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“Why you should not try to be a Superwoman” With Viveka Rydell-Anderson

Don’t try to be Superwoman. I learned this early on. I would have burned out if I had not brought together a strong team. You can’t do it all so trust your team and recognize their talents. They will respond by giving their best and you will be able to relax and keep your focus […]


Don’t try to be Superwoman. I learned this early on. I would have burned out if I had not brought together a strong team. You can’t do it all so trust your team and recognize their talents. They will respond by giving their best and you will be able to relax and keep your focus on the big picture.


I had the pleasure to interview Viveka Rydell-Anderson. Originally from Sweden, Viveka came to the US in 1989, graduated from UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) in 1997, and received her B.A. with honors from UCLA in 1993. Before entering the medical field, Mrs. Rydell-Anderson worked for eight years as a litigator with Bingham McCutchen, and Coblentz Patch, Duffy & Bass in San Francisco. In 2001, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR) awarded Mrs. Rydell-Anderson the Keta Taylor Colby Award in recognition of her work with non-profit organizations. Mrs. Rydell-Anderson was recruited by the Board of Directors in 2006 to get their dream to reality: and she did so, securing investments, assembling a stellar team, overseeing construction of the unique PDI Surgery Center which opened its doors 2008. In December 2017, PDI Surgery Center was awarded the prestigious Jefferson Award for Sonoma county, for innovation in the healthcare field. Mrs. Rydell-Anderson has also served on the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce/San Francisco-Silicon Valley, and on the Kenya micro-financing organization, Village Healthcore. She has been the recipient of the CalWellness Foundation Sabbatical Award, the Healthcare Leader Award 2016 by the Center for Well-Being, the Women in Business Award 2013 by the San Francisco-Silicon Valley Swedish Chamber of Commerce, and Women in Business Award 2012 by the North Bay Business Journal. She has three teenagers.


A story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was working as a litigator in San Francisco when I received a phone call that shocked me. My oldest son’s pre-school teacher told me that he had a painful toothache and I needed to pick him up immediately. I rushed over and got him to a dentist as quickly as I could. The dentist treated him that morning and soon he was better and back to his happy self. This changed my approach to bedtime for all three of my children. Supervising their teeth brushing became a priority. I vowed that none of my kids would have that experience again. Not long after, a friend told me about a group that was trying to form a nonprofit to serve low-income kids suffering from severe tooth decay and were looking for a CEO. When he described the problems their families faced, I realized how blessed I was. We had the funds to take our kids to the dentist and pediatrician on a regular basis and there was no chance of a dentist saying “We don’t take Medical.” The idea that children were in pain with nowhere to go for help was horrifying. I asked him to contact them and let them know I would like to be considered for the position.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

PDI is Northern California’s only pediatric ambulatory surgery center and is disruptive in that it puts healthcare delivery on its head. Our disruptive model unique in that it not only provides oral surgery under anesthesia for treatment of severe tooth decay for low-income families on MediCaid, but also does so in a way that it much more efficient than in a hospital setting. Where hospitals lose a lot of money doing Medicaid dental cases, we are able to do so in a sustainable way. We bring down costs through specialization and volume. When we started out in 2008, people said we were nuts to do this, and that no one can survive on providing specialty services to only MediCaid patients (since the reimbursements are much lower than from private insurance company). Still, we were able to recruit dentists and anesthesiologists (who also work elsewhere) to provide services at PDI a few days per month, on a daily stipend. They feel good about the work they do her, they offer high quality care, and they do not have to deal with the Medicaid paperwork or billing — we take care of all of that. Burn-out, a huge problem in the healthcare field is not something our clinical staff experience because we are able to offer them a fairly intimate, small-feel, on our 2 Operatory Room (OR) stand-alone Surgery Center. It is a unique environment, without a lot of bureaucracy, and staff work as cohesive teams inspired by a shared mission: to help families whose children have special needs or severe tooth decay. Every person on our team knows that they are instrumental in helping families who otherwise would suffer. The mission of doing good is a strong motivator and team-builder.

Because the families we treat are the most vulnerable to not having access to care and resources parents need, we also offers case management, outreach, oral health prevention education, and aid in accessing insurance and a permanent dental home. Every year we treat more than 2,000 children from 33 Northern California counties who are suffering from such severe tooth decay that they require oral surgery under anesthesia. Their average age is three and the average number of teeth requiring treatment is 12. In 2017, we were awarded the Jefferson Award described by Jacqueline Kennedy as a “Nobel Prize for Civic Engagement.”

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share how they made an impact?

