Matthew Holt

Matthew Holt’s EOY 2017 letter (charities/issues/gossip)

Right at the end of every year I write a letter summarizing my issues and charities. And as I own the joint here, I post it on THCB! Please take a look–Matthew Holt

Well 2017 has been quite a year, and last year 2016 I failed to get my end-of-year letter out at all. This I would like to think was due to extreme business but it probably came down to me being totally lazy. On the other hand like many of you I may have just been depressed about the election–2016 was summed up by our cat vomiting on our bed at 11.55 on New Years Eve.

Having said that even though most of you will never comment on this letter and I mostly write it to myself, I have had a few people ask me whether it is coming out this year–so here it goes.

2017 was a big year especially for my business Health 2.0. After 10 years my partner Indu Subaiya and I sold it to HIMSS–the biggest Health IT trade association and conference. And although I used to make fun of HIMSS for being a little bit staid and mainstream, when it came to finding the right partner to take over Health 2.0’s mantel for driving innovation in health technology, they were the ones who stepped up most seriously. From now on the Health 2.0 conferences are part of the HIMSS organization, and Indu is now an Executive Vice President at HIMSS. I’ll still be very involved as chair of the conferences and going to all of them but will (hooray!) be doing a lot less back office & operational work. (Those of you in the weeds might want to know that we are keeping the Health 2.0 Catalyst division for now at least)

That does mean that next year I will have a bit more time to do some new things. I haven’t quite figured out what they are yet but they will include a reboot of (my role at least) on The Health Care Blog and possibly finally getting that book out of the archives into print. But if you have any ideas for me (and I do mean constructive ideas, not just the usual insults!) then please get in touch. You can of course follow me on Twitter (@boltyboy) to see what I’m thinking with only modest filtering!

On the home front we are now firmly established in San Anselmo, which is a nice little suburban town about 40 minutes north of San Francisco. I have been trying to ride my bike into the city via the ferry a few days a week but unfortunately I’ve had two stolen in SF this year, so I’m ending the year being a couch potato. We do have big plans for the winter, and from early January will have a place in Tahoe City. If you and yours are looking go skiing, we probably have a bed for you, so get in touch.

Amanda continues to amaze me in that she manages to get Coco (6) and Aero (3) organized and active, into their respective first grade and preschool classes, all the while doing great things to the house. She’s also taking part in a really serious exercise class called the Daley Method more or less every day (I make it to yoga about once a month on average!). She tells me it’s essentially a religious cult and I’m waiting to see when she will bring home the orange juice for me to drink. Meanwhile she is in fantastic shape and making me look feel extremely flabby. Okay, so that’s enough about me and the family. There tends to be lots more with pictures on my Facebook page

For those of you who don’t know I started writing this letter way back in 2000 when I didn’t have a wife or family and presumably had a lot of spare time on my hands–not that I can remember exactly what I did with it. The main point of this letter is to tell you about the issues that I think are important and and which charities I support. In fact back in 2000 I used to find that my friends and acquaintances was so ill-informed about the world and politics that I was on a little bit of a crusade to tell them more. The good news is that in 2017, everybody seems to know everything, and everyone has an opinion. And yes it’s not too hard to figure out what mine is. The bad news is that many of us seem to have arrived in that state of greater awareness by living in countries that have either elected the worst populist buffoon of all time as president, or seem to be voluntarily committing economic suicide. And yes I am referring to the country I moved to and the country I moved from in 1989.

My views will become apparent in the way I divide this letter up. Please feel free to poke around and look at the links, and  maybe even donate to one or two. Let me know any comments or insults!

Health care & (poor) women’s & kids care & safety, and supporting patient activism

In the US this past summer there was a very serious attempt to destroy the Affordable Care Act. It failed–only just–but the rug is being pulled from under it by a bunch of mean spirited administrators put in charge over at HHS by the asses in the White House. Not to mention that the Congress (and we know who is in charge) has NOT RENEWED funding for the health insurance plan passed in the 90s for poor kids called CHIP. If you want to stay informed on all this I urge you to follow ex-CMS administrator @ASlavitt & blogger @charles_gaba on Twitter. @charles_gaba in particular is a one man band doing remarkable work classifying the actual on the ground impact of all of this on everyday Americans, and he gets no support for it. So you might join me and toss him a few bucks. The US health care system is still extremely screwed up, and if you want to know more you could do a lot worse than reading former NYT reporter Elizabeth Rosenthal’s An American Sickness. Other than hoping we get a Democratic sweep in 2018 & 2020 (and working and contributing $$ for that) I’m not sure what we can do to improve the system–other than to keep exposing the idiocy of current policies and the bad behavior of many actors.

