Health Connect South 2022 Highlights Regional Health Partnerships and Draws Record Attendance

John Tabellione

Tuesday, October 4th, 2022

In the first in-person gathering since 2019, Health Connect South’s 9th Annual Gathering on September 22nd featured some of the biggest names and organizations in health and drew a record number of registrations, topping 1,100.  

“The mission of Health Connect South is to serve the health community as a platform to promote health collaborations,” said Russ Lipari, Founder & CEO. “We are pleased to be a major draw for some of our region’s and nation’s top leaders in health to discuss how health partnerships are positively affecting the health industry.” The platform was designed to be a catalyst to address the challenges facing the healthcare industry today via an agenda of 16 panel sessions by 64 renowned moderators and speakers, including The White House, The Director of the CDC, The FDA Commissioner, and many of our region’s top health decision makers, innovators, and next generation of health leaders. 


In his presentation, Dr. Robert M. Califf, Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), gave the opening keynote speech, setting the tone for the day’s program.

Dr. Califf said, “Collaboration is a powerful concept…nowhere more so, perhaps, than in healthcare and the industries that support healthcare and public health. He added, “It’s also central to what makes the FDA tick.”

He also commented on the several challenges over the past few years that American medical professionals had and continue to have. He noted, “Despite the overwhelming pressure and the evolving shortage of qualified professionals, the American innovators continue to be the envy of the world, despite the limitations of resources engendered by the pandemic.” In 2021, the U.S. spent over $4 trillion dollars on health care.

Califf pointed out the fundamental purpose of collaboration by highlighting the fact that we sometimes miss the mark. So, he implored the audience to acknowledge the key importance of addressing the dramatic decline—especially across the Southeast—of life expectancy, in comparison to China, whose rate is greater than in the U.S. Much of the decline stateside is due to demographics, i.e., race, ethnicity, wealth, education, and geography, and, in particular, in rural settings. All this contributing to the fact that the Southeast is experiencing the largest decline in health and life expectancy in the nation, caused by heart, vascular, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as mental health issues that have grown more widespread.

Some relatively good news Dr. Califf pointed out is that unprecedented collaboration on cancer and rare genetic diseases has led to an improvement in outcome contrary to the above main trends. A potential area of collaboration with the FDA might include health care workers in remote areas having digital technology as back-up, potentially leading to becoming a source of added employment and better health. Other areas of cooperation could include tobacco usage issues, as well as the fact that the FDA regulates 75 percent of the food supply. Califf ended saying, “I look forward to working with you to forge collaborations that reverse the trends that I’ve discussed today.”


Although healthcare is considered local, the audience benefitted from advice from a couple of other federal employees in addition to that from FDA Commissioner, Dr. Calif; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Deborah Houry, MD, Acting Principal Director of the CDC, and Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford, White House Special Assistant to the President for Public Health and Science. Dr. Ford in light of Georgia’s high mortality rate, echoed the aforementioned need to advance equity healthcare service and to address the need to combat hunger for all, as well as to offer extension of Medicaid coverage for mothers from birth through to postpartum support.

Dr. Walensky praised the regional health leaders and innovators in attendance for having long recognized the need for federal cross industry partnerships. Examples included Children’s Health Care of Atlanta (CHOA), Georgia Tech, Emory University. “Thank you to all of you for your continued commitment to develop truly innovative and beneficial partnerships that serve the greater good for all people and communities across the Southeast. I am looking forward to hear what is working and what might be improved; where you see good models of collaboration and coordination and wherever there are challenges. Please consider me and CDC your partners in this journey.”

Recent and ongoing updates and reorganization have been occurring at the CDC in response to health issues ranging from suicide prevention to mental health, equity treatment, etc. The panel moderator asked a question as to what health professionals can do to work with the CDC to enhance initiatives and achieve better healthcare. Dr. Houry responded, “I’m an optimist. I think we have to work together as a community to address all of these public issues that are not getting better.” 

She added that the best way to communicate with the CDC would be through their “front door,” that is, the Office of External Affairs, which will serve as a “one-stop shop” and will connect potential collaborators to the appropriate subject matter experts’ center. Also, the CDC website offers different points of contact, commonly asked questions, technical support, and advisory notices. Dr. Houry described the CDC Foundation as another wonderful way to partner. 


