Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

DOMA Bites the Dust

Monday, July 1st, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court’s voted 5-4 to strike down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Swing voter Anthony Kennedy joined the liberal wing of the court –Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Dissenting were Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.. They also ruled that the plaintiffs in the case of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, did not have the legal standing to bring that lawsuit.

The decision is expected to have major consequences on health coverage for legally married same-sex partners of federal employees and members of the military, as well as on tax treatment for private health coverage (a 2007 report from left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress and the UCLA’s Williams Institute found that employees with partners pay over $1,000 more in taxes each year than their married peers).  The caveat is that the ruling applies on to states where same-sex marriage is legal. New Yorkers will benefit; Pennsylvanians will not.

The ruling seems to confirm a sea change in gay rights in this century. Take American corporations which have been far more progressive than the courts on these issues. Hundreds of U.S. employers, both large and small, signed on to an amicus brief against DOMA in February, arguing that treating same-sex couples differently hurt recruiting efforts, as well as employer-employee relations. Nike, Apple and Starbucks were among the nearly 300 firms that joined in filing the brief. According to the Human Rights Coalition, a group that advocates for gay rights, 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner health benefits.

DOMA barred the government from treating same-sex partners as married, raising the cost of healthcare for same-sex couples and denying them eligibility for federally guaranteed rights such as medical and family leave, and, in some cases, Medicare. In all, it denied more than 1,100 benefits to married gay and lesbian couples.

Thirteen states have or are in the process of legalizing gay marriage.  They join thirteen countries around the world including Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, and Sweden.

“The principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the 5-4 decision. “This requires the Court to hold, as it now does, that DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.” Kennedy’s 26-page opinion says Congress’ explicit purpose in passing DOMA was to expose same-sex couples in state-sanctioned marriages to “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma,” which violated the Fifth Amendment guarantee of rights to life, liberty and property.

The law also harmed these children financially, Kennedy wrote, because health benefits provided to same-sex spouses were not entitled to the same federal tax-exemptions as those of heterosexual families’, creating unequal costs for same-sex households. The law also denied survivorship benefits for spouses and children through Social Security.

Craig Wortmann on Creating Your Business Story

Monday, October 15th, 2012

According to Craig Wortmann, Clinical Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, people today tend to collect too much information – via Facebook, blogging, tweeting, reading other people’s blogs – information overload typically becomes a problem shared by humanity.  In a recent interview for the Alter+Care Inspire Podcasts, Wortmann said that while the technique of telling stories is the oldest form of communication — it’s also the one form that rises above the din of our information-saturated environment and delivers messages that connect with people, bringing ideas to life.

Wortmann is founder and CEO of The Sales Engine and the author of the book “What’s Your Story?”, which discusses how to use stories to ignite performance and be more successful.

Wortmann believes that we are reaching back to our earliest human ancestors whose cave drawings created a narrative structure – stories that remain compelling through the ages.  We still create stories to make daily experiences meaningful for people, to differentiate them from what Wortmann calls facts or data.  Stories do two things:  they create context and provide an emotional connection.  By “emotional”, Wortmann doesn’t mean fluffy or characterized by high drama.  Rather, it is emotional because we are all human beings who thrive on creating emotional connections.  This is why stories – when told persuasively – can be so powerful.

According to Wortmann, “One of the things we say in business school that drives our students crazy is that people will not work to understand your message.”  Instead, you have to work to be understood.  For example, a sales trailer is to a business as a movie trailer is to a feature film.  In both cases, we struggle to have our message understood because people have accumulated knowledge.

Wortmann helps entrepreneurs create their sales trailer, which acts as a hook that prompts the potential client to ask questions.  Whatever way you send the message – whether spoken, written, e-mailed, tweeted or otherwise transmitted – always err on the side of conciseness.  An e-mail, for example, should be three or four lines — maximum.

The same philosophy of brevity should apply to any presentation, which Wortmann believes in limiting to a single word per slide.  He shares that same affinity with Silicon Valley venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki and the late Steve Jobs.

