This Week Health

TownHall: Mission-Driven: A Journey Into Nonprofit Consulting with Keith MacDonald

July 25: Today on TownHall Sue Schade, Principal at StarBridge Advisors speaks with Keith MacDonald, Owner and Principal at Consulting for Good. How did Keith's transition from health IT consulting to consulting exclusively with nonprofit organizations come about? What were the driving factors behind his decision? What challenges and opportunities do nonprofit organizations in the broader health space, especially those focused on social services, face? How can they navigate issues related to funding, resources, and collaboration with larger organizations? How can individuals contemplating a new chapter, whether transitioning from retirement or seeking a change, discover their own path and make a meaningful impact?

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Transcript

This transcription is provided by artificial intelligence. We believe in technology but understand that even the smartest robots can sometimes get speech recognition wrong.

Today on This Week Health.

I love the phrase, pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. Well, that's all well and good. But if you don't have bootstraps to pull yourself up with you can't ever get out of that cycle.

So all the reading, I did all the exploring I did around that. I felt so helpless. And felt like I needed to do something about that.

Welcome to TownHall. A show hosted by leaders on the front lines with interviews of people making things happen in healthcare with technology. My name is Bill Russell, the creator of This Week Health, a set of channels dedicated to keeping health IT staff and engaged. For five years we've been making podcasts that amplify great thinking to propel healthcare forward. We want to thank our show partners, MEDITECH and Transcarent, for investing in our mission to develop the next generation of health leaders now onto our show.

Hello, I'm Sue Shade, Principal at Starbridge Advisors and one of the hosts for the Town Hall Show at This Week Health. Today, my guest is Keith McDonald, a long time health IT consultant who recently transitioned into consulting exclusively with social services non profit organizations with his new LLC, Consulting for Good.

Keith was most recently Vice President at Impact Advisors, then had a transition year as a Strategic Advisor for them. Keith and I have known each other since I was a CIO at Brigham and Women's in Boston. We've learned much from each other over the years, and I'm looking forward to our conversation today.

Welcome, Keith.

Hey, welcome, Sue. Thank you for having me. I agree with that. Our collegiality over these years has been fantastic. You've been such a sounding board for me and a friend. I think back to the notes we've swapped over the years and your candor and sharing with me about what it's like to be a female leader in this industry.

And it really has taught me a lot about how to collaborate, how to understand where different people are coming from. And I've really appreciated the collegiality specifically from you and helping me through that journey. So good to be here.

So. Well, Keith, thank you so much. And thanks for the kind words.

I really value our connection over the years. Let's start by having you introduce yourself and share a bit about your current work.

Great. Sure. Thanks, Sue. So almost 40 years, hard to believe started in healthcare operations at a big health delivery organization and here in the Boston area.

And that's really where I got my understanding of the nuts and bolts of healthcare. Play leadership role across a whole bunch of different domains in that delivery organization. And then a good part of my career of 30 of those mostly 30 of those years have been in consulting. And I have touched different parts of consulting from a think tank function organization and one consulting organization I work for doing market research and white papers and reports.

spent a good time of my career in strategy. And helping organizations figure out how to get from A to B. And then the surprise twist in my career was focusing on client relations and what many would call sales, but really helping impact advisors support the clients in my case, up and down the East Coast.

and it was so rewarding. It was great to connect with the clients and get a hands on feel of what they were doing. And it was really where. Yeah. I got a lot of the reward for what I did, but I was fortunate, really fortunate in three significant companies to have had great mentors who got who I was and figured out how to leverage me and make me feel like I was making a difference.

And I, I'm so appreciative of those mentors and colleagues that I've had, the colleagues I've had. As team members throughout those years, many have become friends of mine, and that's been a rewarding part. And as I said, the clients have been rewarding as well. It's really where you see yourself making a difference.

So it's been a great run so far.

Great. I didn't realize it was 40 years for you. I was talking to someone the other day, introducing myself, and I said 40 years in health IT management. Though we're only supposed to say 20 or 25, we've talked about aging before. I love your reference to client relations or someone called sales.

Cause I think of you as really a client relations kind of guy, though. I knew you were, I knew you were doing sales. So you had the right mix there. Tell us about the journey that you went through and the thought process from, I'm going to go quotes, retiring at impact advisors over a year ago to launching this new business.

