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Member Spotlight: Jim Hickman, CEO of Better Health East Bay

Monday, March 7, 2016

Jim Hickman's vision is to help patients who come most frequently to East Bay emergency rooms get access to a wider array of services and community-based providers. Jim shares his unlikely path from Rock The Vote to end-of-life questions and Better Health East Bay's big bet.

How'd you get started in this work?

I was active in politics as a college student in the 80's, including leading campus efforts on UC divestment from South Africa, and then after college went to work for a Wall Street firm. It was an exceptional training opportunity. I had a knack for building relationships, creating a shared vision and connecting business goals to passions. Through it all, I realized Wall Street wasn't where my heart was leaning. So, I went into political fundraising, then campaigns, followed by a public policy stint in DC in the Clinton Administration. I came back to California seeking a career track that combined my passions and experience which, in hindsight, we would call "social impact."

Where are you inviting collaboration these days?

We are looking for collaborators willing to place a big bet on health care innovation to support underserved communities.

Better Health East Bay's Trustees "seed funded" our first big idea – to bring medical "hotspotting" to Oakland - through an exciting partnership with Dr. Jeffrey Brenner and The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers. With additional support from the California Health Care Foundation, we are building a technology-enabled care coordination infrastructure for frequent utilizers of emergency departments across health systems in Alameda County. These "super utilizers" are some of our sickest, most vulnerable patients who visit the emergency department hundreds of times per year often for primary care needs because they don't have the resource to navigate the system, and they don't know where else to go.

Our vision is to link social services and community-based providers to our health systems in a way that securely stores patient information and shares it at the right time and in the right way, eliminating the need to start over every time a frequent patient enters an emergency room. In this way, we can better coordinate care and social services and connect resources to patients that are most effective and appropriate for their needs.

Another example of partnering for impact is our work with Collective Medical Technologies to bring their Emergency Department Information Exchange (EDIE) platform to the Bay Area. We see it as a platform to address social determinants of health that are repeatedly colliding with a fragmented health system. We are working with the developers to expand the platform’s capabilities as a first step toward creating a smarter, well-coordinated digital "safety net." EDIE is deployed in 100% of hospital emergency departments in Washington State and Oregon, and, with their track-record, we are confident that we can greatly improve care in our community while driving down costs for everyone.

What's next on your agenda (workwise)?

I'm an older parent with elementary school-aged kids. My wife’s aging parents live on the East Coast. Suddenly, Atul Gawande's "Being Mortal" has more personal relevance. I am interested in how philanthropy can a play a role in creating the "space" to talk about living with advanced illness, end of life care, even death. I want to explore this topic with my philanthropy colleagues.

Tell us something your parents and friends probably don't know about you (yet)?

I grew up in New Hampshire and thus am a political junkie. I went home and worked for Rock The Vote in New Hampshire during the 1992 Presidential primary. Like most campaign staff, I decamped at my father's house and on various couches around Durham. My family was amused by the group of young Jerry Brown campaign staffers who crashed in my old Greg Brady-style attic bedroom for a few days. They never quite understood why I was on Yo MTV Raps, though, talking about voter registration.

You have just been elected as the Bay Area Health Funders Group Co-Chair. What are you most excited about and why did you accept the position?

After speaking at the NCG Annual Conference in 2015, I was inspired by the work NCG is doing to bring smart, passionate people together to solve big problems.

I am very excited to co-lead the Health Funders Group to help bridge conversations between traditional philanthropy and new "tech" philanthropy to catalyze and accelerate social impact on our region’s health and well-being.

We have the opportunity to think big, and create new and unlikely partnerships that will make extraordinary things happen in health care and beyond.

What does the Bay Area Health Funders Group mean for you and your work?

With the innovative spirit of the Bay Area, I know that philanthropy can make big things possible for our local communities. And, that by co-creating innovative approaches to how we raise and invest money, we can be a national model for transforming health care, particularly for the underserved.  

Philanthropy can help make big ideas less risky for health systems to consider and implement; and in the process make sure we don't lose sight of ideas that are just good common sense.  This new role with NCG aligns with my work at Better Health East Bay and I am thrilled to partner with so many great minds to help make this a reality.


Do you have questions for Jim or ideas for collaboration? You can contact him at:


Twitter: @hickmanjim

LinkedIn: Jim Hickman

Jim invites you to join lively conversation with the Bay Area Health Funders Group.