Al Hammonds of Millennium Collaborative Care talks strategy with Paige Prentice of Horizon Health, one of 1,800 providers in the health network.
By Tracey Drury – Reporter, Buffalo Business First
Nov 23, 2018, 9:00am
With an early career that spanned 15 years in the automotive and industrial manufacturing sector, it might seem odd that Al Hammonds found his niche in the world of health care. But the executive director of Millennium Collaborative Care said he sees lots of similarities between cars and people when it comes to changing systems and processes to achieve better outcomes. A native of Gary, Ind., he earned a degree from Purdue University, then came to Buffalo in the late 1980s with his wife for a job at General Motors. They expected to stay just a few years but, as happens with many other transplants, he grew to love Western New York. Fast-forward 30 years, past a few stints with Erie County and the University at Buffalo, and Hammonds now leads a multimillion-dollar Medicaid reform effort that includes more than 1,800 health care providers.
How and why did you shift from the automotive industry to health care?
The whole theme of my career has been around transformation. I’ve always loved to solve problems and make things more efficient; it’s kind of been my thing. The transformation of health care, that correlates with when I became very grounded in my faith. It was really having a passion for helping and transforming health care to improve lives, and particularly Medicaid lives. They don’t often have a champion like other folks.
Did you see similarities between widgets and engines and people’s lives?
Whether you’re talking about health care or automotive, you’re dealing with highly specialized and highly educated folks –doctors, physicians, specialists, clinical experts – people who have dedicated their lives to this work. They’re just on a whole different level. But the processes and systems underneath it that make it all go, that behind-the-scenes stuff, that’s what has to work so those clinicians can be effective at working with patients. The transformation that’s happening in health care has already happened in other industries – banking, manufacturing, all the other industries. They’ve all transformed. Health care is the last thing. The similarity is you have to do it through people.
But people don’t like change, right? So how do you get through?
I hate to make it simple, but you have to build relationships and trust, which is what we’ve done with Millennium and DSRIP, as the local vehicle for the bigger state program. All these different governing bodies are people so you have to have trust. I have dedicated my time to building personal relationships and trust with all the people who influence health care in the Medicaid population. Once you build that trust, then it depends on your performance. You have to deliver on outcomes and on those projects.
Tell me more about how faith influenced your career shift.
There was a family that my wife and I met who talked about studying the Bible and getting more involved with family and God. Through that, I found my way into health care. I got introduced to LaVonne Ansari, CEO of the Community Health Center of Buffalo. She’s a woman of faith, too, though a different faith, but it allowed me to have direct contact with the population and help do what I believe in terms of directly impacting people’s lives. Even when I took my job before that with the county, even though it was politically challenging, I still went at it with this transformation mindset of being able to change things. The Department of Health and the Department of Social Services were under me as deputy county executive, so it allowed me to start that process in the health care public arena.
How different is Buffalo from when you arrived?
It’s way more progressive now, way more diverse and a lot more open-minded. Buffalo, kind of like health care, was very siloed. There were silos of how things got done, all these different silos and industry types. I saw it up close with the county, that the arts community, the business community and the health care community were all very siloed. Now these communities are very much working more cohesively together and you’ve seen a change and a resurgence in Buffalo that’s been really inspiring.