For my next health care issue I’m just going to repeat what I wrote in 2016 and multiply it by a hell of a lot —What sadly has come into focus this year is the desperate attempts to attack women’s access to health care. If you’re a woman– especially a young or poor one who needs access to contraceptives, mammograms, cervical cancer screening, sexually transmitted disease testing, and all kinds of health procedures including safe abortions, it’s become the mission of mainstream Republicans to stop you getting them–using disgusting, deceitful, and downright illegal methods. And that’s as polite as I can say it. So my biggest bump in funding this year went to the one organization that consistently not only campaigns for but actually provides reproductive health services (including contraception, STD testing, counseling, pregnancy support and, yes, safe abortions), Planned Parenthood. I cannot believe that men want to live in a world where women cannot get these services, although I guess the evidence shows enough do….especially in Texas, Louisiana, Indiana and many more.

Given the #MeToo movement we can no longer ignore sexual assault as both a health and a social issue. A brilliant young entrepreneur called Jessica Ladd runs a non-profit called Callisto which enables victims of assault to report it without going through the harrowing ordeal of reporting it to the police or college authorities. Of course if several people report the same perpetrator then that helps bring them to justice. Now imagine this more widely used, say in Hollywood about Harvey Weinstein. Something like that is Jess’ aim. You can see her on Seth Myers’ show and also donate here.

Also worth noting is another great female CEO (Emily May’s story is here) who founded a non profit called Hollaback which helps report and prevent street harassment. There’s an app you can download to report harassment and of course they could use a donation too.

Finally in this section are two related entities supporting patients in dealing with the health care system. I’m a corporate supporter and personal member of the Society for Participatory Medicine which is moving from being a small core of activists to a major organization creating partnerships between patients and the health care system. They had their first conference back in October and it was excellent. The other is The Waking Gallery of which I’m also a proud member. Artist and activist Regina Holliday literally paints patients’ stories on the back of jackets and over 400 people (including me) now wear them at health care conferences. You can support her work here.

Other long time health care issues I like to think about/support:

  • Engage with Grace founded by my friend Alex Drane. No donation needed–use the 5 questions you can download to start that hardest of conversations about what you want for your care at the end of life.
  • Jeremy Nobel’s Foundation for Arts & Healing is engaging patients in arts, aggressively tackling loneliness support here.
  • YTH, a really cool organization that helps use technology to educate young people about sex and other health issues. The YTH Live conference is in San Francisco in May & it’s great and cheap (and somehow despite desperate efforts to quit I’m still on the board).

Poverty in developing countries

The good news is that in the long run things are getting better. The bad news is that there are plenty of trouble spots from Myanmar to Syria to Africa and lots of forces and people trying to repress the long arc towards equality, peace and freedom.

I’ve supported Mercy Corps for over a decade now–at least that’s according to the card they just sent me. They do a remarkable job all over the world focusing on educating girls, supplying clean water and directly intervening in crises. It’s worth noting that this year those crisis spots included Puerto Rico because of the appalling ongoing incompetence of the US government in failing to get help to that stricken part of its own country!

Heifer International gives animals directly to the very poor in order to get them out of the cycle of poverty. Every year I hand out goats and chickens! Hey, my father has a farm on which he feeds the chickens and that’s about as close as I get any more. (OK, this year it was a pig)

I’ve always supported a few smaller charities. They are all teeny in the grand scheme but a lot of little things add up, and for each one of these any donation or support means a lot.

Saigon Children’s Charity is a small charity (approx $1m a year in donations) focusing on providing rice, bikes and books and pens to the families of very poor children in Southern Vietnam so they stay in school. I support a few individual pupils.

Sadly the rapids where I went rafting on my honeymoon in 2008 at the source of the Nile in Uganda are gone, but kayaking doctor Jesse Stone’s clinic and charity Softpower Health is still there. It sells cheap mosquito nets, and provides a health center and family planning outreach. Here’s an article about their first ten years and a really great case study from Jesse about how they saved a girl’s leg.

Also supporting direct medical care, We Care Solar makes a suitcase-sized portable solar powered generator and supplies it to health workers in off-grid clinics across the world–one frequent user is my friend Dr Enoch Choi who’s on the scene of basically every disaster. and right now is on his way to Cambodia. You could alternatively give to Power the World which provides Nokero solar lights, the WE CARE Solar Suitcase, SOCCKET (all of which I’ve featured in previous years) and clean cook stoves–of which I bought a few for people in Nepal.

In the same vein, Health eVillages is a charity launched at Health 2.0 by Donato Tramuto which delivers iPads & smartphones with preloaded medical information to clinicians in remote parts of Haiti, Kenya, South Sudan and elsewhere.

One of the worst trouble spots in the world is the genocide going on in Myanmar. 600,000 Rohingya people have been systematically driven from their homes–with thousands raped and killed by the Myanmar military. A small Muslim lead charity (very highly rated by Charity Navigator) called the Zakat Foundation of America is in the camps in Bangladesh working with the refugees–they are also working in Syria.. For the price of a bottle of good champagne I feel my donation made a bit of a difference and you might too.

Poverty in the US

Income inequality in the US is increasing, leading to systematic pressures on those at the bottom end of society’s ladder. This year the UN actually sent an investigator to report on extreme poverty in the US. The Guardian article about it was harrowing.

