If you’re interested in having a conversation about what’s going on in health care over a cup of coffee or tea, you can tune into Health Care Café, a radio show hosted by Chris Comeaux, CEO of Four Seasons Compassion for Life, on WTZQ-AM 1600 every Monday from 5 to 5:30 p.m.
“The Board of Four Seasons was concerned about the lack of a national debate around health care,” says Comeaux. “So we asked the question, ‘Is there some way we can engage the community in a conversation about health care?’ The reason for the title is that we need to have a discussion over a cup of coffee around what’s going on in health care. That was the seminal thought.”
The show was born out of “frustration with the politicized and often sensationalized debate about health care, and the low point was the mention of ‘death panels,’ a term thrown out to be provocative and to prevent there even being a conversation,” says Comeaux. “That just felt so disingenuous. When you take it to a place like that, you can’t have an adult discussion about health care.”
Even though Four Seasons specializes in hospice and palliative care, the show is not limited to those topics. “We really want to have a conversation about health care as a whole,” Comeaux says. “We are truly alive in the most historic time for the health care scene in the entire history of our country.”
He admits there’s a lot of change that needs to occur in the health care industry. “So people automatically think it must mean we’re doing something wrong. But there’s also so much great stuff going on in health care,” he says. “Our original guiding light was to lay out both sides of the issues politically … to bring truth to what’s really going on in health care and what we need to do better throughout the country as a whole.”
The overall mission of the show, says Comeaux, is threefold: “to help listeners become more educated about what is going on in health care so they can influence the political process, to affirm what’s going well in health care and to respond to the things people want to talk about.”
A recent show, for example, dealt with health exchanges. “That is an extremely complicated process for a lot of people to navigate,” he says. “Some of the people on the show were educated people who work in health care, and they had a challenge navigating it, so you can imagine [what it’s like for] the typical layperson who doesn’t work in [the industry] on a day-to-day basis. We want to bring good educational information to help us be better consumers.”
For the first three weeks of the month, the show features national as well as local speakers on specific health care issues. “We try to have a good mix between national guests to educate our listeners about what’s going on in health care and also local guests to highlight the wonderful things that are working right locally,” says Comeaux. For the fourth week of the month, guests respond to listeners’ questions, which are sent in online.
The show, which has been going for two years, started out on an Asheville station but moved last summer to WTZQ. “They have an increased coverage area,” Comeaux notes, “including all of Western North Carolina as well as upstate South Carolina. We’ve even had some interest in nationally syndicating the show.”
The radio station is getting great feedback about the show, compared to anything else it’s done before, says Comeaux. “We’ve struck on something pretty unique, from what we’ve heard, in terms of this kind of genre of a conversation around health care. … People are saying, ‘Wow. This is a great resource.’ And we’ve never been accused of being on one side or the other politically.”
Producer Andrew Robinson echoes what Comeaux says about feedback from listeners: “Every call we get is good. There’s such positive stuff about health care [on the show]. Usually there’s so much negative coverage of health care. Chris gets great guests on the show, from all over the world as well as locally. There’s a reason we keep the show on the air.”
Comeaux hails from Louisiana but came to WNC 12 years ago to be the CEO at Four Seasons. He left for a couple of years to do consulting and coaching for hospices all over the country but decided to come back to WNC to raise his family. “I joke that I window-shopped for two years because I was living on planes,” he says, “but it doesn’t get much better than Western North Carolina.”
He believes the radio show is well-suited to the Asheville area because “we have some incredibly smart people here, whether it’s people who have lived here most of their lives or people who have retired here.” Comeaux also points out that the WNC area is a small sample of the country as a whole, especially with the number of people over 65.
“Health care is 25 percent of our gross national product. Can you imagine a quarter of your own personal budget? Why would you not want to pay attention to something like that?” he asks.
“Health care is for all of us, doing whatever our purpose is here in Western North Carolina. For that reason I think it’s a great fit, a pretty big priority for all of us.”