Judy Coffey, Kaiser Permanente Senior Vice President/Area Manager for the Bay Area has been a huge mentor for me. While she obviously heads up a much larger health system, she was very encouraging as she could see that the unique PDI model is saving health systems a lot of money. Instead of children coming to the Emergency Rooms (ERs) of area hospitals for acute tooth decay (which can’t cost-efficiently be taken care of in an ER-setting), clinics and hospitals now refer patients to PDI, at no cost for them. At her recommendation, a couple of years ago, I was invited to attend the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival in Colorado and speak about PDI’s unique business mode. I was slightly taken aback to put it mildly. “Isn’t that for important people, famous people?” I asked. I was assured that the mission and vision of PDI would find many eager listeners at the event and indeed that was true. Not only that, but it invited doors for me. I was invited by leaders in healthcare to speak about PDI’s unique business/nonprofit model and learned we have much to share with other nonprofits and health organizations.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Don’t try to be Superwoman. I learned this early on. I would have burned out if I had not brought together a strong team. You can’t do it all so trust your team and recognize their talents. They will respond by giving their best and you will be able to relax and keep your focus on the big picture.

Stay involved. Don’t always sit in your office dealing with problems from your desk. Every day, I make a point to walk through the surgery center, and check in with people — staying in tough with everyone on your team, from the receptionist to the chairman of the board, if very important — and it is important they get to know you also.

Believe in what you do and the rest will follow. Dare to do what makes you tick, what you are passionate about — whether it’s an innovation, a “hobby,” a new product or working to ensure social change. If you don’t feel passionate, it won’t work well. Although I enjoyed working as a litigator, I didn’t get excited. The minute I heard about the goals of the founders of PDI I felt a need to be involved and, ten years later, still remain passionate about what we do to serve children.

How are you going to shake things up next?

We will raise public awareness of dental decay to the forefront of public knowledge — along-side the epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in our country, and invite people from all walks of life to consider what community-based solutions they want to be part of in their neighborhoods.

We all have a lot more power than we sometimes think. I also will join a corporate Board in the healthcare field, because we need more women in corporate board rooms. Workers want to feel that their companies do good work in the communities, and productivity and innovation flourishes when people can bring their diversity and passion to work. And it will benefit corporate America to, because of less discord, burn-out, — and more innovation.

Workers work in high stress environments, But it does not have to be this way. We can do well and feel well. And care for each other. Families do not cook healthy foods anymore, and we need to step into the national awareness that former First Lady Michelle Obama created for health eating and moving. Before WWII only rich people had tooth decay, because they were the only ones who could afford sugar and processes foods. Poor people grew their own vegetable. Now, the opposite is true: the working poor are bombarded with ads for processed foods without nutrition, while the rich can afford shopping at Whole Foods and have healthy foods plans. We have to bring back healthy food as a right for all. Without it, our society’s children will not succeed in life. It should not be a luxury to have nourishing foods.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement toward health foods, and communities being strengthened by locally grown and sourced foods — paying for items grown and baked in their community, instead of making large soda or fast food chains richer.

An epidemic of third world proportions is ravaging our nation. Dental care is one of the nation’s greatest unmet health needs. It is the number one preventable chronic children’s disease — 4 times as prevalent as obesity, five times as prevalent as asthma and 20 times as prevalent as diabetes. It endangers the overall health of millions of Americans and there is an ever-growing oral health divide and burden of suffering between rich and poor with ow-income and minority families suffer disproportionately from painful untreated dental problems. In 2012, more than 212,000 low-income children suffering the pain of dental decay made expensive emergency visits to hospitals. Twenty-five percent of kids start kindergarten with tooth decay, young adults with decayed teeth have difficulty getting jobs, and 31% of our seniors have no teeth. PDI’s mission is to change this situation. Good health begins in the mouth yet oral health is not seen as integral to overall health. Our oral health outreach and prevention education programs encourage Americans (health organizations as well as individuals) to work towards improved oral health for all and, of course, more than 20,000 children who came to PDI suffering the pain of severe tooth decay now have healthy smiles and their parents have learned the causes of tooth decay and how to prevent it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” This life lesson quote was relevant to me because in 2006, when I was recruited to make the founders’ dream a reality, I really knew nothing about setting up a healthcare organization, and apart from my experience with my own children and their dental health, very little about oral health. Yet, with a lot of passion and help from a great team I’ve built an organization I’m proud to say makes a difference in the lives of thousands of children every year. I am a people person, and hire great people. And I am a lawyer and ask a lot of questions, to learn the answers, and find new ideas. Grit in daring to dream big!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook — Viveka Rydell-Anderson

https://www.linkedin.com/in/viveka-rydell-anderson-22946b38/

Instagram — Twitter — vivekananda68

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