Lt. Governor Duncan Address Sets Stage for Health Connect South 2020 Platform

John Tabellione

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

The seventh annual Health Connect South (HCS), the Southeast’s gathering of thought leaders in the field of medicine, convened on September 24th with over 750 in attendance—its largest forum ever. Its unique networking platform encourages collaborative innovations and advances key health topics via 17 panel sessions, featuring over 40 renowned moderators and speakers, including Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan.

Russ Lipari, Founder and CEO of HCS, welcomed the virtual audience and immediately thanked and recognized “all first responders in our health community that have been working at levels unknown to help battle this pandemic. On behalf of our entire team at Health Connect South we want to say thank you. We support your work; we support your mission and we’re here to help promote the great work that’s going on by so many within and throughout our health community.”

Lipari also acknowledged and thanked his Board of Directors for their support of the HCS mission, growth and objectives, as well as his COO, Mark Jarboe and the HSC staff. Subsequently, Jarboe addressed the various institutions and companies that collaborate with and support HCS as sponsors: Wellstar Health Systems, Auburn University, Verizon, the Marcus Foundation, National Vision, King and Spalding, Goldman Sachs, Hudson Alpha, the Shepherd Center, the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the CDC Foundation, Mercer University, Thrive at Emory, the University of Georgia and ATDC.

He also encouraged attendees to benefit from the event’s networking opportunities as further evidence how HSC collaboration functions well both on an individual, as well as on a macro scale.

Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan Promotes Policy over Politics

Calling it his recipe for sustained growth in Georgia, Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan emphasized to the audience that his vision for the state is to become the “Tech Capital of the East Coast.” 

Such a tech eco-system will help to ensure sustainability of business growth that will continue to invite investment, talent and innovation to the state. Duncan credits the efforts of former Senator Georgia Johnny Isakson and retired Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson as the impetus behind the Innovation Task Force that gave rise to “PI2,” (Partnership for Inclusive Innovation). By crossing boundaries, whether they be overcoming the practice of businesses silos, involving struggling industries, or covering all geographic Georgia counties, whether wealthy, rural, racial, etc., the more inclusive a company becomes, the better their perception will be, according to Duncan.

Inclusiveness and collaboration also lead to individual, public and private partnerships and the ability to share critical data that is necessary in order to meet daily opportunities and challenges head-on caused by disruption, such as COVID-19.

Duncan’s vision of entrepreneurship as an opportunity for everyone mirrors his own record of achievement. Prior to running for state office, he and his wife created a marketing company that grew into a full scale operation with over 100 employees. He later created an exit strategy and sold the business, moving on to becoming a CEO for a health care and wellness firm.

One of his key current goals is to make it feasible for the young people of today to follow their dream into entrepreneurship by following their passion. His number one piece of advice to those potential business owners, particularly in the health care industry, is to choose policy over politics in order to reach reality. Such a success is “wrapped around good substantive policies, around innovation, they’re wrapped around investments, they’re wrapped around community development.”

He added, “Be who you are and don’t get sucked into the trappings of politics. I don’t think there are any solutions found in politics when it comes to health care.” He concluded by stating, “we all want better access and more affordable health care. Those two things. Those are bipartisan things that we can act on and I can assure you, if what you’re working on and what business you’re building around health care does that, you’re going to be successful, and that’s going to continue to put us in a great light here in Georgia to continue to allow us to become the technology capital.”

Creating a New Paradigm in Healthcare Delivery: Walmart Health

Nikkela S. Tucker, MPH, Director Health & Wellness, Walmart, Inc., whose background includes working with insurers, Medicare and pharmaceutical companies, introduced and moderated Q&A  for Marcus Osborne, Senior Vice President, Walmart Health. Osborne conducted a presentation on the new Walmart Health concept from vision to the reality.

Even before the pandemic, the number one concern for causing stress over the years has consistently been health care, i.e., its cost, complex access to and uncaring service. Walmart is more than just a retailer, notes Osborne. “We are in the business of creating solutions for problems the people have. How do we bring solutions to address the challenges you have in your life,? he said. 

Thus, the Walmart Health experience is based upon convenience, everyday low pricing, and a more caring approach. Practically every possible medical service is provided, ranging from X-rays, chronic illnesses, new mother training, dentistry and mental health services to physical therapy. The health sector layout also includes physically close, literal connectivity, such as a dentist being able to refer a patient to a nearby nurse or doctor for a patient with high blood pressure, or a cardiac issue.

Affordability and pricing for services are up front and evident, with posted signs. Appointments are easily made since Walmart has evening and weekend hours. Georgia, where the first Walmart Health operation opened has five locations with expansion of twelve store locations to occur. In the near future. With other states, including, Illinois, Florida, Texas and Arkansas either already opened or soon planned to be, the chain will have 20 sites by the end of 2020.

Osborne explained that Walmart Health arranges for collaborative partners for certain services and products, such as dental care, auditory testing, and fitness. He concluded by observing that his biggest surprise about the new stores has been the engagement of the people have been, the strong traffic and the repeated traffic already.

Investing in Healthcare – the Changing Horizon

This session featured Sri Mani, Vice President, Goldman Sachs, moderating a panel that included Ben Scruggs, Associate, Hatteras Venture Partners; Kenneth Saffold, Director BlackRock; and, Tim Howe, Senior Director Corporate Strategy & Investments for Cox Enterprises.

First of all, COVID-19 has definitely affected investments during the last several months, but there have been exceptions in certain markets. The pandemic has provided an opportunity for volume-based care and digital health areas due to an acceleration of adoption for digital health, tools and business models, in Howe’s opinion.

While his firm’s business was significantly altered for Saffold, they have since shifted to the secondary market, and have started to see a loosening up of activity in the second and third quarters. The return to work shift and the vaccine comes to market will help “continued return to normal.”

As early stage investors in therapeutic stage, and a mix of diagnostics and health care IT, Scruggs says they have not experienced a slowdown in early stage investments, and foresees a great number of opportunities. 

When asked what keeps them and their company executives awake at night, Scruggs said, “In the near-term, the effect of COVID-19 on the clinical trial side has had a dramatic impact on enrollment and can you deploy capital appropriately.” In the more long-term, pricing dynamics are a challenge. 

The others concurred that people are waiting for the election and any resulting effects on regulations. Continuation of alternative payment models, better care, quality and better access for everyone were also mentioned.

Other Panel Sessions

A video of the conference covering the 17 total panelist sessions will soon be available for viewing on the Health Connect South website. 

About John Tabellione

John Tabellione is an award-winning, professional business writer, complemented by over twenty-five years of strategic communication responsibilities as a Marketing, New Business Development and National Account Sales Executive in consumer goods and commercial industries. 

Experience with Fortune 500 companies, as well as with smaller firms and non-profits, encompassing a variety of products, including those of Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and Stanley Works. 

John has a B.A. in English from Fairfield University and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Hartford. In addition, he has studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute at Syracuse University, and Italian language and culture at Kennesaw State University.