“What do you expect and hope to be the contribution of the Millennium generation as they come of age?” This was the question that I asked, during a recent healthcare leadership conference, of Tom Brokaw, author of "Boom!" and "The Greatest Generation." His answer to the audience of boomer-aged healthcare leaders like myself was to say that the Millennial generation is watching us and paying close attention to what is happening to the “America” and the “world” they are about to inherit. 

The Millennials have been born into a world in which there’s been continuous war, concerns about global warming, a growing political chasm between left and right, growing national debt, spiraling healthcare costs, deterioration of the family unit, and most recently, challenges of nuclear disaster meltdown.

  • Most of them entered college before the recession;
  • Most of them are graduating during the recession;
  • Many of them still remain unemployed; and
  • Some of them have watched their parents lose jobs, homes, and self-esteem.

Tom Brokaw renamed these Millennials as “Neo-Frugalists,” and characterized them in the following way:

  • They choose to move home not because they’re free-loaders, but because they trust few others;
  • They trust their parents for the truth;
  • They stay close to home and help one another financially;
  • They’re taking time to make wise choices;
  • They’re learning to save money and to make sound, perhaps, “frugal” choices; and
  •  They appear to be well aware that they will need to act differently than the boomer generation if they are to save the American economy.

Brokaw pointed out the difference between the recession recovery of the Reagan era and the struggle for recovery now is that we now exist in an era of global competition that did not exist during the Reagan era. We now compete with emerging countries, such as Brazil, Afghanistan, Iraq, India, and China, thathave much larger youth populations. This “Neo-Frugalist” generation is small numbers in comparison, unlike the boomer generation. This fact gave me cause to ponder this size conundrum and a few powerful clichés.

  • Our numbers are small but we are mighty; 
  • Together we are a force with which to be reckoned;
  • Work smarter, not harder;
  • Failure is not an option; and
  • A fist is stronger than five individual fingers.

At the end of his keynote talk to this room of healthcare leaders, Brokaw challenged us by saying, “We have no greater obligation than to re-enlist as citizens and become involved.” His point being that we cannot idly watch as our political leaders remain paralyzed to collaborate toward a solution to these problems, and we have the wisdom and ability to solve these economic challenges of spiraling healthcare costs. 

So, the next time I’m discussing with my healthcare clients about process flow analysis, work flow re-engineering, change management, and the practice of Lean principles in healthcare, I will remember that my responsibility includes not only Lean design solutions, but also to contribute toward the reduction of healthcare costs and improvement of the quality outcomes in patient care. I will accept the responsibility that my actions are related to the legacy I leave for my son and his heirs.

I will lead my clients with questions about efficiency, collaboration, communication, compassion, and quality patient outcomes. I will be acutely aware of the loss of revenue caused by reduced Medicare & Medicaid reimbursements, and the direct effect on the “bottom line.”

I will personalize that financial impact as if it was my own. What would each of us do if our household budget was cut by 20-30%? How would I have to dramatically change my lifestyle or how I conduct business if suddenly I was faced with an immediate 20-30% reduction of income? Understanding this revenue impact makes it real. Realizing how this reduced revenue directly impacts availability of nursing staff, or available beds, or adequate lighting, or quiet work space to enhance care givers’ ability to focus and administer care correctly makes it real.  

I will personalize the stories of success and failure in healthcare, so that I can visualize the faces of the patients and their families affected by those actions that caused either the success or the failure. I will personalize my involvement, my actions, and I will re-enlist in pursuing a lean and value-added solution to each challenge. I will consider how my role as a designer of the physical environment should be informed by changes in operational processes and how these physical solutions must have a positive impact on the quality of patient care and outcomes. 

I gladly accept the responsibility to leave my son’s future a little less burdened to solve the crisis of spiraling healthcare costs that my boomer generation has thrust upon him. After all, isn’t it every parent’s desire that their children are blessed with a greater life than their own? My parents were immigrants. They came to America to build a better life for my siblings and me. Their hope was that we’d live a life without prejudice, that we’d go to college, and that we’d become “something," a doctor, lawyer, or other perception of great financial success.

My hope for my son is that he live a life of abundance, free to choose, free to travel, free to speak, and free to pursue, not a life burdened by debt and limited access that he did not create, that is surpassed by more competitive developing countries.

Tom Brokaw is right. It is my greatest obligation to re-enlist as a citizen and to do what is in my power and ability to ensure my son’s world is one in which his life can be better than mine.