A Letter from Sarah Dash on “The Road Ahead”

The Odyssey. The Wizard of Oz. Into the Woods. Life is a Highway. Thunder Road. 

From ancient times to the present, from the sublime to the everyday, our culture is replete with stories about the journeys we take in life. When we travel through memory, we “revisit” the past. When we face a tough decision, we’re at a “crossroads”. And when we are called to new adventures, we venture into “uncharted territory.”

As people, we are meant to explore – whether physically traveling from place to place, or inwardly, on the metaphorical hero’s journey (or both). Along the way, important life lessons are learned. New alliances are formed. Difficult choices are made. And sometimes, our heroes confront their darkest fears and emerge with deeper clarity and wisdom about their next steps.

What does all this mean for those of us who have dedicated our careers to health policy?

Let us consider what typically draws our heroes out of their comfort zones: an unexpected visitor, a cataclysmic event, or a growing, unsettling recognition that the status quo, as comfortable as it might seem, is simply too painful to sustain.

I believe we are now at that point in our health policy journey. We must now choose: between the illusory comfort of a status quo that has left life expectancy declining, costs increasing, and people voicing their frustrations with a confusing and fragmented health care experience – and the possibility of designing for a future that empowers health and prosperity, delivers seamless, affordable care, and earns the trust of people across the country – regardless of political affiliation, income, or personal characteristics.

Here’s the good news: As a health policy community, we now have a chance to chart the course to our next destination. And thanks to your support and active participation, the Alliance for Health Policy has been exploring new ways to help us find the way forward. We’ve pushed the envelope to convene cross-partisan, multi-stakeholder dialogues on a broad range of health policy topics – from a Roadmap for Policymakers on public health emergency flexibilities, to a roundtable on the mental health workforce, to our Signature Series on Envisioning a Person-First Health System, co-designed with many of you and colleagues from across the health policy spectrum. 

Along our journey, we’ve learned so much: about humility, listening, and bringing out the best in each other. As we turn our attention to next year’s programming – including our Signature Series on AI and Health, our back-to-basics Health Policy Academy, and our 2024 Election Year Forecast and Post-Election Symposium – we look forward to collaborating with you as we deepen our commitment to finding better ways to have better conversations that lead to better outcomes for the American people.

My own personal and professional journey of nearly the last decade has been inextricably linked to the journey we’ve taken at the Alliance and in health policy. From the beginning, we asked ourselves existential questions. How would an organization like the Alliance go about bringing together diverse perspectives in an increasingly polarized world? How would we navigate our mission to share the truth in a world where everyone increasingly believes their own truths? How would we make a meaningful difference in health policy – addressing issues that matter and not just being content to pick the so-called “low hanging fruit?” As I prepare to pass the torch to our next leader, I can confidently say that the Alliance – our Board, team, and community of supporters – have never been in a better position to answer the difficult questions before us as a health policy community. And despite the inevitable differences that exist, I truly believe a new window of opportunity is opening to map the future of health policy.

Journeys are sometimes lonely, solitary endeavors. But I can’t think of a single great story in which the journey doesn’t involve unusual companions, wise helpers, and the formation of lifelong friendships. I want to share my deepest appreciation to those of you who have been part of the Alliance journey thus far – who have had the courage, curiosity and commitment to help us tackle difficult questions, and especially to those who have given us the necessary time and space, wisdom and encouragement, and tangible support, to allow us to delve further into the unknown.  

The road ahead may be daunting. It may be rife with obstacles – but will also undoubtedly reveal as-yet undiscovered gifts. As the motley cast of characters discovers in the musical, “In to the Woods” discovers, no one is alone. And neither are we. I’ll see you on the journey.

Sarah J. Dash, MPH 

President and CEO 

Alliance for Health Policy 

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