Organizing for Health: A Story Worth Telling

Everyone has a story to tell. And everyone loves a good story. That’s what makes storytelling such a compelling way to communicate – to convey a belief, a conviction, a mission. At the “Organizing for Health: A Story Worth Telling” session during the 4th Annual South Carolina Patient Safety Symposium, South Carolina health care leaders, along with members of the Organizing for Health team, told their own stories about experiences with the health care system, and how they were inspired to work to make it better. “We could be doing better,” said Rick Foster, MD, senior vice president of quality and patient safety at SCHA, pointing out that health status and economic issues are among the challenges South Carolina faces in its health care system. Foster went on to share the intimate story of his wife’s more than 20-year battle with multiple sclerosis. “The highly fragmented health care system actively contributed to making her struggle much more difficult than it needed to be,” he said.

Foster then challenged everyone in the room to think of someone they knew who had an illness and whose quality of life could be improved if their care was better coordinated among doctors, nurses, insurance companies and facilities. His point: the Organizing for Health movement, when successful, will benefit everyone in this state at some point in his or her life.

Marshall Ganz, PhD, of Harvard University spoke via video about how to use the organizing model to grow a network of interdependent leaders to take action to achieve the health and health care objective in the state. Ganz explained that leadership development is crucial in order to achieve the goals of Organizing for Health. He suggested that relationships, storytelling, structuring, strategizing and action are five practices for developing the kind of leadership the mission requires.

Another personal story came from Kate Hilton, director of Organizing for Health. “I was bedridden by a serious disease. My health care bills were $2,000 per month and I couldn’t pay for it.” She told the audience how a group of Harvard Law School peers worked together to put pressure on her insurance company, getting them to cover her treatment and medication.

Organizing for Health has a six-member leadership team based in South Carolina. Four of the six members – Casey Fitts, MD; Stuart Hamilton, MD; Laura Long, MD; and Shawn Stinson, MD – also spoke during the Organizing for Health session. 

Fitts told the moving story of Jennifer, a woman who lost her battle with metastatic cervical cancer at a very young age because she did not have access to, or coverage for a basic pap smear. Hamilton shared a childhood experience of seeing his father, a police officer, watch over him and his community, and how he felt that same responsibility when he became a practicing pediatrician in Columbia.

Hamilton also pointed out that he is involved in providing medical care for about one-third of Richland and Lexington Counties’ poor, with local financial help covering only one percent of the cost. “I want to help bring the one percent up to one billion percent”, he said.

Long and Stinson reflected on their own childhood experiences and how those experiences shaped them into the leaders they are today. They both expressed exasperation with the current system, and how it has become their mission to work to organize and create healthier communities in our state.

“I’m frustrated and tired of South Carolina being presented as last place in health,” said Stinson, “We can spend less money and do a better job, but it’s going to take a big change in the payment system and in the health system to make it happen.”

Organizing for Health is an action-research project designed to build a movement to reform health practices in the United States from the bottom up. Beginning in South Carolina and New Hampshire, the plan calls for leveraging available resources, encouraging participation and becoming a measurable model for the nation in achieving the objectives of the Triple Aim: improving community health, improving the quality of care and reducing costs.

If you would like more information about this session or Organizing for Health in South Carolina, please contact, Terri Jowers, South Carolina Lead Organizer for Organizing for Health, (803) 266.3452 or

Click Here to See the Organizing for Health Presentation with Slides

05-18-2011 10:20 (EDT)