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Building bridges: How the AOA’s new executive director creates change

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New AOA Executive Director Adrienne White-Faines, MPA, greets the AOA House of Delegates for the first time in July. (Photo by Patrick Sinco)

The children in the White-Faines household had just been told a summer vacation wasn’t possible due to conflicts in their parents’ work schedules. Following a tough winter for the family, the news was particularly glum. The daughter of the AOA’s new executive director recalls the day back in 2003 when her mother addressed a gathering of siblings, cousins and friends after breaking the news about the vacation.

“ ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ said my mother,” notes Mari Faines, who was 10 years old at the time. “ ‘We have nine weeks left to all go around the world.’ We looked at her bewildered, then she explained her plan. We’d go out to dinner and try a different cuisine, or ‘country,’ every week, and beforehand we would study that country and learn everything we could about it. And when my mom took us to the restaurant, she’d have the owner of the restaurant or one of the people who worked there tell us all about the food we were eating and about the country, and we’d be able to tell him or her what we had learned.”

Eager to try each new cuisine, the children often tasted just about every dish at the restaurant. “That’s when I developed my love for Ethiopian food,” says Mari Faines, now 20. “It was one of the best summers we ever had. It’s just like my mother to find a way to create adventure through adversity and help us to grow through the process.”

Adrienne White-Faines, MPA

“I’m driven to find strategic solutions when something or someone, especially the public, will be better as a whole.”

Throughout her life, new AOA Executive Director Adrienne White-Faines, MPA, has often served as a bridge, whether she was introducing children to new cultures or serving as a facilitator between communities, cultures and organizations to create new solutions in health care.

In her new role, which she started in July, White-Faines will help guide the AOA as it supports and advocates for osteopathic physicians and medical students in a rapidly evolving health care environment.

“Physicians are learning how to integrate into the various health care systems under the Affordable Care Act while preserving access to the qualities and contributions of osteopathic medicine for their patients,” she says. “We want to make sure DOs can trust the AOA to be there to help them—by creating visibility for the growing field of professionals, providing products to support new models of care, and advocating for policies to ensure access and quality of care.”

A family of trailblazers

The first African-American woman to lead the AOA, White-Faines was inspired by her parents to break glass ceilings and pursue mission-driven work. Her mother, Winifred Parker White, and her aunt became the first African-American women to integrate the all-white dorms at Purdue University. The move to desegregate the dorms occurred after White-Faines’ grandfather pressed the Indiana governor to allow black students to live in the dorms.

“I come from a family of trailblazers, as do many African-American professionals today,” White-Faines says. “My mother was a very dynamic woman who put family first. She and my father always told me, ‘God, family, community.’ And the ‘I’ comes last. You do what you can to make the world a better place. And those values continue to drive my career choices and community activities.”

White-Faines’ exposure to the power and impact of health care policy came early. Her father was a dentist who worked with primary care physicians in a practice serving Milwaukee’s underserved African-American population. As a teen, White-Faines spent her summers working in the clinic’s office, seeing firsthand how health policy decisions handed down from the state capital reverberated in her father’s practice.

“I watched the physicians try to serve the community, and I also learned how challenged they were because every time the government changed a reimbursement policy, the entire practice would shake,” she says. “But the needs of the population always remained.”

In the ‘70s, when Wisconsin made sweeping changes to its public aid system, not only were many patients left without coverage, but regulations for providers also left many of them, including those at her father’s practice, ineligible to receive payment under the new system.

Fun facts about Adrienne White-Faines, MPA

When she’s not working, White-Faines most enjoys spending time with her family, including vacationing together. She also loves cooking and watching basketball.

Favorite movies: Glory, Whale Rider.

Favorite dish to cook: Seafood gumbo.

Favorite books: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

Favorite artists on her iPod: Alicia Keyes, Joni Mitchell, Oscar Peterson, Charlie Wilson, Miguel.

Favorite vacation spots: St. Croix; Beaver Creek, Colo.; Mombasa, Kenya.