Subsequently, certain panel discussions echoed Dr. Califf’s reference to the need for new and better technology as remedies to resuscitate the industry. For example, Daniel Gagnon, Vice-President of Global Healthcare Strategy at UPS, while on the panel of “Understanding and Fortifying the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain,” said, “When you look at the changes and the companies that have changed over the last three years, the ones who have made health care easy are the ones who are successful and a lot of them are high tech companies.” He added,  “…with healthcare, obviously, it’s highly regulated and I think these last few years have set a new tone and direction for how public and private organizations are collaborating.”

Furthermore, new technology opportunities provide at-home kits and self-diagnostics allowing patients to monitor their own blood tests and collect data for their physicians. Nonetheless, medication shortages have occurred due to the fact that 80-90 per cent of them are made overseas. Panelist Patrick Cashman, President of USAntibiotics, urged medical students in the audience to always keep the patient in mind. As for collaboration, UPS Healthcare was integrally cooperated in a paradoxical arrangement with FedEx during “Operation Warp Speed.” In that operation, the rival companies connected and transported COVID-19 vaccine doses that were sent from manufacturers to assigned locations specified by state governments.

Another critical discussion panel was comprised of hospital CEOs of Piedmont Healthcare and Duke University, as well as the President of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, who all addressed “Defining What’s Next for the Future of Hospitals.’’  In essence, the healthcare industry is conducting a self-diagnosis and a prognosis of lingering effects of the pandemic on its future. That is, medical institutions today face the challenge of retention and recruitment of nurses, as well as the rest of the hospital labor force, to the point of having to organize in-house recruitment agencies. As for technology, an optimal solution is training nurses and other employees to utilize technology efficiently. Another would be, according to Jonathan Watkins, President of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, creating an ideal culture and environment, since for many nurses “it’s a calling. They do it because they love exactly what they do. They do it because they love the patients.” Kevin Brown, President, and CEO of Piedmont Healthcare, spoke of signing incentives and retention bonuses to the point where the staff payroll increased by $300 million dollars last year.

Also, Thomas Owens, MD, President of Duke University Hospital referenced learning from other industries. “we like to think we’re advanced in our use of virtual technology interactions. We were dealing with hundreds or a few thousand of virtual interactions a month previously last year…“we flipped to providing tens of thousands of encounters per week virtually.” 

Another panel—“The Current and Future State of Our Healthcare Workforce”— offered participants continuing education credit from The American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) for board certification in healthcare management. Similar to the Hospital CEO panel, discussion here covered the underlying factor of personnel issues as a result of the aftereffects of the pandemic which led to burnout and the decrease in resources. Shane Jackson, President of Jackson Healthcare stated, “There are as many people working in healthcare as they were in 2020. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the demand and need for healthcare workers is substantially more than it was during that time.” Even though nurses have been recognized as “heroes” during the pandemic and have received substantial pay increases, the number one reason they are quitting their jobs is burnout. Likewise, Jackson added, “Four years from now, twenty-one per cent of physicians will be retirement eligible.” The American Academy of Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of one hundred thousand physicians. 

In addition to a huge focus on strategic workforce development such as career pathways for clinicals and work staffs, another approach is working with high school students during nursing summer camp to encourage them to enter the profession. Even revising a care model, i.e., for how nurses can learn how to help patients more, may incentivize them to like their roles better. Among the panel’s list of several possible solutions: copying other industries’ work retention models; refining work roles; allowing flexible schedules and working arrangements; as well as offering career advancement training and cross training.

As for doctor shortage issues, partnerships with high schools and medical schools are critical connections for explaining potential career titles and responsibilities. Locum tenens physicians provide flexibility and control, as well as opportunities for career changes. On the other hand is the challenge that some of the best students don’t want to become primary physicians. 

Furthermore, it is critical, according to Dr. Deep Shah, Primary Care Physician Gwinnett Clinic, to explain to med students the need for more of them to fill that role as part of their career, due to the many who burnt out due to the pandemic. 

The agenda also included another panel entitled, “Realizing Innovation through Cross-industry Partnerships,”. A company, headed by James Lewis, Co-Founder and CEO called 11Ten, emphasizes the motto: “Innovation Drives Healthcare. We Drive Healthcare Innovation.” The firm offered healthcare entities in the audience and elsewhere, the opportunity for building a partnership with and collaborating with cross industry organizations, even equity partnerships. Their relationship can prove to be resourceful toward resolving issues through automation, AI, workload assignments, telehealth, and job descriptions, among other related tasks.  


A video of the conference covering all of the 16 total panelist sessions will soon be available for viewing on the Health Connect South website. Health Connect South is now planning their 10th Anniversary Gathering for September of 2023. 

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.