PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — On his fourth day in Pittsburgh, Highmark’s new CEO – Dr. Bill Winkenwerder – toured the Caring Place, a facility for children who have lost a parent, after sitting down with KDKA Money Editor Jon Delano in his first TV interview as CEO.
Delano: “Who is Bill Winkenwerder?”
Winkenwerder: “Well, I’m a guy that loves health care, spent my life in health care, started out as a physician, then I got interested in the bigger system of health care, and for the last 25 years or so dedicated myself to improving health care.”
A physician with a Wharton business degree, the North Carolina native was tapped to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs just 10 days after 9/11.
“Jumping in at that time and being charged with the responsibility to provide health care and protection to the United States military was a daunting task, and I’ll admit I was scared stiff,” said Winkenwerder.
His first challenge – dealing with white powder.
“Some people may remember those anthrax attacks – attacks on the country and biological warfare – and that came right to my desk,” he said.
After the war began in Afghanistan and Iraq, Winkenwerder was responsible for the medical needs of service men and women overseas.
“I visited Iraq several times, Afghanistan and other places in the world, on the front lines of battlefield medicine,” Winkenwerder said. “We had great doctors and nurses and medics with a registered nurse salary. Many of those people lost their lives trying to care for Americans.”
He says his background prepares him for Highmark.
“Certainly, I’m used to dealing with crises and big challenging problems and issues, and my attack and approach is just, jump in,” he said.
Winkenwerder says he wants to reach out to UPMC CEO Jeffrey Romoff.
“I’m certainly going to do my part to be someone that he and the leaders of that system can work with,” says Winkenwerder.
That’s a marked change from his predecessor, Dr. Ken Melani, with whom things got personal.
Winkenwerder says Highmark and UPMC need to work together for the community.
“My approach to business, to these kinds of issues, is that it’s not about an individual. It’s not even about a leader. It’s about the institution,” Winkenwerder adds. “It’s about the community.”
Highmark’s new CEO says he has not yet met UPMC’s Romoff.
Winkenwerder: “We have communicated via email.”
Delano: “And you expect to sit down?”
Winkenwerder: “I’m sure we’ll be sitting down in the not too distant future.”
Winkenwerder says he supports Highmark’s acquisition of the West Penn Allegheny Health System to compete with UPMC, noting, “We want competition, and we want health care costs to be lower.”