Basketball allegiances: Chicago Bulls (NBA), Ohio State University (NCAA).

Family: Includes husband, Larry Faines, MD; daughter, Mari, 20; son, Kamau, 18; nephew, Kirk, 25; and niece, Ahyshia, 23.

“The patients were told to go out of their own community for care, but these were the physicians whom they were used to seeing,” White-Faines says. “What ultimately happened was the practice continued to treat many of the patients for free or for whatever they had to give, and the practice suffered. But they didn’t know any other way to make sure their patients were treated. I vowed then to learn more about the business of health care to support dedicated providers such as my father and his friends.”

Vital experience

After earning her BA in American Studies from Amherst (Mass.) College and her MPA from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, White-Faines began a career in health administration in the mid-1980s as a health strategist, creating sustainable solutions to health care delivery challenges.

For the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., she was on the capital planning team to rebuild five municipal hospitals, including Kings County Hospital Center, a teaching hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., then the country’s second-largest municipal hospital. White-Faines served as a liaison between the hospital, the city of New York, and the State University of New York. Through this role, she says she strengthened her talents to design solutions and seek consensus by balancing myriad issues posed by regulatory agencies, clinical providers, public administrators, community groups and patient needs.

And when White-Faines directed Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s redevelopment project for Northwestern University’s academic medical center, she similarly had to keep in mind the needs of the hospital, the university, the medical school, the faculty, independent physicians, state and local regulatory agencies, and the community. The $600 million initiative consolidated 22 sites offering ambulatory care, inpatient and outpatient services and physician offices into a single medical complex in Chicago. At the time, it was among the country’s largest health care construction projects. White-Faines recalls that one of the key components for this success was the ability to create a “culture for innovation” and an “inclusive, participatory planning process” across the entire institution, which welcomed input from all departments and stakeholders.

These experiences among others will help White-Faines lead an organization such as the AOA, says Karen J. Nichols, DO, who chaired the AOA’s executive director search committee.

“The AOA is different from so many other organizations that have a much more laser-like focus,” says Dr. Nichols, the AOA’s 2010-11 president. “We have such a broad variety of authorities for so many different stakeholders and constituents. Adrienne can see things from a patients’ point of view, from an advocate’s point of view and from a staff facilitator’s point of view, and she’s familiar with the physician perspective as well. We need a leader who can pull on many different skill sets to meet the diverse needs of our organization, and the bridging piece is really important.”

Adrienne’s husband, Larry Faines, MD, agrees.

“Adrienne can’t help but see things from multiple perspectives,” he says. “When others see challenges, she is inspired to find and create solutions. She’s just wired that way.”

Changing lives

Throughout the past decade, White-Faines has demonstrated what she calls “her passion to create innovative solutions” by serving as the vice president of health initiatives and advocacy for the Illinois division of the American Cancer Society (ACS).

One of the career achievements that she’s most proud of came from her time with the ACS, White-Faines says. She helped develop a statewide patient navigation system for cancer patients and caregivers, including the impoverished and the uninsured. Through the program, ACS social work teams, staff and volunteers assist patients with access to transportation, counseling, medication, insurance and lodging via a case management system to improve access to quality care.

“The overarching idea behind the patient navigation program was that you can’t eliminate disparities in outcomes unless you get rid of the obstacles to care for patients,” says Elizabeth Marcus, MD, a surgical oncologist at Cook County Stroger Hospital and lead volunteer with ACS who worked with White-Faines on the project. “A lot of underserved patients have significant obstacles to care. So you start with that goal, but then design a system for the entire state to provide multiple levels of access so that no patient goes unserved.”

It was a challenge to design a program that could work for the entire state, Dr. Marcus notes, and White-Faines had to bring a variety of stakeholders to the table including patients, physicians, social workers and administrators.

“It was an unbelievable undertaking. I don’t know how many people could have accomplished this,” Dr. Marcus says. “But we now have this amazing system that has reached approximately 80% of the uninsured cancer patients in the state. And every year the program has touched more and more patients and their caregivers and helped lower obstacles to care throughout the entire state.”

