Keeping It Simple
February 26, 2010
By Myke Folger
Lifetime Achievement Award
Aubrey Davis is a name that for many Washingtonians conjures
far-reaching transportation projects, thoughtful politics and massive endeavors
in how health care is delivered in the Evergreen State.
Indeed, for most of his adult life, Davis has lived in
service to the community. He has been mayor and city councilman of Mercer
Island and is largely responsible for the construction of the Interstate 90
bridge and tunnel with a lid of parks that has become the envy of other
Davis was a federal transportation official who helped
secure funds for the downtown Seattle bus tunnel. He ran for King County
Executive and managed the final campaign for much-revered U.S. Senator Warren
|Aubrey Davis was one of the first members-and later
CEO-of Group Health Cooperative, helping the nonprofit become a leader for
providing quality care in Washington.
Perhaps his greatest achievement was as a founding member (No.
239) and later chief executive of Group Health Cooperative-an organization that
has been one of the most innovative health care providers in the country both
in terms of improving care and controlling cost.
“Many organizations have been formed over the years, but
most broke down over the relationship between citizens and the doctors,” says
Davis, who, at 92, remains as vibrant and as in touch with the current state of
health care as ever. Davis helped Group Health find identity and longevity,
amid a torrent of naysayers, by building support among its members, doctors and
While many health care providers became so highly structured
that they lost touch with themselves, “We somehow managed to develop the
relationship between the member, consumer board and the physicians’ group
leadership that enabled the organization to prosper,” he says. “It took a lot
of hours and negotiation over a number of years from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.”
Part of that system was developing a customer prepayment
plan so that doctors didn’t have to deal with a lot of paperwork. His own dues
as a member in the 1940s were $3 a month. And so to prevent any quibbling over
compensation, especially if, say, a pediatrician and a specialist worked on the
same patient, doctors were paid flat salaries. That eliminated duplication and
confusing record keeping and made it easy for doctors to collaborate.
“Just this spring I sent an e-mail to my family doctor and
he forwarded it to my cardiologist,” Davis says. “An hour later, the cardiologist
replied. So we disposed a lot of the complexity and paperwork for the insurance
system, [an approach] which makes us more efficient. We have a successful
delivery system and I was glad to be a part of it.”
Davis first heard of Group Health in the 1940s while he was
interning for the National Institute of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. Each
of his four children was born in Group Health hospitals and he’s been a member
since 1947. He liked the simplicity for which the cooperative strived. After
becoming a member, he went on to hold every elected position in the
organization, including seven terms as chair. And in 1988, Davis was appointed
president and chief executive officer, a post he held for three years. In 1991,
he was named Group Health’s first president emeritus, a position he still holds
today with great pride.
William Dowling, Professor, UW Dept. of Health Services
In a career that has spanned five decades, particularly as a
Anna Mae Ericksen, Deaconess Nursing School
As a nurse, Ericksen served in the Army during World War II.