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New executive director sees broader health mission for P2 Collaborative

After graduating from the University at Buffalo Law School, John D. Craik joined the prestigious Hodgson Russ law firm as an associate.

But Craik’s legal career lasted just two years. He left to move into the nonprofit world, starting with Buffalo Prep and later Samaritan Pastoral Counseling Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Northtowns and Baker Victory Services.

Craik, a Brooklyn native who grew up in the Finger Lakes region, took on his latest leadership challenge in March, when he was named executive director of the P2 Collaborative of Western New York. The West Seneca-based P2, founded in 2002, works with the region’s health care systems, health insurance companies and community groups to encourage healthier lifestyles, ensure equal access to health care and help providers adopt best practices.

P2 Collaborative has received funding from foundations and insurers and recently won a two-year, $2.4 million contract with the state Health Department designed to better manage the health of the population.

As for Craik, 51, he keeps himself healthy by running marathons and other races.

Q: What drew you to nonprofits?

A: It fits with my strengths. My biggest strength, frankly, is I’m guileless. I’m probably honest and candid to a fault. And I get enthusiastic about things. A friend of mine told me once that I manage to be childlike without being childish. And I thought that was probably the best compliment anybody could ever give me. So, I guess framing that in terms of the nonprofit world, I get real excited about the missions. And I’m insatiably curious, so it’s fun learning more and more about any particular subject – whether it’s education, social services, health care, anything like that. So it’s just intellectually incredibly stimulating being in this world, because it’s meaningful and it’s constantly changing.

Q: What is the role of P2 in the health care community?

A: Historically, we’ve done a number of relatively small grants, small- to medium-size grants, really working very, very closely with health care providers. The kind of community-based providers who serve low-income communities. So it’s the Jericho Road, the Neighborhood Health Center, the Community Health Center, organizations like that. A lot of technical assistance on things around care coordination, diabetes management, things like that. And I think it’s fair to say a lot of people don’t know what P2 does or don’t recognize the value that we’ve added. But if you talk to a lot of those providers – and I have, even before I took the job – they will rave, they really will.

Q: How will you help P2 broaden its focus?

A: In Western New York, by and large, the health care is pretty good. Where we really fall down, and you’re going to catch a theme here, where we’re really doing badly is areas like obesity, chronic health management, smoking, things like that. What they all have in common is they’re really driven by behavior and environment. And again it’s become the oldest canard in the world, but depending on who you read, between 60 and 75 or 80 percent of health care costs and health care issues are driven by people’s behavior. What they’re eating, whether they’re exercising, whether they’re smoking, drinking to excess, all that sort of stuff. So that’s where we need to get involved.

Q: Western New Yorkers like chicken wings, fish fry and other unhealthy foods, and the winters discourage outdoor activity. What can be done to encourage a healthier lifestyle?

A: The first thing we really need to do is really hear directly from the people who are facing the obstacles to healthy food. It’s interesting, a lot of the media that ranks counties and cities for health, you’ll see a lot of the healthiest cities and counties in the country are in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where they face a lot of the same issues. My son’s at Wisconsin – they love their sausages, and their winters are pretty harsh, too – so, an example. We are, in Western New York, 107 percent above the state average for low-income people not having access to supermarket-quality foods. So that could be an easy fix. You can either work with the corner grocery stores to have them restock their shelves. Or you can talk to the NFTA about making it easier to get across town. Or you can talk to Wegmans and see if they’ll do deliveries. The exercise is a little bit tougher, given the winters. It’s difficult, but it’s not insurmountable.

Q: How do you bring together P2 members who compete in the business world?

A: The word we use is “convener,” a neutral convener. So we’ve got the health care systems on our board and we also have the insurance companies. And Mike Edbauer was on our board, the soon to be head of Catholic Medical Partners. He used the phrase constantly, and he nails it, it’s very succinct: “All these folks realize that they have to collaborate where they can and compete where they have to.” Again, it’s a cliché, but it’s true about the rising tide. So if the community gets healthier, if they’re working together to make the community more walkable, and increasing access to healthy food, and having a meaningful impact around those things, they all do better.

Q: Employers bear much of the burden of health care costs in this country. What can they do to lower their costs?

A: You see the employers who are self-funded will do a lot of things like wellness programs. I think there’s a lot of research that says that those are good for staff morale and things like that but they don’t drive a lot of savings. But some of the things like doing screenings and, again, charging people who smoke more for insurance than people who don’t. That’s a perfect example where the financial incentives and the personal incentives and the outcome incentives line up.