Yeah, it was unexpected to me. I think I knew I wasn't done. I knew I wasn't done. I had way more energy and passion to give, but 2 things happened for me going back to 2020, that fateful year for all of us. COVID was really number 1 in that the uncertainty of where we were all headed, what was going on, what, you know, how that was going to impact us.

And I don't know anyone whose lives weren't impacted by that and that uncertainty was really unsettling for me and the disconnectedness was difficult for me. I'm a people person and in my role with clients and projects, it was so hard for me to be here in front of the screen all day long and not feel like I was connecting with people.

So that was number one. I mean, we could get the work done and yes, you know, it's effective in many ways. Yeah. Work life balance all good stuff. But it didn't. It didn't fill me up in the same way that the travel did and being on site with clients. So that was number 1 and number 2 was it was impossible for me to ignore what was going on more globally societally around the bright light focused on the haves and the have nots.

The inequities we were experiencing and, let's face I've been fortunate, you know, a white boy growing up in the suburbs outside of Boston. I had a lot of opportunity granted to me. Certainly, availed myself of that and had great colleagues and mentors. As I mentioned that recognize that.

But not everyone does and not everyone has. I love the phrase, you know, pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. Well, that's all well and good. And I do feel like I worked hard. My paper route, my, you know, my tenure in the, my family's pet store. But if you don't have bootstraps to pull yourself up with you can't ever get out of that cycle.

So all the reading, I did all the exploring I did around that. I felt so helpless. And felt like I needed to do something about that. And that's where I shifted to thinking about as you mentioned, the organizations helping the organizations that become the safety net for all of those that are less fortunate in my mind.

Keith, you're inspiring to me. And when, when we've talked over, we talked over that year as you were, thinking it through and you said, Oh, I think I'm on to something I can't tell you yet. When you finally launched your LLC and told me about it the smile on your face over the screen here, not in person was, you know, I could just see you have found a happy place in this post, you know, health IT consulting, where you're gonna Do good, make a difference.

And you call it consulting for good. I have to joke with you. Does it mean that IT consulting is bad? But tell us about consulting for good. Why did you call it consulting for good?

Well, I mean, it just, it's what you said, Sue. I appreciate that. It's, this has resonated with a lot of people and I did this.

Because it felt like the right thing for me to do. But as I've shared my journey with people, I get the same reaction that I get from you and others around. I think people are looking for a way to help a way to give back. And it was really about refocusing that energy and I could feel it. I mean, you sensed it, but it was palpable for me.

And the more that I, The more that the more that I talked about what I wanted to do, the more I got back and filled up in that. And we wanted, if you will, in saying, I think you're on to something here. And now we'll see. I, you know, still early in the journey. I don't have all the proof points yet to say that this thing has landed where I'd like it to land.

It's in my mind really about finding that path of that journey that we each all have and I was fortunate in my situation to be able to take that break, recharge my batteries and explore and I have been so rewarded and touched. And humble by meeting all the leaders around for starters, all the organizations around Boston that I've touched.

But I'm talking with, as you said, mostly all social services organizations. So it's organizations dealing with homelessness, food, insecurity, youth seniors. LGBTQ equity so it's organizations and missions that are either firsthand near and dear to me or that just have resonated with me.

And it's, you know, you, you talk about healthcare it and consulting for good. Does this mean that healthcare is bad? I had a colleague who said to me the other day, don't give up on health care. And in fact I would still love to be working with healthcare organizations that are more community based based in our towns FQHCs clinics, those kinds of organizations that are, again, serving the more underprivileged.

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Okay, that segues really nice into what I want to talk to you about, which is, you know, more of the health care piece. And I also want to clarify your Boston based and you're focused on. With consulting for good on Boston, social service organizations, but you're not limited to Boston at all.

No,

No, thanks for asking that.

I mean, , this is my backyard and I haven't given my travel and consulting work. I've been outside of Boston more than I've been here and it really feels neat to be back in Boston, focusing on the organizations that serve this town. That said. I would welcome the chance to work with organizations anywhere.

Same kind of mission, same kinds of organizations. But while I'm availing myself of the network I've got here in Boston, it made sense to really start here.

Yeah, well, and I, there are so many opportunities. And I'll tell you when I have been well, when I was CIO at Brigham, I mean, the awareness of the social service organizations connected to the health care.

