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Governor's e-Health quarterback shifting back to private sector
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Bredesen e-Health advisor Agassi

UPDATE June 25, 2008 - Brentwood-based Cogent Healthcare CEO Gene Fleming today announced Antoine Agassi will become the company's chief information officer, July 1.

As originally reported June 20:

Antoine Agassi, the founding director of Gov. Phil Bredesen's eHealth Advisory Council is leaving state employment next month, but says he will continue as the Council's chairman and advisor.

Agassi told VNC in an interview this morning he will join a local company as chief information officer, July 8, the day after his state tenure ends. He declined to identify his new employer, noting only that the company is Brentwood-based.

Agassi said Melissa Hargiss, an attorney who is currently the Council's assistant director, will serve as chargé d'affairs, pending firmer plans regarding succession. Hargiss joined Agassi's staff in December, and was previously legal counsel assigned to the Finance and Administration Division of Commissioner Dave Goetz.

Regarding his continuing role, Agassi explained, "My heart's in this thing, and I'm going to see it through."

Since Bredesen's executive order created the group in 2006, the Council has gained impetus and credibility uncommon among government task forces. Contributing factors have included the governor's own tech-enterprise experience and his oft-voiced commitment to improving healthcare delivery; and, Goetz' frequent participation in and often personal championing of the Council.

Agassi provided the necessary impatience -- often echoing that of Gov. Bredesen, himself -- as well as the technical savvy and personal energy to glue the Council together. He typically worked behind the scenes, often employing a rapid-style management approach. In addition, he and Bredesen seemed to share an appreciation for the vast "ecosystem" that is healthcare.

The Council resides in Goetz' organization, with the director reporting to both the governor and Goetz. Working parallel to the Council, gubernatorial aide Tam Gordon, who was earlier Bredesen's mayoral press secretary, often serves as liaison with the National Governors' Association, for which Bredesen is a leader on healthcare information issues.

Agassi told VNC this morning he is particularly proud the Council has been "able in the last two years to hold a coalition of Council members together, against all odds. I mean, these guys are fierce competitors, an unblievably talented group, with strong personalities -- great advocates for Tennessee.."  He added, "We always had 100 percent participation."

Though much remains to be done, the Council's recently published progress report details numerous advances, few of which were completely without controversy, given the variety of entrenched stakeholders.

Among gains cited in the report:  expanded knowledge-sharing among the state's still-developing regional health-information exchange organizations (including a newly emerging RHIO in Middle Tennessee); improved broadband connectivity for healthcare providers; physicians' increased use of e-prescribing; new capacity for securing and administering federal grants for telemedicine and related functions, and other gains.

Regarding unfinished business, eHealth Council Member Mark Frisse responded to a VNC query this morning by commending Agassi for his effective leadership. Frisse went on to say, "In my own view, we have only begun to address the many challenges we face. We must continue the tradition of open and straightforward discussions. No one group or party can tackle this alone; we must work together. We have a number of regional and corporate efforts that need to be brought together  more frequently... We need to identify 'quick wins' and build on them," added Frisse, who is also a Vanderbilt professor.

In an e-mail to friends and colleagues yesterday, Agassi expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be "part of an initiative that laid a strong foundation for the future of healthcare delivery and access" in Tennessee. At another point he added that "at the Governor’s request, I’ve agreed to continue to chair the eHealth Council and participate as a consultant to the State."

Agassi said this morning that in addition to his new job, he is likely to continue and expand his board-level directorships with other companies.  Agassi's prior experience includes 23 years in healthcare IT, most of it here in Middle Tennessee. He was previously chief technology officer for Spheris, the locally headquartered medical-transcription services provider; executive vice president and chief information officer for WebMD; and, earlier, CIO for Envoy Corp. At another point, he was a management information systems executive with a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in New York state. He earned his B.S. in computer science at SUNY-Utica, and his MBA from Syracuse University.♦

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Tags: Antoine Agassi, Cogent Healthcare, Envoy Corp., Gene Fleming, Health IT, healthcare, Mark Frisse, Spheris, Tennessee eHealth Advisory Council, WebMD

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