He wants to abolish hunger, expand alternative energy and affordable housing and has a utopian vision for a patient-centered health care system. He opposes casino gambling.
And Dr. Donald Berwick, one of many candidates in the early running for governor of Massachusetts, naturally loves the Vineyard, where he is a part-time resident of Menemsha.
“It’s one of the most beautiful places in the nation, let alone the state,” he told a gathering of about 25 people at the Howes House in West Tisbury Saturday morning where he appeared to discuss his candidacy.
In an intimate setting, the former pediatrician who has built his name on a platform of health care quality, was pressed to articulate his position on issues ranging from education to human services to affordable housing.
He was introduced by Betty Burton, president of the Vineyard Committee on Hunger, who said more than 30 years ago he had helped to save the life of her son who was born with a disease called toxoplasmosis.
“He is someone you want on your side,” she said.
Dr. Berwick’s resume of health care achievements, which include a 22-year career as a pediatrician, a 10-year stint as vice president of quality-of-care measurement at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and role as president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a nonprofit.
He also served for 17 months as director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid services in Washington.
In general terms, he outlined what he hopes to accomplish if he is elected in 2014.
He said he supports Cape Wind and solar energy projects and asked for better oversight in state nuclear plants, which he said the state depended on in part at this point.
Asked whether the state should go forward with membership in Common Core, a national curriculum program, Mr. Berwick spoke generally on the topic of testing and teacher quality. He said testing could often divert attention away from other aspects of education.
In one of many analogies he drew between health care improvement work and other fields, he said setting up a system of rewards for increased breast cancer screening did not necessarily lead to better care.
“We moved the money over to the screening, and we got the screening done,” he said. “But you want doctors and nurses who will think about the whole patient.”
After discussing the need to invest more in the state’s 15 community colleges, providing training to match available jobs with the available workforce, Esther Hopkins pushed him to localize his talk. She asked if he’d considered locating a community college on the Island due to the difficulties of traveling off-Island for educational opportunities.
He said he thought expanded online learning opportunities might be possible. “There may be ways to move knowledge instead of moving people around,” he said.
Later in a conversation with the Gazette, Mr. Berwick thought more about the possibilities for higher education on the Vineyard.
“Wouldn’t it be neat to have this Island be a prototype for advanced, innovative higher education opportunities . . . this could be an example for rural areas everywhere,” he said.
He has come out against casinos, an issue that has gained local importance in recent months as the Wampanoag tribe moved to build a gaming facility on their land in Aquinnah.
Dr. Berwick opposes casinos on the grounds that they hurt small businesses, and foster, or uncover as he said, gaming addictions.
“That is not another burden we need, certainly not on this Island,” he said. “I think to show our kids that the way to be successful is to gamble, is not the message we want to send.”
He said there are other ways to create jobs and growth, which he will outline in a position forthcoming next month. He plans to pay particular attention to rural economies like the Vineyard, he said.
Dr. Berwick’s recent legacy was heading Center for Medicare and Medicaid services in Washington, appointed by President Obama despite Republican opposition. He stepped down 17 months into the job after it was clear he would not be confirmed.
At one point, conservative television host Glen Beck called Mr. Berwick the second most dangerous man in America.
On Saturday he joked that he was disappointed by the title.
“I thought I should be the first,” he said.
Despite the troubled rollout of the national health care law he helped prepare, he didn’t express concern over a shadow it might cast on his campaign. “I think Mass. voters are interested in the future of Massachusetts, and I am delighted to talk about that,” he said.
He does have regrets about the limited time he was able to inform the law. “We got a lot done,” he said, before enumerating successes of his team, including insuring kids under the age of 26 on their parental health plans and placing new restrictions on insurance companies.
He said wished he could have helped to guide the act from legislation to public reception.
”Unfortunately, I was not able to stay,” he said.
But for someone who likes to fix things, he spoke little of problems with the current administration. He called Gov. Deval Patrick “courageous,” and applauded his track record of “showing up” in person in communities across the state.
He did discuss climate change imperatives, as well as the rapidly rising costs of health care, and an “eroding” safety net for social services.
He spoke of bringing his “improvement knowledge” to every area of the government and of building on the previous accomplishments of the state.
“I want Massachusetts to be a beacon for the country,” he said.