Lead­er­ship through re­la­tion­ships

Modern Healthcare - - 2014 HEALTH CARE HALL OF FAME - By Rachel Lan­den

Y“He’s a mas­ter of men­tor­ing.”

oshi Honkawa is, in his own words, a people per­son. Though it might seem an in­ad­e­quate de­scrip­tion for some­one who is renowned in the health­care ad­min­is­tra­tion and pol­icy are­nas, the la­bel is nonethe­less a fit­ting one for the 90-year-old leader. Dur­ing his 50-year ca­reer, he has met and earned the re­spect, ad­mi­ra­tion and friend­ship of a who’s who list of health­care and po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion­mak­ers and thought lead­ers in Cal­i­for­nia, Wash­ing­ton and every­where in be­tween.

“He’s the mas­ter of de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ships,” said Thomas Priselac, pres­i­dent and CEO of Cedars-Si­nai Health Sys­tem in Los Angeles.

Priselac ex­pe­ri­enced that first­hand when he joined Cedars-Si­nai Med­i­cal Cen­ter in 1979 as an as­sis­tant ad­min­is­tra­tor. Honkawa had come to CedarsSi­nai four years be­fore when he was named its di­rec­tor of fi­nance in 1975.

“It was my good for­tune that Yoshi took me un­der his wing,” Priselac said. “He helped me un­der­stand Cedars-Si­nai as an or­ga­ni­za­tion, where the pri­or­i­ties are and where the chal­lenges are.”

Honkawa knew the chal­lenges well. When he joined the or­ga­ni­za­tion, op­er­a­tions were at two fa­cil­i­ties—Cedars of Le­banon in Hol­ly­wood, Calif., and Mount Si­nai in Beverly Hills, Calif.—and unit­ing them at one lo­ca­tion seemed fi­nan­cially un­fea­si­ble. Cedars-Si­nai needed a $90 mil­lion loan to cover con­struc­tion costs for a new cam­pus, but at the time, the largest state-guar­an­teed loan be­ing granted was $25 mil­lion, $65 mil­lion shy of what was needed.

That’s when some of Honkawa’s ear­lier re­la­tion­ships, es­tab­lished dur­ing his four-year ten­ure with the State of Cal­i­for­nia Ad­vi­sory Health Coun­cil, came in handy. Ron­ald Rea­gan, as Cal­i­for­nia gover­nor, ap­pointed Honkawa to the panel as its first chair­man in 1973, and he was just end­ing his term. The coun­cil’s role was to help plan for and re­cruit health­care fa­cil­i­ties and per­son­nel to tra­di­tion­ally med­i­cally un­der­served ar­eas.

“I got the chance to meet a large num­ber of people, and they all be­came friends of mine,” Honkawa said. “Be­cause of the re­la­tion­ships I de­vel­oped with them and the trust they had with me, when it came down to pre­sent­ing the loan pack­age, I se­cured the votes and got it ap­proved.”

Se­cur­ing the loan guar­an­tee that led to, as Honkawa puts it, “CedarsSi­nai be­com­ing Cedars-Si­nai,” is cer­tainly one of the high­lights Honkawa cites in his ca­reer, but he says it’s hard to pick just one.

It is for his myr­iad ac­com­plish­ments in health­care ad­min­is­tra­tion and pol­icy that Honkawa has been named one of this year’s in­ductees into Mod­ern Health­care’s Health Care Hall of Fame.

His ca­reer be­gan in 1964 as comp­trol­ler and as­sis­tant ad­min­is­tra­tor at the Los Angeles County-USC Med­i­cal Cen­ter. He was quickly pro­moted to as­so­ciate ad­min­is­tra­tor be­fore join­ing the L.A. County Depart­ment of Hos­pi­tals in 1969 as di­rec­tor of fis­cal and hospi­tal pro­gram plan­ning.

Honkawa cred­its his par­ents with giv­ing him the work ethic and val­ues on which his ca­reer has been built. The son of Ja­panese im­mi­grants, he was raised in Billings, Mont. He re­calls skip­ping his first year of school af­ter lis­ten­ing to his mother teach his older sib­lings num­bers and the al­pha­bet ev­ery morn­ing, when she her­self spoke limited English upon ar­riv­ing in the U.S.

His mother also dressed him up for school ev­ery morn­ing, in­sist­ing that he wear a bowtie. “It was a les­son in pride and how you want people to per­ceive you,” Honkawa said.

At the restau­rant the fam­ily owned, Honkawa helped along­side his par­ents and three older sib­lings. He watched his fa­ther, who spent 15 hours a day work­ing in the restau­rant, de­velop re­la­tion­ships with sup­pli­ers, cus­tomers and em­ploy­ees. Honkawa said those in­ter­ac­tions and his fa­ther’s ded­i­ca­tion to his work taught him early lessons about hon­esty, in­tegrity, loy­alty and strength of char­ac­ter.

“Yoshi is one of the kind­est, most car­ing and most de­cent hu­man be­ings on earth,” said Leonard Schaeffer, found­ing chair­man and re­tired CEO of Wel­lPoint. “He’s al­ways there to help and fa­cil­i­tate a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship, to get things re­solved and bring people to­gether.”

It’s one of the rea­sons, af­ter Honkawa was re­cruited to the role of deputy di­rec­tor for fi­nance and leg­is­la­tion at the Los Angeles County Depart­ment of Health Ser­vices in 1972, he

was selected to travel with a group to Wash­ing­ton to help de­ter­mine a pay­ment sys­tem for coun­ties un­der the rel­a­tively new Medi­care and Med­i­caid pro­grams. But when the first trip didn’t yield much in the way of a so­lu­tion, Honkawa went back to Wash­ing­ton by him­self to meet with law­mak­ers on the depart­ment’s be­half and helped de­velop a pay­ment sys­tem for Los Angeles County that be­came a model for other com­mu­ni­ties.

That ad­vo­cacy ex­pe­ri­ence led to additional op­por­tu­ni­ties to con­sult and ad­vise, both in Cal­i­for­nia’s cap­i­tal of Sacra­mento and in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. In ad­di­tion to serv­ing as a mem­ber of the Cal­i­for­nia Health Pol­icy and Data Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion, first ap­pointed by Gov. Ge­orge Deuk­me­jian and then by Gov. Pete Wil­son, Honkawa was also ap­pointed to and later chaired the Na­tional Coun­cil on Health Plan­ning and De­vel­op­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter to con­sult on na­tional health poli­cies.

“Yoshi possesses a unique abil­ity to work across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum,” Priselac said. “Through­out his ca­reer he was viewed as a trusted re­source on both sides of the aisle.”

He also be­came the face of Cedars-Si­nai, tak­ing on the role of vice pres­i­dent for govern­ment and in­dus­try re­la­tions in 1978.

That’s when Richard Pol­lack, who was early in his ca­reer with the Amer­i­can Hospi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion, met Honkawa. He’s now the AHA’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for ad­vo­cacy and pub­lic pol­icy.

“Yoshi was a pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate on (CedarsSi­nai’s) be­half for re­search and grad­u­ate med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, in terms of mak­ing sure re­sources were there to train the next gen­er­a­tion of care­givers,” Pol­lack said.

That fo­cus on the next gen­er­a­tion is one of Honkawa’s hall­marks. “He’s a mas­ter of men­tor­ing,” Pol­lack said. Jack Knott, dean of the USC Sol Price School of Pub­lic Pol­icy, agreed. “He’s been a men­tor to our stu­dents and to mem­bers of our staff,” Knott said. “He’s a tremen­dous role model with great in­tegrity, great skill and ca­pac­ity, and com­pas­sion for people.”

He’s also been a pow­er­ful ad­vo­cate for USC, con­nect­ing his alma mater with var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions and health in­dus­try lead­ers, as­sist­ing with health ad­min­is­tra­tion and pol­icy pro­grams, and help­ing to raise money. Honkawa and May, his wife of 59 years, even gifted their 20-acre av­o­cado farm to fund a grad­u­ate fel­low­ship. “I can’t think of any­one who has done more for the school,” Knott said.

It’s with that knowl­edge that the school’s life­time ser­vice award es­tab­lished last year bears Honkawa’s name.

An­other part of Honkawa’s legacy is in his role as found­ing board mem­ber for the In­sti­tute for Di­ver­sity in Health Man­age­ment, cre­ated in 1994, and de­signed to at­tract mi­nori­ties to hospi­tal lead­er­ship po­si­tions and help ad­vance their ca­reers. But less for­mally, he’s pro­vided ad­vice, guid­ance, con­nec­tions and in­tro­duc­tions to stu­dents, young pro­fes­sion­als and even col­leagues older than him­self, as men­tor­ing is still a big part of his mis­sion to­day.

So too is lead­er­ship on var­i­ous boards and com­mit­tees. Honkawa has been ac­tively in­volved with nu­mer­ous lo­cal, state and na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the Cal­i­for­nia Hospi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion, Amer­i­can Hospi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion and Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Hos­pi­tals. He serves on the Friends of the USC Li­braries Board, as a Pres­i­den­tial As­so­ciate for the school, and since 2007 has vol­un­teered with global hu­man­i­tar­ian group B’nai B’rith In­ter­na­tional.

De­spite re­tir­ing from Cedars-Si­nai in 2001, Honkawa has con­tin­ued to ad­vance the work and the causes for which he has al­ways been a cham­pion—mainly men­tor­ing people and con­nect­ing people.

“When you de­velop all of these re­la­tion­ships, you get a huge cadre of ac­cess,” Honkawa said. “I want to share that.”

Yoshi Honkawa

Honkawa with Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton at the White House in May 1993 for cer­e­monies cel­e­brat­ing Asian-Pa­cific Amer­i­can Her­itage Month.

Honkawa stands with the doc­u­men­ta­tion that was re­quired to se­cure fi­nanc­ing and per­mis­sion to build the new Cedars-Si­nai cam­pus.

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