Carol Robinson is a civic leader and the founder of CedarBridge Group, a specialty consulting firm improving health outcomes through information technology and data. After 15 years at home raising four children and volunteering in the community, Carol is now a nationally recognized thought leader in health policy and health IT. Her firm's growing base of clients ranges from technology startups to Intel Corporation, and includes federal, state and local government agencies. We sat down with Carol to discuss transitioning careers, the health IT field and the importance of International Women’s Day.
"It is immensely satisfying to work with organizations that are highly motivated to improve quality and lower costs of health care"
My oldest child had just turned five and my second was not yet three when my twins arrived in 1990. I cherished my role as a full-time parent, but I also dealt with feelings of isolation and self-doubt from being economically dependent on another person. I looked for ways to improve my skills and gain confidence through volunteer work in my children’s schools and in community initiatives. During those years there were a few times when I raised my hand and took on projects that were quite challenging; for instance I chaired two large bond measure campaigns for our local school district. Over time, I was able to see the significant economic value of the work of volunteers, which bolstered my confidence to re-enter the workforce when my twins entered middle school.
From that point on, I credit my success to two things: my hard work and my network. What I mean by the latter is that I have worked to develop many trusted relationships with people who share my values. These people have been mentors, friends, in some cases employers and, in recent years, clients. My creed has been to ensure that trust placed in me or in CedarBridge Group is always well deserved.
What inspired you to join the health policy and health IT fields?
I like challenges, and health care in the U.S. is a maze of complex policies and misaligned incentives. Spending on health care currently accounts for nearly one fifth of our economy. After several years working with business leaders and health policy groups, I was appointed in 2009 by Governor Ted Kulongoski to help pass health reform legislation in Oregon. During my work with the state legislature and numerous stakeholders, I saw substantial gaps in data to accurately measure costs or quality of healthcare services, which began to fuel my passion for health IT. My interests were also fueled by stories of Medicaid patients seeking services in a bifurcated system, of caring physicians who couldn’t access timely information about medications or past treatments, of elderly people who had tried to make their end of life wishes known, only to have their chests cracked and be hooked up to ventilators because the physician-signed paper forms that said “Do Not Take Life-Saving Measures” were not found by well-meaning paramedics.
I was named Oregon State Coordinator for Health IT after the 2009 legislation was passed, and I served in that role for over three years prior to launching my consulting business.
With the rise of connected, wearable technology, health care as we know it is evolving. What innovations have you seen in working with your clients?
CedarBridge Group is working with county and state governments, and with large and small private sector companies. Happily, we are seeing innovations on all fronts. For example, telehealth technology allows patients living in rural settings to access care without traveling long distances. This is especially critical for mental health services, due to provider shortages. Remote monitoring tools are being used to manage chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, with new devices that scan for foot ulcers or send blood glucose readings directly to a nurse’s station. Mobile apps are engaging expectant mothers to make healthier choices, and are supporting people in their efforts to quit tobacco products. All of these examples enable individual and population health improvements.
What aspect of your career do you find most rewarding?
The most rewarding aspect of consulting is when clients are able to move from planning to implementation of policies and/or technologies that support better patient care and healthier communities. It is immensely satisfying to work with organizations that are highly motivated to improve quality and lower costs of health care.
What guidance would you give mothers also interested in re-launching their careers after raising a family?
My advice would be to ignore anyone who says their options are limited, and to look at every problem they have solved over the years as relevant experience for future careers. I would also advise to look for ways to improve computer literacy and to not be afraid to ask friends for help getting a foot in the door. And—importantly—don’t feel guilty about investing in self-improvement activities.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “pledge for parity,” encouraging men and women to help accelerate gender equality. What do you think is the most important action people can take to support gender equality?
The federal Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, when I was a very young child. Over 50 years later, women working full-time earn an average of 79 cents to every dollar earned by a male worker. I believe more transparent wage data will drive better policies, and in that vein, one concrete action would be for state and local governments to mirror federal requirements for contractors to submit data on employee compensation, by gender and race. I also think businesses could improve employee recruitment and retention by showing a public commitment for wage parity.
Who has been your most impactful mentor and why?
My most treasured mentors are my mother, for her demonstration of lifelong learning, and my siblings, who continue to prove the powerful effects of love and forgiveness on the human spirit.
What do you think will change for women over the next 10 years?
Women and men will need to work past the traditional retirement age to support our nation’s economy. Because women now comprise a majority of graduates in nearly every university program, I predict we will see more family-friendly workplace policies over the next decade, with “returning to the workforce” options for parents who take time away from their careers to raise children, and more creative approaches to allowing for better work/life balance at every age.
If you weren’t doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing instead?
I love where I am and what I’m doing now, building a company with social and financial value, with a team of people I admire.
If I could no longer do this, I would look for another way to improve humanity and pay forward the gifts I have received as a mom of four incredible adults. And I would travel to faraway exotic places!