These organizations try to help in my locale. You of course may have your local favorites–Here’s the list I support:


This year has of course been terrible for disasters in the US–hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Texas and fires in California. I gave to the Hispanic Foundation for Puerto Rico, the greater Houston Community Relief Fund, the Redwood Credit Union Community Fund (for N. Cal fires) & the United Way of Ventura County fund for S. California. (Yeah, I know it has a bad rap but the United Way pledged that 100% of the funds will go to victims).  

I also met a bright young social entrepreneur called Jason Friesen from TrekMedics which is building a 911 system where there are none. I was thrilled that we could feature him at Health 2.0 this year. You can donate to their work in Puerto Rico here.

Torture and human rights

Imprisonment without fair trials and torture doesn’t work to improve safety and it increases the amount of future terrorism. My own grandfather was tortured as a British POW in WW2 in the far east. And yet we now have “strong” men in charge increasing the use of torture, unwarranted imprisonment, and in some cases selected or mass vigilante executions in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, and (if he gets his way) in the US.

These organizations help those being tortured (or who have been) and protest those governments who should act better.–which basically means all of them

  • Amnesty International campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience everywhere
  • The UK-based Freedom from Torture (used to be called Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture) helps people from many countries who have been tortured. I’ve been supporting it for many years
  • The American Civil Liberties Union. If you’re not a card carrying member, you should be–this year of all years.

The environment.

While the clock ticks, the planet and the sea warms and we can but hope that technology in the form of renewable energy and replacements for animals being used as food get here in time. Our grandchildren will be ashamed of us. And of course we now have an actively anti-science administration in the US that is making the problem much worse. While I’ve been the biggest meat eater I know for many years, I’m cutting way down on beef which is responsible for 50%+ of global warming from agriculture worldwide & hoping that Impossible Foods and Memphis Meats come good on their promise to replace meat entirely. BTW the Impossible Burger is pretty damn good.

Other bad news is that the Japanese continue illegal whaling to a great extent and have essentially seen off the attempts by Sea Shepherd to stop them.

I give to both the Sierra Club (respectable) and Greenpeace (more radical) and locally to the Marine Mammal Center–a wonderful facility that helps seals recover, including most years one or two that get shot!

Drug prohibitiona terrible idea that is closer to being toppled

I’ve been protesting drug prohibition forever. It’s a terrible policy. You only have to witness Portugal’s experience decriminalizing all drugs and supporting those who want to get away from addiction to realize that there are much better policies actually working in real life. Probably lunatic US attorney general Jeff Sessions will be too busy trying (and hopefully failing) to avoid jail on perjury charges to try to block legalization of marijuana in California (and Washington, Oregon & Colorado). But we certainly don’t have anything like a rational approach coming from the Federal government even though the argument is basically won in the court of public opinion and science.  A system of taxed and regulated drug distribution is the only solution to removing the criminality associated with drug taking, much of which is relatively harmless anyway. I support:

A Dog’s Life

Charley is 14 now and finally gets to hang out in a big back yard and doesn’t go into the office any more. Funnily enough as soon as he left, Health 2.0’s landlord rewrote the building’s rental agreement to make it a lot less dog friendly. Coincidence? Maybe not! For dogs that aren’t as lucky, Amanda and I support Rocket Dog Rescue $50 pays for an adoption.


OK, that’s it. Thanks for reading and please feel free to email me or tweet me or FB me or whatever to give your comments, or see if there’s some other charity I should support. Or just to get in touch anyway

Cheers & have a great 2018!


2 replies »

  1. Happy New Year! We contribute to several on that list. If I may, for those who donate to causes supporting military families, the Fisher House is a great charity with which I have some personal acquaintance. Quality people.


  2. Since 1960, our nation’s ‘health spending’ as a portion of the GDP has increased from 5.0% to 18.2% in 2016. ‘HEALTH SPENDING’ as a portion of the GDP increased at the rate of 5.0% compounded annually, as corrected by economic growth and inflation. Obviously, this is the proverbial “elephant in the closet.” In the meantime, the word HEALTH occurs in a very broad variety of contexts that the current (11th Edition) of Merriam-Webster’s COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY (2014) definition seems inadequate. Here it is: “1.a. the condition of being sound in body, mind, OR spirit; esp. freedom from physical disease or pain…” 1.b., 2.a, 2.b., or 3. do not add anything pertinent. Retired now for 1 year after 40+ years as Primary Physician, I took a look at my last editions of Nelson’s (no relation) “Textbook of Pediatrics” and Harrison’s “Internal Medicine.” There was no attempt at a definition, even indirectly.

    As Publisher, would you consider starting a strategy to periodically have your contributing authors agree to help build a universal definition of HEALTH that is then refereed by someone of your choosing AND, annually, have an open time when your “followers” could also contribute? I am biased by an observation that a high level of cognitive dissonance occurs within the ‘healthcare reform’ realm of knowledge because of our diverse opinions about a definition of health.

    Eventually, a high level WSJ event could be considered every 5 years! Clearly, health is like quality, “I know it when I see it!” Well, not exactly. “…being sound…” doesn’t cut it for a physiologist.

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