Ecosystem, if you will was increased and I was happy to have those connections and play some role in supporting them. So let's talk a little bit about that in terms of the consulting needs of nonprofits in general, and more specifically nonprofits in the broader health care space.

So, it's still kind of learning this to be fair both in my mind, as I've seen mission based mission organizations. It's both the ones that I'm talking with as well as health care. You don't get more mission based and health care. The sad part for me is that health care has been under such siege over these past 3 years.

I mean, you think about what's flipped for patients. Some might call it patient entitlement. I think it's more patient control, patient fear, as our patients have all gone through COVID and lost family members or had insecurity around their own circumstances, that's translated and how they get care, how they engage in care, how they've interacted with clinicians, and then all that frustration and Acting out, if you will has led to the physician clinician burnout.

And that's really been sad for me to see organizations struggling to fill key roles organizations. I get my care at and, then the whole entree of for profits into the healthcare space and the M and A's just created such uncertainty. The organizations I'm talking to same kind of mission and helping the community similar challenges in terms of dealing with covet and you know, uncertainties and staffing.

I'd like to think that, the small organizations I'm looking at in healthcare will continue to maintain or garner some respect from us in the community around being revered. Maybe our clinicians have to get back to where they were a bit ago, but it's the work itself.

And maybe this is also what you're asking is very similar to what I've been doing from what I've seen. Anyway it's taking the mission and figuring out what's the vision to executing on that. Okay. It's then kind of coming up with the tactics to strategy and the tactics to, to execute that and then executing it, making the plan good.

you know, it comes down to the things that I've done with my clients through all the years. It's looking at the outcomes. How do we know that we've arrived there? It's looking at the using technology where we can. And thankfully, I've got some experience there. And then uh, it still remains about culture and people.

We all can see the organizations where the culture is strong. People are happy. And those are the ones we want to emulate. Those are the ones we want to help our colleague organizations get to that place where. Culture is King people want to work that people want to do good and so many things stem from that.

So I think it's similar work. I think it's similar challenges and similar approaches to helping these organizations succeed.

That's great. You're really helping make the connection between healthcare delivery organizations, which many of our listeners. Work in and the social service organizations that you're going to be focusing on and serving in the community.

And I know, and we're just talking about the last couple of years in covert as well as the equity issues and, you know, racial and justice issues in our country that have really come to the forefront. Healthcare organizations are far more focused on all these issues at this point. And some of the leading organizations in the country, you read about every week, what they're doing in terms of their community based programs.

So since the audience is very much health IT and, senior leaders in health IT what should they know about nonprofits in the broader health space?

So I think funding seems to be a key issue for many of these organizations. It's not an area that I have planned to focus on philanthropy development and fundraising, but I think it becomes the core to what they're doing.

There's no mission without the margin. And so that tends to be, I think, issue number 1 for these organizations. So, when you're collaborating with them, Thank you. Figuring out who's going to pay for shared services or how you're going to help support those organizations big nonprofit health care organizations that have a philanthropy arm, a foundation arm, or understand the importance of giving back to a community.

They should get that they should understand that. Funding an issue right from the beginning resourcing becomes an issue just like in any other organization and getting things done is a challenge. But size makes a difference. So, and I've worked on both sides of this equation. When you are small, and you've got a big organization coming in that wants to partner with you, it may not be seen as partnership may be seen as an M and a attempt may be seen as, big brother.

And I think it's important to remember that those organizations are coming from a different perspective. They may feel threatened. Certainly their resource constraint, but they may feel like who are you to tell me what to do? And in my mind, it comes back to mission. If, in fact, the collaboration is about mission, and it's about taking care of a shared population of patients, then everything else should fall from that.

That if the organ, if both organizations believe in caring for this common set of patients, then it should make any threat more minimal. I was talking with a colleague of mine who's on the board of a behavioral health organization. And nonprofit mental health community based organization through, 20 something cities and towns and in discussions with a delivery organization.

It's not a, 800 pound gorilla delivery organization. It's a successful community hospital organization in 1 of their towns. There's a sense from the executive director. That their competition and we can't work with them. And I might argue as this colleague of mine has as a board member trying to help them see the bigger picture that there's opportunity for collaboration.

If not, you know, if our mental health populations aren't one of the more vulnerable and in need of cross clinician collaboration and shared services, particularly between an ambulatory based. Community organization and inpatient organization. I mean, that feels like it's what it's all about.

