Driving Innovation (and an Electric Car) in Detroit

When I last met up with Frank Venegas, we were at the Detroit Institute of Arts talking about Frida Kahlo and her ties to Frank’s family, as well as Henry Ford Hospital.

Henry Ford Hospital also has something else in common with Frank and his company, Ideal Group:  a focus on innovation in Detroit.

One of Ideal Group’s customers, General Motors, is responsible for creating one of the bigger innovations to recently come out of Detroit – the Chevy Volt, a plug-in, range-extended electric vehicle with an on-board gasoline generator.

Not only did Frank show support for GM’s innovation by buying two Chevy Volts, he’s also been documenting his driving experience on his blog, “Frank’s V in the D.”

Frank’s even been handing the key fob (no keys needed for the Volt) to business colleagues in Detroit, giving them the chance to test-drive this game-changing product.

I recently had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of Frank’s Volt. (And, yes, it does comfortably seat someone taller than 6 ft.)

I thought that one of the best ways to really test the car’s electric charge and gas mileage – and continue the conversation about innovation – was to drive to a few Henry Ford sites in and around Detroit, where innovation is changing how we care for our patients.

On our journey in the Volt, Frank and I visited:

Henry Ford Hospital, a site for innovation in Detroit since its opening in 1915, when it became the first hospital in the country to form a closed, salaried medical staff, offer private patient rooms, as well as institute a total ban on smoking. In the 96 years since, Henry Ford Hospital has led the way in remarkable medical advancements in patient care, safety and education.

Innovation Institute at Henry Ford. The name really says it all. The Innovation Institute, which opened on the Henry Ford Hospital campus in October, is a partnership that includes Henry Ford Hospital and Medical Group, the College for Creative Studies, the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems Program at Wayne State University and The Henry Ford. Already, the Institute has launched several dozen projects, which you can read more about on its website.

Health Alliance Plan, a nonprofit, regional health plan based in Detroit, is leading the way in personalized customer service, disease management and wellness programs. At HAP, Frank and I spoke with Chief Marketing Officer Mary Ann Tournoux, who discussed HAP’s forward thinking in creating individualized health plans, and bending the cost curve for care by offering incentives for patients to stay healthy.

Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital has become synonymous with innovative hospital design and a focus on keeping the community healthy since opening in 2009. Starting with hiring CEO Gerard van Grinsven, formerly with the Ritz Carlton, Henry Ford West Bloomfield has renewed the System’s focus on wellness, treating patients like guests at five-star hotels, and even making hospital food taste good.

CHASS (Community Health & Social Services Center) has played a major role since 1970 in providing care to residents of the community, particularly the underserved African American and Latino populations in Detroit. In 2012, CHASS will move into a new and larger facility. When Frank and I met CHASS CEO Richardo Guzman and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Felix Valbuena, we learned that the new facility, currently under construction, will allow the CHASS health care team to expand its range of services, as well as provide care to even more people in the community.

Dr. Popovich stands with Frank Venegas and Mary Ann Tournoux at HAP on a beautiful day in the D.

I should also mention that after we switched over from electric to gas power on the Volt, I got 103 miles per gallon as we traveled around Detroit. How’s that driving for innovation in Detroit?

For a passenger-seat’s view of our travels, click on the above video, documenting my experience driving the Volt and meeting some amazing people along the way.

After you’ve watched the video, tell me: If you had the Volt for a day, where would you drive to showcase innovation in Detroit? Post your comments below.

P.S. Can’t wait for our friends at Ford Motor to bring its electric fleet to the market. How about a Mustang Boss version?

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