Partners’ Interview Series: Arthur Southam, MD (Part 1)

Last Updated May 11, 2022

“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 better future of communities, families and individuals is at the families of what brings many people into healthcare.”

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.”

Presentation of Dr. Southam’s Vision & Excellence in Healthcare Leadership Award will take place at Partners’ 22nd Annual Tribute Dinner on Monday, June 20, 2022. To learn more about this event, 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.

Please look for Part Two of the interview with Dr. Southam to be published soon!

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