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"Don't bring me a problem, bring me a solution."

May 1, 2010
by Dennis G. Grantham, Senior Editor
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About 15 years ago, I had the pleasure of working at a company founded by a tough-minded, entrepreneurial, bulldog of a man named Craig Allison. Fairly early in my work with him, I brought him an issue that I thought required some senior management attention. His response was friendly, but crisp: “Don't bring me a problem, bring me a solution.” I paused, nodded my head thoughtfully, and left.

I took everything that Craig said very seriously because he had, literally, built a publicly-held technology company from nothing more than an idea in his head. His proudest accomplishment was not in the company's ability to make money, but that his company had the capital needed to deliver on its promises even if, as he said, “they take twice as long and cost twice as much you planned.” And, as often as not, they did.

I was reminded of Craig's comment to me in late April as I joined leaders of behavioral health and human services agencies at a meeting of the Ohio EHR Collaborative. This effort seeks to pool behavioral health and human services agencies together in a statewide group that will share the challenges, savings, and benefits of a web-based EHR system (see http://www.behavioral.net/grantham0410 for details). I was, frankly, surprised at the level of interest and urgency I saw in that room-leaders taking time away from the problems of the moment to search for needed solutions, despite nagging doubts for some about exactly how their organizations could pay for them.

Following the meeting, I spoke with the bright, engaging CEO of one of those agencies, who introduced herself as a regular reader. When I asked her how her agency was getting along, she spoke of the challenge of delivering community mental health services in the face of continued, dramatic cuts in state and county funding. She explained that with the latest cuts came a new round of county regulations that minutely detailed more exclusive eligibility standards with strict requirements for parceling out remaining service resources equally. While such rules may have captured the county's hope that limited resources would be stretched as far as possible, they offered little to her organization, except the certainty that more consumers would receive less, or none, of the hope they sought.

We agreed that the funding circumstances were pretty dire across the nation and I remarked that, having covered what seemed to be awful funding problems in 2009 (see http://www.behavioral.net/albright1009, “States of despair,” October 2009), I wasn't sure how a Behavioral Healthcare story could capture the awful thought that in 2010, the funding problem might be even worse.

She paused and smiled. “You know, Dennis,” she said, “I get so tired of hearing bad news that I don't even want to think about it anymore.”

Hmm … I thought. Maybe she's onto something. That's when I remembered Craig's words.

Note: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention and thank the individuals and organizations that made outstanding contributions to the 2010 Design for Health and Human Services Showcase. Every day, the work of architects and designers like those profiled here help to transform long lists of organizational problems and individual needs into practical, beautiful, and even inspiring solutions for environments that enable and enhance treatment. And, unlike the projects cited above by Craig, the cost of these transformations can be predicted and managed with precision. In fact, as one of our jurors explained, “Good design doesn't have to be expensive.” Amen to that.

Dennis G. Grantham, Senior Editor Behavioral Healthcare 2010 May;30(5):6