Robert Fromberg

With the economy in the doldrums (to put it charitably), the weather frigid, and the holidays a distant memory, the country needed some good news, and it came on January 15.

That afternoon, US Airways flight 1549 took off from New York's LaGuardia Airport and immediately encountered a flock of birds that disabled both engines. In what seemed a miracle of quick thinking and deft handling, the pilot used the Hudson River as a makeshift runway to put the plane down. As the plane took on water, the 155 passengers lined up on the wings and were rescued by commuter ferries and other boats that rushed to the scene. No one was seriously injured.

It turned out that the safe landing was no miracle. In fact, it seemed that the aircraft's pilot--Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III--had been preparing his whole professional life for this moment.

Not only has he been a pilot since the 1970s and logged more than 19,000 hours, but his professional passion is safety and leadership in crisis. He has a master's degree in industrial psychology. He is involved in research with the University of California and Berkeley's Center for Catastrophic Risk Management. He runs a consulting firm that applies "the latest advances in safety and high performance…to organizations in a variety of fields." He was safety chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association. And in his spare time he is a glider pilot--not a bad thing for someone who needed to guide an engineless plane onto a river.

This man was not merely good at flying. He devoted himself through diverse pursuits to experiencing, understanding, and sharing all facets of flying and flight safety.

One lesson that this pilot teaches us is the tangible benefit of pursuing one's passion. "He loves the art of the airplane," he wife said after the landing.

But this was not art for art's sake. Capt. Sullenberger teaches us the virtue of pursuing one's passion in service of others, this devotion to others being clearly evident not only in the safe landing, but also in reports that Capt. Sullenberger walked through the sinking plane twice to make sure all passengers were off before deplaning himself.

Although an analogy between a crash landing and the financial management of a hospital is rarely warranted (I hope), in this case it is apt. Take a look at the cases in this month's cover story--Jeni Williams' "Community Benefit Strategies for a Changing Economy." The preparation, passion, and devotion to public good that Capt. Sullenberger showed is evident in Marian Medical Center's program to reduce emergency department visits for patients with congestive heart failure, in CHRISTUS Health's program to help low-income community members better manage their health and social situations, and in Kaiser Permanent's partnership with the National Council on Aging to assist its members who are eligible for the Medicare limited-income subsidy program.

Healthcare finance professionals demonstrate their preparation, passion, and service-their heroism-every day.

Publication Date: Sunday, February 01, 2009

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