To listen to Craig Wortmann’s full interview on the art of the sale, click here.

PTSD Can Last a Lifetime

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Picture this: Late at night, in the middle of winter, a 69-year-old woman, less than 5 feet tall, flees her north suburban home, carrying two shopping bags filled with her belongings. When found wandering by police, she insists that someone is trying to kill her. 

The woman in question is Sonia Reich (mother of Chicago Tribune jazz critic Howard Reich), who is the subject of “Prisoner of Her Past,” a documentary from Kartemquin Films, renowned for “Hoop Dreams.” Sonia, who managed to hide from the Nazis as a young girl in the woods outside a small Polish village (now a part of Ukraine) has been diagnosed with late-onset post-traumatic stress disorder (the same PTSD which we normally associate with army veterans). Prisoner of Her Past, directed by Gordon Quinn, deals with the type of PTSD which appears years, or even decades after the trauma occurs. Moreover, the extent of Sonia’s PTSD is so great that not only is she suffering from the usual symptoms (sleeplessness and hypervigilance among others) but that she also, as her son writes, “had so deeply absorbed her childhood traumas into the fabric of her being that there simply was no way she could ever escape them…they were replaying themselves in an endless loop in her traumatized psyche.”

PTSD is something we need to think about seriously as we deal with the aftermath of traumatic events like the recent mass shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin and the return of servicemen and women from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is estimated that one in five soldiers suffers from PTSD or major depression. Brian Scott Ostrom is one of them. He was the subject of a 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning essay in the Denver Post.  After serving four years as a reconnaissance marine and deploying twice to Iraq, he has struggled with daily life, from finding and keeping employment to maintaining healthy relationships. But most of all, five years later, he’s struggled to overcome his brutal and haunting memories of Iraq.

PTSD Awareness Day was first established by Congress in 2010 after Sen. Kent Conrad, (D-N.D.), proposed honoring North Dakota Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Joe Biel, who took his own life following two tours in Iraq. Biel’s birthday was June 27. “National PTSD Awareness Day should serve as an opportunity for all of us to listen and learn about post-traumatic stress and let all our troops — past and present — know it’s okay to come forward and ask for help,” Conrad said in a statement.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called the recent surge in the number of military suicides “troubling and tragic” at a suicide prevention conference sponsored by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs in Washington last week. 

There were 154 suicides among active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year, according to a recent report from the Associated Press, a number that is 50 percent higher than the number of U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan over that time period. It is the highest rate in 10 years of war. Panetta also said he wants to make the Department of Defense a “game-changing innovator” on research in areas related to suicide prevention, including in post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

US News Names New Hospital as Best

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Massachusetts General Hospital or Mass General is No. 1 for the first time, according to the US News & World Report Best Hospitals rankings. It marks the end of a 21-year run for Johns Hopkins that started in 1991, the year after U.S. News began publishing Best Hospitals.

When Mass General was founded, James Madison was President, Napoleon was Emperor of France and the Juliana, the first ever steam-powered ferryboat, began operation.   Only Pennsylvania Hospital (1751) and New York–Presbyterian Hospital (1771) are older. The fact that Mass General hasn’t taken the top spot before may come as a surprise to some, given its pedigree: It was the original teaching affiliate and flagship of Harvard Medical School; it remains the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $400 million; and is renowned in such specialties as diabetes & Endocrinology, Ear, Nose & Throat, Neurology & Neurosurgery, Ophthalmology, Orthopedics, and Psychiatry.

The 950-bed medical center each year admits about 48,000 inpatients and handles nearly 1.5 million visits in its outpatient programs at the main campus and satellite facilities. It also delivers more than 3,600 babies annually. It is now the largest non-government employer in the city of Boston, with more than 19,000 employees, including a nursing staff of 2,900. In addition, its 3,600-member medical staff includes physicians, dentists, psychologists, podiatrists, residents and fellows.

MGH is owned by Partners HealthCare, which was formed by MGH and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 1994. MGH is also a member of the consortium which operates Boston MedFlight.