket costs. The improvements made by the ACA helped millions of Americans who lost their employer sponsored coverage or would have been uninsured during the COVID pandemic. While the ACA was not perfect in design or implementation, the ACA was, as then Vice President Biden said, a “Big Deal,” one of the greatest advances in health care policy, access to care and social justice of our lives. Among the proudest accomplishments of my professional career have been helping lead the work at Kaiser Permanente to implement both the MMA and ACA. KP made an organizational commitment to do everything possible to support the success and implementation of both laws. Today KP is the largest provider of Medicare Advantage and ACA individual coverage in California and across the markets we serve, growing to almost 3 million individuals in Medicare and individual plans, among our 12.5 million members.

“Unfortunately, there are other things that haven’t changed very much, particularly in the United States. Healthcare for our nation and for most individuals continues to be extraordinarily expensive by any measure. The health of our people, access to care, medical outcomes, and life expectancy, particularly for the poor and many people of color, is worse than in most developed nations. The increase in death rates during COVID for Black and Latino people in Los Angeles County during COVID was 3-6 times higher than for white people. It is just one stark example. Access to and the quality of medical care is often excellent, but not everywhere and not for everyone.

The causes are many. Massive disparities in wealth, education, and economic opportunity confound our ability to improve health and access to care. Within the healthcare industry, healthcare coverage and health care are often not accessible or well-coordinated for many Americans. The current mix of state and federally regulated commercial group coverage, individual coverage, Medicare and Medicaid is complex, inefficient and confusing for all. The cost of coverage is high and often unaffordable to employers, individuals and governments. Care continues to be uncoordinated over time and across providers for most Americans. We continue to underemphasize and underinvest in prevention, as well as the environmental, social and behavioral factors that are the primary determinants of health and that drive the cost of care. Our society and medical care system continue to struggle with mental health and aging.  

Most of these shortcomings of our society and healthcare system existed before the COVID pandemic. However, COVID has exacerbated and made vivid their tragic and inequitable impact. It is our role as leaders in our communities, in the healthcare industry and in our organizations to address all the issues that undermine our ability to improve the health and hopes of all those we serve and all who live in our communities.

I came to Kaiser Permanente 20 years ago because I admired the clarity of our mission to provide high quality affordable heath care and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. I thought KP’s integrated model of “care and coverage together,” the focus on prevention, and the strategy to invest in, provide, and coordinate a comprehensive range of medical and other care over time and across the continuum for a diverse membership was “A Better Way for Better Health.” I thought it could a model for other organizations and our nation as we strive to “Cross the Quality Chasm” and improve health in America.

I am grateful for my opportunity over the past two decades to collaborate with and help lead wonderful people doing a vast array of important, purposeful and innovative work at KP. The organization has more than tripled in size in terms of revenue and services provided, now serving over 12.5M members in a highly competitive, ever changing and increasingly complex health care and health benefits industry. We continue to demonstrate and improve our ability as a not-for profit, integrated provider and health plan system to deliver value to our customers and compete effectively in the health benefits market. KP’s early adoption, aggressive investment, and steadfast commitment to enterprise-wide electronic medical records, pharmacy systems, consumer digital services, telehealth and other technology enabled improvements have been challenging, amazing and industry leading. I am proud of our commitment to passage and successful implementation of the ACA. It was risky, the right thing to do and has allowed us to serve many more people. Our commitment and work to address social factors affecting health and our work to improve equity, diversity and inclusion in our communities, in our care and within KP is long standing, recognized nationally, far from done and never ending. Finally, I am proud of how KP has adjusted to the profound challenges of the pandemic and we are all grateful to the amazing, dedicated care givers and public health professionals, at KP and throughout the nation, who have dedicated themselves to caring for others throughout the pandemic.

In addition to contributing to the growth and success of Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Southam said he greatly values the decade he’s spent as a member of the board of directors, including serving as the chairman of the board, for CHRISTUS Health. CHRISTUS Health is made up of the combined medical care ministries of three Catholic congregations, which have been providing medical care to the most vulnerable for over 150 years. Today, over 50,000 employees of Christus Health provide care throughout Texas, Louisiana, Mexico, Chile, and Colombia.

“CHRISTUS Health is a mission driven high performance Catholic health care organization serving a high proportion of vulnerable patients in many poor high-risk communities. My work on the Board of CHRISTUS has been extraordinarily rewarding and broadened my perspective,” he said. “It has increased my knowledge about healthcare around our country and around the world. I have come to deeply appreciate the vital role that Catholic congregations and ministries play in providing health care to some of the most vulnerable, in America and abroad.”

Dr. Southam and his wife, Dr. Cornelia “Beezie” Daly, an obstetrician/gynecologist, were classmates at UCLA Medical School and have been married for 38 years. She has practiced in Santa Monica for over 30 years, delivering thousands of babies and providing women’s health services to all generations. Artie and Beezie live in Santa Monica, have four wonderful children and a young Cockapoo Nugget who helps keep them smiling and on their toes.

To learn more about Partners’ Annual Tribute Dinner, register to attend the event, or sign up as a sponsor, please visit Partners’ 2022 Annual Tribute Dinner.

Partners in Care Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in San Fernando. Its mission is to align social care and health care to address the social determinants of health and equity disparities affecting diverse, under-served and vulnerable populations.

Read an interview with Sachin Jain, MD