By MARC LUTZ
Business Journal Editor
MODESTO — Corwin Harper has been named as Kaiser Permanente’s new senior vice president and area manager for the Central Valley.
Harper’s is a lifelong journey in medicine that began when he was a young man in Allendale, South Carolina.
“At a very early age, I saw the path of leadership as a long, sustainable path in which I could affect lives in a positive way,” Harper said. “I was asthmatic when I was younger, and had an episode. My mother was taking me to the doctor’s office. There was one door that had a sign on it, and another door that didn’t have a sign on it. She made sure I went through either door. At the time, it was the residual of ‘whites only’ and ‘coloreds only’ signs.”
Harper’s mother took him through the door with the shortest line to ensure he received the care he needed. That action, he said, stuck in his mind. His goal became to make sure everyone had equal access to healthcare, no matter a person’s race, creed or color.
While pursuing his master’s degree at Baylor University, Harper, 52, said Kaiser was always held up as the model healthcare system.
“That model is one of pre-paid healthcare, leveraging an integrated delivery system of the health plan, with a physician medical group and hospital to provide care for members in a particular population,” Harper said.
His career with Kaiser started in September of 1996, working as a medical group administrator in Fresno.
“Having an opportunity to come work for the model was not only intriguing, but very exciting,” Harper said. He added the mission also attracted him. “Kaiser Permanente exists to provide high-quality, affordable healthcare services for its members and the community that we serve. That’s what keeps me.”
In his time with Kaiser, Harper has seen many changes, and it’s an evolution that focuses more and more on the patient.
“The organization has become very member- and patient-centric,” Harper said. “It still continues to be a leader when it comes to technology, and we’re pioneers when it comes to technology. It’s been very responsive in leading quality with our physicians. I think it’s been a great community and environmental steward.”
A focal point for Kaiser is preventative medicine, keeping people healthy to avoid hospitalization.
“We keep finding ways to lead and to prevent hospitalization and prevent illness and injury,” Harper said. “We have excellent programs that look at cancer, not just awareness but prevention, as one example.”
Harper took over for Deborah Friberg, who was instrumental in the forging the relationship Kaiser now has with Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton, a mantle Harper has taken up and is nurturing. He said the relationship, just over a year old now, is going well, as the two entities focus on the needs of the community they serve.
As far as his management style is concerned, Harper takes his approach to leadership as one of service.
“I’m a Christian, and I believe I’m to serve and not be served. I’m here to help others. Regardless of who you are, we all will have a need or suffer an illness or infirmity,” Harper said. “I lead with high expectations because I think our members and patients have high expectations of us. I feel that I’m in a social contract with our members to ensure we perform well to meet their needs.”
And with any organization, Harper knows there are challenges to face.
One of those being — as any healthcare system will attest — the ability to recruit and retain quality talent.
“The Central Valley, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, are still living in the shadow of Sacramento County and the Bay Area,” Harper said regarding the difficulty in drawing medical talent to the area. “But I see an opportunity for us to stabilize in the future.”
Harper said he believes in the communities of the Central Valley, which is one of the reasons he’s raised his two daughters here, and continues to live and work here.
“I think that as a business leader in the community we need to illuminate, to highlight the positive, so that we can draw businesses and talent to stay in the market,” Harper said.
The second challenge, he said, is creating a collective culture that believes in what it’s doing. “Not just within Kaiser, but within the broader community, we can grow, we can stimulate growth, we can grow economically, and I think we all need to be positive and focus on the future,” Harper said.
That was the main reason for creating a relationship with St. Joseph’s; it provided an opportunity to serve the valley’s healthcare needs.
“We wanted a solution for the community,” Harper said. “It’s just that simple.”