By Rick Miller, Founder and CEO of Avamere Health Services
“Big dogs don’t live long,” laughs Rick Miller who, at 7 feet tall, is part of one of the world’s most exclusive clubs. Miller is among roughly 2,800 living members who stand 7 feet, or taller. That’s about .000038% of the world’s population. (American Robert Waldow, 1918-1940, still holds the measurable record at 8 feet 11.1 inches!)
Miller is a good sport about the challenges and blessings of being extraordinarily tall. He’s lived them and, because of his high-profile job in healthcare, he enjoys a unique perspective on aging and how to help all of us start aging right.
So, what’s it like living, literally head and shoulders above the rest of humanity?
For starters, you have instant street cred and respect (“Not always earned or deserved,” says Miller). Everyone assumes you’re a celebrity (“It used to be, ‘Which NBA team are you on?’ but now at my age it’s ‘Which NBA team did you used to play for?’”). You easily find your runaway kiddos in a crowd. You’re sure to be the unforgettable job applicant––and you have a better chance of landing that job. According to a study outlined in Forbes, tall people earn bigger paychecks because genetic markers associated with being tall, link to “higher cognitive abilities and lower risk of depression.” (“How come I didn’t get those genes,” laughs Miller.)
Now here’s the downside to standing tallest.
You don’t live as long as those of us closer to the ground. Beyond just hitting your head a lot, you’re prone to bone injuries, atrial fibrillation, venous thromboembolism, (the third leading cause of heart attack and stroke) and cancer.
Miller has battled and survived a brain tumor and cancer. And thanks to the stress of COVID, he now has high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
The good news is Miller is using his job and his healthcare experiences to help the rest of us. As one of the US senior health care industry’s most respected leaders, the former chair of the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and the founder and CEO of Avamere Health Services, Miller has come out of the global pandemic absolutely on fire to make some changes in how we all age––from infant to senior.
Miller’s two vehicles for change are this Aging Right blog where you’ll be hearing from leading healthcare experts and where we invite you to the table to join the conversation; the other vehicle is the AgeRight PAC Network, created by Miller and Phil Fogg, founder and CEO of Marquis Companies. These two friends, competitors and collaborators are recruiting some of the finest health care professionals all along the healthcare continuum–insurance, managed care, nurses, doctors, home health providers, physicians and clinicians–to brainstorm and innovate ways of delivering new models of superior healthcare. The goal: more personalized, onsite, data and technology driven service that’s seamlessly integrated, resulting in better outcomes, better resident and patient experiences and more efficiencies––all while saving our payers’ and providers’ time and money.
Lofty goals for sure. And with Miller and Fogg at the wheel, achievable.
It’s here, in the Aging Right blog, you’ll be hearing from these health care professionals and where we invite you to share your ideas.
Right now, let’s hear from the always frank and determined, Rick Miller.
Q: What are your goals in helping create this Aging Right blog?
A: Three things! I’m really excited about helping lead the conversation about current and future models of health care, with the goal of driving long term care out of nursing facilities. I’m not saying we’re seeing the end of nursing facilities. But I do think we’re seeing the acceleration of a rejection of traditional long term care services in our nation’s aging nursing facilities. I want to help create those new models for older adults today and in the future.
The second significant issue has to do with workforce. We have got to evolve from being an industry to a profession where clinicians, direct care, and support teams are respected and paid for the important and critical work they do for seniors. Every member of our teams should enjoy family wage jobs and benefits.
The third is how to use technology to drive smarter, more responsive health care for all of us.
Q: How were you able to bring together so many competing–and often siloed–healthcare parties to the Age Right PAC Network?
A: Much of this is because of Phil Fogg, CEO of Marquis Companies. He runs one of the nation’s best and highest quality senior care companies. I’ve been in this business for more than 30 years and I used to work for Phil. He taught me everything I needed to know to start Avamere back in 1995, so we’ve been competitors for over 25 years! Now many providers, like me, are eager to learn from and collaborate with Phil.
