“Always talk. Always share. Always engage,” says Anton J. Gunn, Director of External Affairs in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs (IEA) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Mr. Gunn’s long title might put you off, but there is nothing off-putting about this energetic former college football lineman when he is talking about service.
Anton Gunn is a newcomer to Federal Government, joining HHS after serving as the go-to man in South Carolina during President Obama’s first election primaries. He worked grassroots, going door-to-door to win voters and in the process came to the decision that he should serve in the South Carolina State House of Representatives.
Linemen are usually the largest players on the team. Their role is to make a space for action, meeting obstacles and overcoming them. Meeting obstacles–like winning a seat in the SC State House, in a predominantly white Republican voting district–seems to be his destiny. In his present position at HHS, one of his roles is to cultivate and maintain relationships with national, state and local organizations. With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) being rolled out, Mr. Gunn will be tackling many challenges.
Gunn’s message is engagement, “I am proud of our work on the ACA. We have efforts focused on patients…There is no better way to get real answers to real questions than to make a COMMITMENT to engage with patients and stakeholders.” And he believes that engagement will overcome some of the challenges in healthcare, “Challenges? Well, there are lots. Lack of literacy. Social norms. Culture all can make it difficult. But we can overcome them. We have tools like the ACA that will reduce challenges in health care.”
October 12, 2000 marked a turning point in Anton Gunn’s life. On that date, Gunn’s younger brother, Cherone, a seaman serving on the USS Cole, died in the terrorist bombing that also claimed the lives of 16 other sailors. Motivated to enter the political arena, Gunn became an active community organizer and advocate, a leader in economic development and health care reform.
“Public engagement means that you are focused on those you hope to serve,” Gunn believes.
“It means what matters to them, matters to you.” His professional mission, articulated in The Audacity of Leadership: 10 Essentials to Becoming a Transformative Leader in the 21st Century released in 2009 is to bring, “”diverse perspectives together to solve world challenges.” People-to-people is the way to find answers, Gunn feels.
Gunn also believes that technology can make a difference. “We have to embrace technology to get higher quality outcomes in health care. Health information technology can provide a standard framework for all to attain higher health literacy,” Gunn states.
To illustrate, Gunn points to the investments HHS is making to reduce health disparities, via health technologies “HHS launched an app challenge titled “Reducing Cancer Among Women of Color” last August. The winning app will provide users w/ info on screening & preventive services in diff languages & in culturally appropriate contexts.”
Persuading the public that the Affordable Care Act will make a difference is Gunn’s present objective. “The ACA will make health coverage available to millions who don’t have it now. That’s a big first step to helping them to get care. “ He believes that joining health technology and the ACA’s insurance coverage is a huge first step.
“Being able to afford health insurance has been a challenge. The ACA is changing that. ACA means insurance reform, and health information technology means delivery reform. “
By meeting people where they are, Anton Gunn is trying to improve healthcare in the US. “The power to improve our health care systems is at our finger tips. Engage. Include. Respect and Empower patients and consumers,” he tells all stakeholders. His plea to us is simple, “ Visit http://t.co/Rzbm1JeWHO, learn about the marketplaces coming in October. Help someone get covered.”
Based on a #HCHLITSS twitter chat with Anton Gunn on May 9, 2013.