The navigation system now serves 36,000 newly diagnosed patients annually and up to 100,000 cancer patients total during any given year, says Steve Derks, the former CEO of ACS, who worked with White-Faines for more than a decade.

Derks lauds White-Faines’ role in the ACS’ push to pass smoke-free legislation in the city of Chicago and later in the state of Illinois, which went into effect in 2006 and 2008, respectively. White-Faines helped design and direct the ACS’ media, grassroots and lobbying campaigns that led to the passage of the legislation.

“The tobacco-free legislation is one of the greatest public health achievements in the state of Illinois in the past 25 years,” he says. “The ACS led the campaign to do it, and Adrienne was the glue behind those campaigns in Chicago first then in communities around the state, and ultimately the glue that kept the campaign together as we went to the state level.”

Karen J. Nichols, DO

“Adrienne can see things from a patients’ point of view, from an advocate’s point of view and from a staff facilitator’s point of view, and she’s familiar with the physician perspective as well.”
Dr. Nichols

White-Faines recalls the difficulty of pushing a smoke-free agenda as powerful tobacco and restaurant interest groups shoved back. But the benefits of moving forward outweighed the struggles, she says.

“I’m driven to find strategic solutions when something or someone, especially the public, will be better as a whole,” she says. “And I’m willing to approach projects with the strategic vision of what can be, not how hard it’s going to be to get there.”

Illinois’ smoke-free legislation, which bans smoking in all indoor public places and workplaces, was the strictest smoke-free law in the nation when it was passed, according to the ACS. While other states have since followed suit and passed similar antismoking laws, Illinois’ law remains among the most comprehensive in the U.S.

The future AOA

As she did while designing strategic initiatives at the ACS, White-Faines plans to build on goals and create a focused plan to strengthen the AOA’s profile and influence.

“We’re going to identify the key strategies that will make the biggest impact on the sustainability and visibility of the profession,” she says. “Then we’re going to go at it strategically with activities over multiple years, so that five years from now we’ll be an even stronger organization with a heightened foundation to carry us through the coming decades.”

In five years, White-Faines envisions an AOA more widely recognized by the public and in the health care community. The AOA five years on will likely earn money from new sources, will have created new opportunities for osteopathic medical research, and will build on new partnerships to advance the profession, White-Faines says.

When she talks about the AOA’s future, it’s clear White-Faines is excited by the possibilities—and the challenges. She knows the shortage of residency positions is a problem, and she sees the AOA helping to create new programs. She sees DOs alleviating the ongoing and growing physician shortage. The AOA will assist DOs in implementing changes in their practices related to the Affordable Care Act, she says. And the organization will adapt to accommodate its growing, increasingly diverse member base.

“We will have to examine the needs of students, residents and recent professionals in a very rapidly growing profession versus the needs of physicians in the past,” she says. “This really requires that we identify what is relevant to this incoming population of physicians. Their needs and reasons for looking to the AOA are likely different than they have been in the past. We have to grow together to support them and also to make sure that we are delivering our services effectively.”

White-Faines’ background with ushering change in organizations means she’s well-suited to lead the AOA in 2013, Dr. Marcus notes.

“The AOA is trying to move forward with the changes that have happened in the osteopathic profession,” she says. “I can’t think of anybody better to manage change than Adrienne. Change is hard. You have to have a vision, and you have to get people to want to come with you. Very often in large organizations that is extremely difficult to do. Adrienne has the ability to get people to want to follow her where she’s going.”

And White-Faines’ breadth of knowledge in health care administration, planning, consulting and advocacy will help her adeptly navigate the changes ahead, Derks says.

“Adrienne understands how people and systems can work to care for patients,” he says. "“Her experiences have all been great prelude for this role, and she is a leader, a listener and a strategist. She understands that you need to build collaboration and sponsorship of ideas beyond yourself to get things done in a big way.”