Sanjay Shah, California HealthCare Foundation

TITLE: Senior Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Access to health care, technological innovation, improved care

CONTACT: sshah@chcf.org, 510-587-3131

IP TAKE: You'll need a new, clever idea for delivering care to the underserved if you approach this MBA turned health-care wonk.

PROFILE: Sanjay Shah is a senior program officer in the Innovations for the Underserved program at the California HealthCare Foundation, and hails from Detroit, a city that makes the consequences of inadequate health-care resources for the underserved disturbingly clear. And with both a bachelor's degree and master's degree in business and finance fields from Wayne State University, this is a guy who knows his way around a ledger and a board room.

While Michigan is surely sad to have lost another talent, Shah's skills are being put to excellent use in Oakland, where he oversees grants to improve access and options for Californians in need of better health care. Founded in 1996 as one of two nonprofits arising from Blue Cross of California's conversion to a for-profit company, the California HealthCare Foundation is committed to philanthropy in four primary areas: chronic diseases, care for the underserved, transparency in California's health-care system, and the implementation of health-care reform and public coverage initiatives generally. The foundation boasts an endowment of about $700 million and spends about $40 million a year on its philanthropic efforts.

The Innovations for the Underserved program does pretty much what the name indicates—that is, invest in projects that expand health care to people with limited access. The program focuses on how new technologies can reduce the cost of care, how good care can be provided with minimal costs, and how under- or uninsured Californians can get the health care they need without going broke. Which is crucial. People often cannot get adequate health care because of financial constraints. The program's website points out that in California, "employer-based health coverage for a family represents more than three-quarters of a minimum-wage earner's paycheck."

The California HealthCare Foundation has devotes hundred of thousands of dollars annually to the Innovations for the Underserved portfolio. One of Shah's recent projects: $450,000 for the creation of a software platform intended to improve patient-care coordination among health-care teams. Grant recipient Wilson Sonsini Goodrich, a scientific legal services group, anticipates its new software platform will help reduce unnecessary readmissions for patients. (Hospital readmission rates and the policies that surround them are of particular interest to the health-care community right now, in no small part because Medicare is penalizing hospitals whose readmission rates are deemed too high.)

When Shah is not overseeing grants, he's engaged in a number of health policy projects. He was a judge in a San Francisco competition for health-care venture capital investments last fall. He is also involved in several research endeavors relating to innovations that are simultaneously technological and health-care related.

In response to a TED event in Berkeley about "catalyzing change," Shah summarized the gist of it as: "Screw what other people think. Just make it work." As someone who is steering major investments into health care for underserved Americans, here's hoping Shah is able to Make It Work. Indeed, many lives depend on making U.S. health care work, and it is fortunate that philanthropic organizations like the California HealthCare Foundation are able to serve unmet needs that come from a limited health-care safety net.