I’m not sure if it’s a result of COVID or the fact we’re just getting older, but Phil and I and others we’re surrounding ourselves with, are less ego driven and more interested in collaborating with each other to find better solutions for all our stakeholders. We’re more open about our challenges than we’ve been in the past––a younger era when we were less inclined to share our weaknesses. COVID has brought people together to address deficiencies and opportunities that affect all of us. We’re all committed to getting it right for older adults.
So, we’re partnering and collaborating much more, including within the Age Right PAC Network where we find solutions to some of these challenges and in this Aging Right blog, where we share those challenges and solutions and invite others to the table. We’re also exploring other ways of working together, for example, in mobile imaging and lab services. We’re making investments in different start-up businesses to help people fight infectious diseases and we’re developing consumer engagement software to address isolation, disconnection and depression. Phil and I, along with other owners and operators across the entire spectrum of care, are determined to fix the broken parts of our profession. We want to eliminate the frustration the consumer has over accessing, navigating and engaging with clinicians along the healthcare continuum. We want to improve quality outcomes, enhance consumer experience and make healthcare more affordable by reducing errors and eliminating unnecessary spending.
We have a lot of work in front of us.
Q: Before we get to that, how has the global pandemic altered the way you look at and live your life?
A: Honestly? I would say because of COVID my liver enzymes are higher (laughter). I have high cholesterol and high blood pressure. I feel a little out of balance right now from constantly facing COVID related threats––many with significant short and long term impacts. Obviously, it’s getting better, but we’re still all working long hours in a highly stressful environment. Still, we’re constantly celebrating our front-line heroes and every small success.
For me personally and the entire senior healthcare and housing services profession, there’s never been a more challenging time. I’m spending more time than ever with my teams to learn what they’ve been through and what they’re still going through. One of the ways I’m doing that is packing a bag and staying overnight, living in our Avamere senior communities. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that. The best part of my job is directly engaging with our customers and teammates.
This last year makes me wonder more about my purpose in life, why we’re all here and what it all means. I love the book, When Breath Becomes Air, which is about a young man who wants to understand what motivates people, how they make decisions and find purpose in life. He becomes a brain surgeon and does all these great things academically and experientially around the world. He gets married and along the way, he develops cancer. Near the end of his life, which happens way too soon, he figures out his life’s purpose. He just wants to be with his wife and his new baby daughter. With all the challenges COVID has thrown at our profession, we all need to love what we do and the people we serve. Unless there’s a strong “personal why” motivating and driving you to serve and to get it right for older adults, then you shouldn’t be in this business.
Q: Did COVID bring a greater awareness–and acceptance–that one day you’ll likely need some of the services you’ve created for others?
A: (Laughter) I’m seven feet tall and big dogs don’t live long. I’ve battled a brain tumor, cancer and lots of stress, so yes, COVID has made me think a lot about what I want for myself and the services I’ll need as I age relatively quickly. Here’s what I know: I want to age in my own home. If I must be in a skilled nursing facility, I’ll choose the one that has the best track record for the shortest length of stay and for successfully discharging patients back home. I will also expect a private room. With the help of easy-to-use technology, I’ll want to participate in my plan of care and be engaged with the people caring for me. I’ll want transparency with my clinical team about my condition.
Q: Do you think COVID gave younger people a greater awareness of their own aging process and greater respect for seniors?
A: It depends on where you live. In North America we tend to put off planning and thinking about what’s going to happen to us as we age. We value youth more than aging. I hope my generation and the next will make senior health care services a much higher priority than in the past, both in terms of how we spend our time and money and how we think and vote with informed choices. I hope politicians more often make senior issues a higher priority and part of their platforms. Right now, our health care continuum is so fractionalized and there’s a huge amount of frustration people feel on how to access and navigate it. Healthcare services and housing for aging adults are woefully underfunded. I would say to folks my age and younger, you will not like the system that supports older adults, but we can fix it together. Let’s make it a priority!
What’s next in Aging Right?
In our next blog, Miller’s going to talk about who needs to come to the table to meet the challenges of this critical inflection point in the senior healthcare industry. And he’ll spell out his vision for a new model of care for, you guessed it, aging right. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Aging Right Blog, you can do so here.
Rick Miller’s personal Hacks for Aging Right
Learn more about Rick Miller here.