As a recognized expert on health care delivery systems, Allyson Gottsman has spent more of her sterling 40-year career revealing and promoting more efficient, cost-effective and humane ways to deliver health care.
As a young woman, Gottsman set out on her remarkable professional journey without a shred of formal training in health care.
“I graduated with a degree in philosophy in the ‘60s,” smiles Gottsman, the oldest of five kids raised in the Boston area. “Then I had to go out and make a living.”
That paycheck imperative found Gottsman offering her resume in the personnel offices of Cook County Hospital, a mammoth pile of public medicine and systemic inefficiencies serving Chicago’s least-served citizens.
“There are a lot of management jobs in hospitals that don’t require health care training. I created a sales pitch to convince Cook County Hospital that I was perfect for that management position.” The hospital was convinced, and after following Gottsman’s line of reasoning it isn’t hard to see why.
“A manager’s job is solving problems. Philosophers do the same thing. Philosophy teaches you to cut through all the layers of a problem. What are the core assumptions? What are the core conclusions? I believe that, of all the liberal arts degrees, philosophy is one of the best to prepare people to be managers.”
Most of the 23 people working under her in Cook County had little education, less ambition, and a deep suspicion of authority. And yet, although she would never have believed it back then, Gottsman possessed one more essential asset that allowed her to win the trust and willing support of her staff.
“I was naïve,” she laughs. “I’d never worked with anyone in my life who didn’t show up for work ready to do the best job they possibly could. When one of my people disappeared for an hour, I never asked them where they’d been. I trusted them. I consulted them. They’d never had a manager who valued them, and pretty soon they stopped disappearing and became the best team in the hospital.”
Gottsman emerged from that trial by fire a well-tempered instrument.
“I got more experience there than I could have anywhere else.”
Back on the East Coast, she met and married a Navy flier-turned-United Airlines pilot named Bob. When the airline moved Bob west to Denver in 1978, the couple settled in Evergreen’s gracious Hiwan Country Club, and Gottsman quickly found work as a practice manager for Lutheran Hospital.”
“At the time, hospitals were buying primary care practices and they needed people to manage them.”
Gottsman started out managing a practice on Meadow Drive, then added another in Idaho Springs. She would go on to manage three offices for Porter Hospital, including one at the Lakepoint Center. Her work afforded a broad and penetrating perspective on all aspects of health care delivery, and Gottsman saw plenty of room for improvement. Costs were sky-rocketing, but patient outcomes weren’t getting any better. In 2005, her superiors engaged a small non-profit called HealthTeamWorks to reorganize their systems.
“The board of directors was going to test HealthTeamWorks’ model of going into primary care practices and increasing palliative care as a way to lower costs and improve results. They were among the first in the country to change how care is delivered.”
Gottsman was impressed with the folks at HealthTeamWorks, and they returned the compliment by taking her on full-time. The organization and its patient-centered philosophy has since moved into the national spotlight, and its evolving model has become the gold-standard of health care delivery.
“The system is designed to identify patients at risk and address them much earlier. There were a lot of nay-sayers at first, but now it’s all the rage. It’s the only thing that actually works.”
Ten years later, Gottsman is still with HealthTeamWorks, although she recently decided to dial it back.
“I was spending 80 percent of my time on a plane.”
But not too far back.
“People who know me will tell you I have an incredibly high capacity for activity,” Gottsman says. “I feel like if I have the capacity, I should use it. I’ve always had a day job and volunteered nights. There’s never been a time when I wasn’t on somebody’s board.”
She was on the board that helped secure Means Meadow and Heritage Grove for the community. She served on the Mountain Area Schools Foundation and in at least three different PTAs. She supported Bootstraps, and the Evergreen Scholarship, and for the last five years her vast knowledge and expertise have helped Mount Evans Home Health & Hospice remain a leader in health care. Not long ago she was instrumental in securing funding for Mount Evans’ participation in the Conversation Project, a program to educate people about the importance of advanced medical directives.
Gottsman has also begun working with the University of Colorado’s Department of Family Medicine to create a health care extension system.
“It’s patterned after CSU’s agricultural extension system. It will provide medical knowledge, resources and support across Colorado. It will be transformational.”
Believe it or not, Gottsman does know how to relax. With their two daughters grown and flown, 15 years ago the Gottsmans moved to the cool green peace of Kerr Gulch. They like to ski, and play tennis, and bicycle the winding ways of Evergreen. But, when it comes right down to it, Gottsman is most content when she’s applying her philosophical questions to the biggest problem at hand. And if she can no longer claim naivete, the innocent young hospital manager that she was remains a significant part of who she is.
“I’m a rosy-eyed Pollyanna,” she laughs. “I don’t see barriers. I believe you can do anything.”