Sadly, The Center for Health Design lost one of its friends and long-time board members recently. Russ Coile, one of the nation's top healthcare management consultants, died November 10 at age 60, from complications of brain cancer.

Russ was a pioneering healthcare futurist, spotting trends and advising hospitals, physician groups, and health plans across the country for more than two decades. In 2002, he was named one of the top 100 health leaders in America by Modern Healthcare magazine. Those of us fortunate enough to have been his colleagues and call him friend are forever in his debt for his generosity of spirit and guidance.

Russ spent much of the last two weeks of his life in the hospital, and as I received daily updates from board members and friends who visited him and spent time with his family, I was reminded of why we do the work we do. We are among the lucky ones, because our work touches and improves the daily lives of so many people, although they are people we will never meet, never get to know, and never have the opportunity to hear from. The environments we create and manage provide needed distraction and comfort to thousands of people across the country. It's our work.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the person in that hospital bed is a close friend, a family member, or even ourselves. We discover how the staff's ability to competently do its work without having to fight the environment affects us. We find out firsthand how the quality of the patient room and its artwork and other amenities (or lack thereof) affect us. We are comforted when we find that there is a place for our friends to sit and our loved ones to sleep nearby. The controlled noise level, the availability of spaces where we can go for respite, and the ability to look out a window and see life also affect us. And suddenly, it's not just about work; it's about people.

After Russ passed away, one of our colleagues said of him that he was “a light extinguished far, far too early.” I couldn't put it better. But, for me, those daily calls about Russ's condition and how his family was coping at the hospital served as fuel to burn more brightly the fire that pushes me forward in the work that we all do.

In honor of Russ Coile, carpe diem. HD

The Center for Health Design is located in Pleasant Hill, California.