In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of Jim Geary.
This profile was published in the December, 2011 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
"Support groups are as needed today as they were 25 years ago. There's an array of issues that medical personnel cannot really address or don't have the time to address."
At this very moment across the United States, hospitals are struggling with a series of interconnected challenges: How to get patients more engaged in their care and encourage providers to practice participatory medicine; how to coordinate care along the entire continuum; how to build a care team that includes not only providers and patients, but also family members and advocates; how to incorporate alternative medicines and treatments and spiritual beliefs and practices into the patient's care plan; and how to improve quality during care transitions to improve outcomes and prevent readmissions.
To Jim Geary, these issues are nothing new. He's been challenging the healthcare system to address them for 30 years.
Geary moved to San Francisco in 1974 and he worked for three years as an attendant on an oncology unit. A few years later he was protesting alongside Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk against the Briggs Initiative, which would have made it mandatory to fire gay teachers and any public school employees who supported gay rights. The measure was defeated. Several weeks later, Moscone and Milk were assassinated.
Geary found some kind of solace as a volunteer for the Shanti Project, a support group for people with life-threatening illnesses. In 1982, while serving as executive director, Geary spearheaded a change in mission, turning Shanti into what's considered the first support agency for the disease that came to be known as AIDS.
(Geary later resigned from the organization amid allegations of nepotism, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Both Geary and the Shanti Project were ultimately cleared of all charges.)