And can't we figure out ways to connect the dots and have clinicians share information, develop joint programs and come together and, you know, hopefully still figure out the reimbursement and financial issues. But it just feels to me like mission is where it comes down to.

Great. Well, that's why it's why most of us are in health care.

If not, all of us is the is the mission. And what we do for our patients in our communities let's before we close circle back around to the beginning where I talked about asked you about the transition and the quote unquote, retiring. What advice would you give to others? As they contemplate a potentially new and different chapter, as opposed to um, Full retirement.

Well, I guess an easy one, too, is that you reinforced it right from the beginning. It's finding your passion. So many of us have lost that or, kind of been stuck elsewhere. rediscovering that rekindling that for ourselves is so important. And then figuring out your angle. You know, me to be a rather reflective person.

And I kind of always thinking about. What do I do? Well, where do I need to develop myself and figuring out that pivot I think is important. What's your angle? You know, what, where, Where can you make a difference? And then leveraging your network? I can't say enough about the colleagues.

That took my email, took my text, took my call and were willing to and genuinely interested in what I was thinking about. And I was all over the map what I wanted to do. And those that. Kind of listen to me reacted to me. That's really what gave me the genesis of where I landed because it was that sounding board and all those of you that knew me and kind of gave me that feedback.

That's what made a difference. So network, the power of the network is just amazing. So, and not everyone has the opportunity that I had to be able to step back like I did. But it could still have been done while I was working to be able to take time evenings, weekends, lunches, whatever.

I think it's important to give ourselves a development time. Even if we're reasonably happy in our jobs to be able to reflect back and say, what would make me even more passionate about that? It's so important. Are you and even said in your one of your recent posts around the importance of that work life or health balance and, the times I find myself rejuvenated while I'm swimming in the pool and thinking about, oh, my goodness, that's what I need to do about that.

Those are important times. So. I like that you reinforce that as well.

Good. So it sounds like passion some reflection to go with that passion and network and work your network. Great. So is there anything else you want to highlight before we close for today?

Well, I mean, maybe continuing on that theme again, what's worked for me.

I mean, it's been a crazy 3 years and I'd say. As I kind of advised myself when I wasn't in a panic, take a breath, take a break when we need to. And it was important for all of us to reflect on and embrace what's important in our lives. You know, There were times when things felt so uncertain and I had to come back to the things that, I had my family, my friends, my health and remember that.

And then figuring out how to reengage, you know, the timeliness of this, to the our surgeon general issued a report on loneliness and isolation and it was so timely for me to see that and what we, what these past years has done for us around not feeling connected to each other. And it's easy for us to sometimes think.

People aren't connecting with me. I need more support. I need more affirmation. I need things from my outside world. But one of the things this past year has reminded me about is. We have the power and ability to control that and engage ourselves in the world outside without sounding too philosophical here, but I find that the more that I reach out and connect with others, the more that I give back the more that I engage.

I get it back in spades and it's not necessarily about waiting for others to reach out to me. It's the reward I get and the connection I get when I reach out. And that's frankly, what our surgeon general said about kind of reconnecting and getting out of our isolation. So I couldn't help but reflect on that as we.

As we talk, even here, virtually. So,

well, we did see each other in person recently. Yeah. I'm glad you brought up that article from the surgeon general. And I saw that you posted it on LinkedIn last night with some of your own personal. And it's just, it's a powerful message at this point and a great one for us to close on.

So, Keith, I'm going to close this for now. We will be in touch. I want you to keep me posted on your new work and thank you so much for doing this today.

So, thank you for asking me. I really I've always enjoyed our connection. So thank you.

  📍 gosh, I really love this show. I love hearing what workers and leaders on the front lines are doing, and we wanna thank our hosts who continue to support the community by developing this great content. If you wanna support This Week Health, the best way to do that is to let someone else know about our channels. Let them know you're listening to it and you are getting value. We have two channels This Week Health Conference and This Week Health Newsroom. You can check them out today. You can find them wherever you listen to podcasts. You can find 'em on our website this weekhealth.com, and you can subscribe there as well. We also wanna thank our show partners, MEDITECH and Transcarent, for investing in our mission to develop the next generation of health leaders. Thanks for listening. That's all for now.

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