Creating a community contagion

How can the healthcare community be best positioned to create a contagion of change?

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary definition #3:


a : rapid communication of an influence (as a doctrine or emotional state)

Is it possible to create a contagion or momentum with no one street corner to stand side by side with like minded individuals? How can communication of influence be started when healthcare also is so broad and diffuse?

This is the challenge that many are taking on.

Take for example Regina Holliday.

Regina’s walking gallery highlights getting out in front of people and the importance of the patient in healthcare. If you have been at a conference and seen someone walking around in a jacket with a beautiful painting on the back, you are likely witnessing the walking gallery in action. You can see here an example of Regina’s beautiful work.

I would encourage each of you to read Regina’s wonderful explanation of  this jacket.

Regina has taken her message to the streets and not only let her voice be heard, but also let her message be seen. This is an excellent example of creating a contagion. Consider this:

Regina paints a jacket for someone who attends a healthcare conference. At that conference someone asks the person wearing the jacket about what it means. The person wearing the jacket explains. The message has been transferred to a new person. This goes on and on and on. A contagion.

People long to be connected, and often align their work to learn from others doing similar work. “Learning communities” are in abundance, and at the heart of these groups are a sense of community, learning and ongoing support. Often learning communities are created to allow for some group (e.g. healthcare providers) to come together and exchange stories on what is working and not working – they teach each other how to be successful and share resources). Ideally lessons learned in these communities can expand outside of the group and impact the larger community these individuals are trying to serve.

What happens when you take a novel dissemination strategy, such as what Regina has done, and combine it with a larger national community that aims to “occupy healthcare”?

Let’s consider for a second the story of Dorothea Dix.

While Dorothea’s history is important in understanding why she began to do what she did, I am going to fast forward ever so briefly.

Dorothea’s second career began when she was thirty-nine years old. In March of 1841 she entered the East Cambridge Jail. She had volunteered to teach a Sunday School class for women inmates. Upon entering the jail she witnessed such horrible images that her life, from that point on, was changed forever.”

Dorothea recognized that there was a problem. The problem that she witnessed was so “horrible” that it literally changed her life. In her community she set out to be a contagion. She set out to express her outrage and concern. She set out recognizing the problem, but also a proposed solution.

From Wikipedia:

“Dix conducted a statewide investigation of how her home state of Massachusetts cared for the insane poor. In most cases, towns contracted with local individuals to care for people with mental disorders who could not care for themselves, and who lacked family and friends to provide for them. Unregulated and underfunded, this system produced widespread abuse. After her survey, Dix published the results in a fiery report, a Memorial, to the state legislature. ‘I proceed, Gentlemen, briefly to call your attention to the present state of Insane Persons confined within this Commonwealth, in cages, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience.The outcome of her lobbying was a bill to expand the state’s mental hospital in Worcester.”

What is not explicitly stated here is that Dorothea, as woman, was not allowed in the state house. Rather than decide to take this on as another cause, she stood on the steps of the courthouse and engaged any and all legislators that walked by on their way in and out of work. Dorothea was informed, educated on the problem and offered solutions for change. She became a community contagion.

We all have seen the problems in healthcare. If you want outrage, read Jonathan Cohn’s brilliant book SICK: The untold story of America’s healthcare crises – and the people who pay the price (who also mentions Dorothea). But the question now becomes, what do we do with this knowledge?

Maybe the first step is to become a contagion in our own community. Could this be the first step to occupy healthcare?

Posted in Contagion and tagged , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *