Connect Live @ Adventist Health

Connect Live | January 20, 2022

This week in Connect Live we welcome Dexter Shurney, M.D., President of the Blue Zones Well-Being Institute and Well-Being Division Chief Medical Officer at Adventist Health, to get familiar with the work of his team and his vision for the future of well-being. Also, we learn from our own what it means to be five-star caregivers.

Joyce Newmyer: Welcome to Connect Live at Adventist Health. I'm Joyce Newmyer, the Chief Culture Officer at Adventist Health and your host for Connect Live. Live this week, Kerry's Story & Experience episode, well-being and health, and going the extra mile.

Joyce Newmyer: Kerry's Story & Experience episode – this was episode 36 of The Story & Experience Podcast, and it was released this week, featuring Kerry Heinrich, Chief Executive Officer for Adventist Health. As always, these podcast episodes are all from one single recording session, and they capture without any preparation the guest's honest and authentic moments that shaped them into the leaders they are today. True to form, Kerry did not hold back as he engaged in questions on faith, near-death experiences, and why he loves people. You can listen to this episode and many more on your favorite platform, and of course, on our story website at

Joyce Newmyer: Today, I'm delighted to welcome Dr. Dexter Shurney, President of the Blue Zone's Well-Being Institute and Well-Being Division Chief Medical Officer at Adventist Health. Welcome, Dexter. So glad you could be here with me today.

Dexter Shurney: Well, thank you, Joyce. Thank you for having me. It's a delight to be here. I've been looking forward to this conversation.

Joyce Newmyer: Me, too. So Dexter, you've had a really varied background. Tell us about some of the spaces and industries you've served in your career.

Dexter Shurney: Yes, I have. And I must say that it wasn't by design. You know how life just happens. But as I look back, I can say that it's truly been a blessing. I started life off as a general surgeon, and then I've had these wonderful opportunities to sort of change career paths a number of times. I've been the chief medical officer for a large [inaudible] plan, the chief medical officer for a self-funded employer with over 55,000 employees. I've had an opportunity to work in research. And I even did a three-year stint at Amgen, which is a pharmaceutical biotech company. And when I say that, I always want to make sure that nobody holds that against me. But what I'll say, it has been a blessing, and what it does is it really gives me a perspective, having lived the life within each of those domains of healthcare.

Joyce Newmyer: Well, that's some very rich experience that you bring to us at Adventist Health. Tell us more about your current role with Adventist Health at Blue Zones and the Well-Being Division.

Dexter Shurney: Absolutely. So I serve as the chief medical officer of the Well-Being Division. And what that does is it includes our wholly owned subsidiary, the Blue Zone organization, as you mentioned, also, the Blue Zones Well-Being Institute, which is our not-for-profit applied research organization. And among other things, there are other organizations that work closely with the Well-Being Division and partner organizations.

Dexter Shurney: Many of you have probably heard the name Synchronous Health, Modified Health. And what that does is it really helps us to build rounded solutions for overall health and well-being strategies. And it sort of defines our approach to meaningful solutions. So we don't want to work in silos. And so having all of these tentacles, so to speak, and partners and collaborators really make for more powerful solutions.

Joyce Newmyer: So when you and I talked, it was several days ago, and you talked with me about connecting dots. Can you tell our viewers why this role appealed to you and what that has to do with connecting dots?

Dexter Shurney: Yeah, that's a great question. And as I've mentioned, I've been in healthcare for a long time, and one of the things I try to do is I try to track the trends. And when I look at where healthcare today, I firmly believe that collaboration will result in more comprehensive solutions for the future. And that's the wonderful thing that I get to do in this role. It's the mixture of leading, collaborating, and learning. It's applied research. We don't just do research for the sake of research, but it's applied practical research, we like to say, that will really foster the development of new programs, new ways of doing things smarter, that also then we can use to change policies.

So for example, we're looking at some reimbursement policies that might lead to something that we're calling residual payments, tied to an upside risk that's linked to specific performance metrics. And then again, we don't lobby and do the policy change, but what we can do is we can show folks that do that work, like Julia Dreyfus within our organization and Carlisle Watson at Adventist Health Policy Association, to [inaudible] those, that research and that data, into policies that then make it sustainable. So that's what we do. We sort of give them the ammo, so to speak, to do their thing. So it's a very unique and exciting opportunity, and I really feel that this is one of the high points in my career.

Joyce Newmyer: Well, that sounds exciting. I know Julia and Carlisle are very good at what they do.

Dexter Shurney: They are.

Joyce Newmyer: And knowing that we can help inform their work as well, and the lobbying that they do on behalf of us, that's exciting. So you've said that you don't want your work to be a distraction, but a tool to make lives easier. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Dexter Shurney: Yeah. You know, when you look at the current environment, I know that our organization faces some formidable headwinds on many fronts, and what we do in the Well-Being Division and the work that's being done in the Institute really should help Adventist Health in a number of different ways. We've assembled a large group of nationally recognized advisors, at last count, it was about 30, that want to help us come up with ideas to pressure test concepts and to evaluate the value. And these are a wide range of advisors that run the gamut from healthcare plans, to community work, to food banks, to culinary medicine institutes, to not-for-profit professional trade organizations, such as the American College of Preventative Medicine, American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

And these people, I will say, are not doing this for the money. We don't pay them. So these are people that have raised their hand to say, you know what? I want to be part of something that's going to make a difference. And so that's really exciting. And I think that we are going to hit upon things that will benefit Adventist Health in their day-to-day business. And in fact, there are many of our senior leaders that serve on this advisory, as well, so it's not just that we're looking outside of the organization, but also pulling in resources within the organization, as well.

And in fact, what I would say, Joyce, is that everyone at Adventist Health should feel that they can contribute to the work that we do. We want to understand what they're thinking. They're in the trenches oftentimes, and we can benefit from their knowledge and their perspective to help shape the research that we do. And so I encourage everyone, all of our associates, to learn more about the Institute and how to participate to the extent that they wish to.

Joyce Newmyer: That's great information. I've seen that list of people who are serving as your advisors, and that's an impressive list of people. So Adventist Health serves many different groups of people, our own associates, the patients that we serve in communities where we have hospitals and clinics, family members, and then communities where we don't have hospitals, but Blue Zones has a footprint there. Tell me this, this is a big question, what is your dream for these people that we serve in all of these various different ways?

Dexter Shurney: Well, I'd tell you, that's an easy one for me. It's simply that the people we serve live better, longer. And when I say to people, we serve not just our patients, but also our associates, how do they live better in this era of COVID, of staffing issues, all these challenges that all of us in one way or another are living in our lives? And so how do we help that?

One of the key metrics that we will use to judge our performance is something we are calling the Well-Being Index, and I know many have an understanding of what that is, but when you really look at well-being, it really involves not just health, but all of these other aspects, burnout and depression and anxiety, the mental health aspects, as well. And so my goal, and I think everyone that I work with, we're really trying to figure out how can we make improvements along the lines of well-being that we also know inform and also have meaning with these other issues, as well.

Joyce Newmyer: I know our mission statement says that we want to inspire health, wholeness, and hope. And you're talking about whole people, whole beings that are more than just the one issue of physical health. And that's exciting. Thank you so much for being with us here today and for helping us connect some of these dots. And we look forward to learning more as time goes on.

Dexter Shurney: Well, thank you again for having me.

Joyce Newmyer: Our final story today is The Extra Mile. Our long-term care facilities system wide love your families because our nurses are filled with love. Adventist Health Delano released a short film recently capturing the families, patients, and nurses' reflections on long-term care. Watch the film and see why our nurses have dedicated their lives to live God's love in Delano, how literally decades later, they would not even dream of changing their jobs.

Adventist Health Delano is a five-star facility recognized as one of the best in the United States, and it is in part because our nurses have dedicated their lives in service. Thank you to all our caregivers for going the extra mile at Adventist Health Delano.

You can watch this story and many others at Friends, thanks for connecting live, and we'll see you here again next week. Until then, let's be a force for good