Jeff Franklin presently serves as executive director of a state health care policy commission. The commission is comprised of representatives from across the health care industry including, but not limited to, doctors, hospital administrators, insurance executives, special health interest lobbyists, etc. Their job is to meet and negotiate the future of their state's health care system. As executive director it is Jeff's job to see to it that those people fulfill their mission.
He does this primarily in three ways. One, he is to maintain the "visionary perspective." According to Jeff, "While these people are all experts in some area of health care they often are focused on immediate problems and issues. I have to keep them thinking about what our health care system should be like in ten years." Two, Jeff is an organizational manager. As such, "I oversee a staff of researchers, analysts, writers, etc. The primary need is for valid information and clear communications, and the commission is responsible for this." Jeff must see to it that the organization operates effectively and efficiently. Three, Jeff maintains a complex set of relations, with himself at the center, among the health care industry, clients of health care industry, the legislature, and governor, and other special interests including average citizens. Mike suggests that, "This is my real job, serving as a hub, linking all these people together." In health care Jeff's position is one of significant influence. Most of the commissions's policy statements have been enacted into law in one of the most progressive health care reform states in the country. More details of his work will follow, but first we will examine how Jeff came to this position.
In the mid–1970's Jeff graduated from a small Christian Liberal Arts College with a degree in sociology. According to Jeff, "As important as my degree in sociology was the college's focus and insistence on the development of values. The world is so full of people who simply don't care about others and are there only for themselves. Basic values must be addressed and developed if one is to make a positive contribution." It is this combination of degree and value commitment which led Jeff to social service work. "My first real job was as a financial case worker for a large county/metropolitan area social service system." In this capacity Jeff became familiar with a wide array of family services, agencies, and needs. The technical work was determining eligibility for financial assistance. However, according to Jeff, "The issues were always more complex than money. I had to determine what the real underlying needs were and then seek ways to match services with those needs."
The connections between this work and Jeff's degree are many. Jeff notes that, "It is surprising to most people just how important a proper perspective is for solving a problem." What many may see as an "attitude" may actually be behavior generated by a complex set of environmental variables. However, according to Jeff, "This does not mean that individuals are without responsibility." But it does mean that "solutions to problems may be a matter of putting together the right combination of external services." This perspective is one which embraces the concept of community. It sees the individual as part of a larger complex of relations. For this, according to Jeff, "sociology is a natural and productive discipline." Jeff stayed in this line of work for about eight years, starting in the late seventies at a salary of around $18,000. By the mid eighties he had worked his way through the system and was earning approximately $25,000.
As Jeff's career developed within the social service system he took on various jobs. Toward the end of his time as a direct provider of social services Jeff began working in crisis intervention. His work was on weekends and nights, a time when people often confront their problems of family and life. His job was to see to it that an appropriate array of social services were brought to bear on whatever a client defined as a crisis. According to Jeff, "Sometimes this meant helping people see that what they thought was a major crisis was actually a small problem which they could handle themselves. For others it meant emergency action. We dealt with everything from child abuse to illness to the aftereffects of a house fire." In Jeff's opinion, "The crisis intervention work really was quite satisfying. In many ways you could actually see the results of your efforts to help people in need. But there was a downside. My efforts were limited to case by case help. There were always more cases. My idea was that if I could exert influence at the county or state administrative level then perhaps I could do more than deal with cases after crises had already occurred."
Jeff's solution was to take advantage of his schedule, which freed his days, to enter law school. Upon graduation Jeff took a job with the legislative research staff of his state's senate. His special area of research was human services. According to Jeff, his work was always varied, yet went something like the following. A senator would come to the research staff and identify some particular problem or issues he/she wanted to address with legislation. Jeff's job was to ultimately draft that legislation; to convert the issue into law. This required a number of skills which were particularly sociological in nature. As Jeff suggests, "My law degree got me into this job, but the work could be characterized as basic sociology." Much like his work in the social services system Jeff had to help his client, in this case a legislator, define clearly the issue/problem at hand. Then it was a matter of gathering information relevant to that definition. Sometimes this meant doing basic research, at other times it meant requesting it from other sources.
In this regard Jeff notes that, "Being able to read and understand research is such an important skill." When people would present data Jeff was able to ascertain, better than most, its validity. For example, when reviewing survey reports Jeff would be able to discern between well and poorly written questions. Therefore, while data may indicate a particular course of action, if those data were the result of poor data collection then the course of action should be questioned. Jeff used these skills over and over again as legislative questions were being framed.
Jeff was also in a position to exercise theoretic interpretation. Once an issue was defined it was in need of a solution. The creation of a solution required a clear understanding of the social dynamics involved. A theoretic perspective suggests places to look for problem definition, and therefore avenues of altering the situation so that a solution could be produced. In collaboration with the senator Jeff then wrote the legislation. But this was not the conclusion of his work. He then needed to help "explain" the legislation to others. Others included state agencies, potential clients, the public, and other law–makers. Jeff's intimate knowledge of the issue, both theoretically and methodologically, put him in a critical position for communication.
Every year it was something different in legislative research. For ten years Jeff worked on human services and social issues as diverse as welfare reform, gender equity, and most recently, health care reform. The sociological contributions were many and went well beyond methodology. As Jeff once suggested, "Legislation is like a large competition with many participants. Information is the key and common ingredient. With the right information you can create, control and direct policy. You see, the legislature is not itself out in the field figuring out how the world is working. Yet they have the power to set policy which influences how the world does work." This makes the work of information handlers all that more significant. The whole process must be carefully managed. Meanings must be well–constructed, communications clear, and alliances vigorously pursued. For this a clear understanding of organizations and networks, as well as individuals is absolutely necessary. According to Jeff, "This is an intensely interactional process. An understanding of interaction is therefore most important." In fact, there is little or nothing about this work which is not informed by sociology. During this time Jeff was earning a salary ranging from the low $30,000's to the mid $40,000's.
As a result of his work in the legislature Jeff came to be known for a number of traits. He is known as being value– driven and a person of integrity. He was also well known for his skills in information production and management. His network extended throughout state government and outside state government. That brings us to the present and his work with the commission, for which he earns approximately $60,000 annually. Jeff believes that he has the opportunity for more significant input. In one sense Jeff sees himself as an average citizen exercising whatever influence he can wield. He has seen it before, and studies it. It is an ongoing part of our society, one with which Jeff intends to stay involved. Further, as Jeff's career has developed so far, he fully expects it to continue developing.
This expectation of continuing career development is a point of advice which Jeff offers to current students. Research and communication skills are an obvious must. But perspective is as important, especially perspective recognizing the significance of values. This is not work for those whose values are uncertain. Add to this assertiveness and aggressiveness. Jeff urges a proactive pursuit of all options. This begins in school where the broad, multifaced education is recommended. According to Jeff, "My career has been highly rewarding at each stage, and I have high expectations for the future. There is still a lot of work to be done. There always will be. Those who are prepared will be the ones to make a difference."
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