If Marni Jameson-Carey could clone herself, there's no telling how the energetic, multi-talented business leader could change the world. In the two years since the former Orlando Sentinel senior healthcare reporter took the lead of the national association while in its infancy, she's grown AID to more than 1,000 members in 27 states and made an impact on Capitol Hill.
It's no surprise that Jameson-Carey started school at the age of four, before kindergartens were ubiquitous or graduated from high school at 17. The daughter of a Marine fighter pilot and fifth-generation Californian, and a Scotland-born Army nurse who met in Okinawa during World War II, Jameson-Carey moved to France at the age of three months when the family was transferred abroad.
When she was four, the family landed in California. Because she was mixing French with English, her school nurse mom enrolled her in kindergarten to "straighten me out," joked Jameson-Carey. After starting college at Cal State Fullerton with an eye toward law school, Jameson-Carey had an "a-ha" moment of pursuing journalism instead. "I looked up the five top journalism schools in the U.S. and the University of Kansas also had a magazine journalism sequence that satisfied my need to have things look pretty," she recalled.
However, her first job after college wasn't with a newspaper "because the pages would end up lining birdcages," she noted. Instead, she joined Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles as associate public relations director, and took over the health system's community magazine. When doctors began approaching her on the side for public relations work, she moonlighted until hospital administrators found out. They weren't happy. "It was extra publicity for the hospital they didn't have to pay for," she noted. "Go figure!"
So she decided to work for the doctors instead of the administrators.
At the age of 22, Jameson-Carey opened a public relations firm that ultimately consisted of representing the major hospital players in Los Angeles except Northridge, and had five employees before she sold the firm 10 years later. During that decade, the multi-tasker earned an MFA in creative writing at Vermont College, taught writing at UCLA, and had two babies.
She branched into magazine writing for Reader's Digest, Woman's Day, Family Circle, Prevention, and Shape publications. She also started a home improvement and lifestyle column with the Orange County Register, a pocket-money job that bloomed into a nationally syndicated column, which she still writes weekly and that appears in 30 papers nationwide; three books on home design, including one on downsizing the family home, and another in the series due next year. One book is in its eighth printing, and is an Amazon bestseller.
After selling the marketing firm, the Los Angeles Times asked her if she would do health reporting for the paper since she knew a lot about the healthcare landscape in the region. She happily did so as long as she could work from home. Soon, Jameson-Carey was covering the hospitals she'd represented from home, work she continued when the family relocated to Denver, Colo. "Nobody noticed," she said. After the New Year in 2011, her marriage winding down, Jameson-Carey asked her editor if she knew of any full-time journalism jobs with Tribune Media. The Orlando Sentinel had an opening for a senior healthcare reporter. With her oldest daughter off to college in Texas, Jameson-Carey and her youngest daughter relocated to Central Florida.
Two years into the role, Tom Thomas, a CPA in Winter Park, called her with a request: attend the organizing meeting of a trade association representing independent physicians. Jameson-Carey had reported extensively on the flurry of physician practices being sold to courting hospitals and healthcare systems. The trend had weakened the voice of independent doctors, who'd shared their concerns with Thomas and his partner, Carol Zurcher, CPA.
At the inaugural meeting in April 2013, some 100 independent physicians ponied up $1,000 each in seed money to establish the Association of Independent Doctors (AID). Jameson-Carey's story made front-page news the next day and the story was picked up by news services around the country. Sixteen months later, Jameson-Carey received another call from Thomas. AID had a presence in a handful of states, and he and co-founder Zurcher needed help to grow the organization beyond their part-time means.
"I was really in a pickle because I loved my job at the Sentinel. But I also saw a chance to pull together all the business elements of my past - running a marketing firm, and reporting on complicated issues to consumers - while also making a difference and championing a cause that might impact America," she said. Since joining AID as executive director in September 2013, Jameson-Carey has traveled the country sharing AID's message, while appreciative doctors tell her, "Marni, you're watering the desert."
Drawing on her attorney bent, Jameson-Carey has also gotten involved in legal cases trying to block hospital and healthcare system mergers that could lead to monopolies and higher healthcare costs. According to Becker's Hospital Review, the number of hospital acquisitions in 2015 grew by 18 percent from the previous year, and by 70 percent since 2010.
"Last summer, we saw movement going on in Pennsylvania, where Hershey Penn State Medical Center and PinnacleHealth Systems were merging," said Jameson-Carey. "I wrote an editorial saying this was a bad idea; the community should stop it. I pointed out the FTC was trying to block it."
The editorial letter ran in several Pennsylvania newspapers and caught the eye of the Federal Trade Commission's head of litigation. He asked Jameson-Carey to write an amicus brief on behalf of AID. "I told him I wasn't a lawyer; I was a journalist. He said he thought that would be refreshing," she recalled. Soon after, he rang again, asking her to write another amicus brief on another hospital merger case in northern Illinois.
While busy with her new role, Jameson-Carey carved out time in February to wed attorney Doug Carey, a widower with three children and associate managing counsel for the Travelers law office in Baldwin Park. On their first dates, they compared commonalities. "I wanted to be a lawyer because my dad said I was good at arguing, but I turned up my nose because the classes look boring," she laughed. "Ironically, Doug earned a journalism degree and was writing for a newspaper in Pittsburgh when he realized that's not the way he wanted to spend his life. He enrolled in law school there and has been practicing law in Orlando for nearly 30 years."
Their newly blended family has become somewhat of a "Brady Bunch," she joked, with five children and three grandchildren living in Arizona, Texas, California and Florida. Of Jameson-Carey's daughters, Paige Roth, 23, is studying for her master's degree in biology and health policy at Rice University, and Marissa Roth, 21, is a rising senior studying neurobiology and psychology at Stanford University.
Back to AID, Jameson-Carey pointed out the association's first conference will be held next month. (See box for more details.) "It's for non-members, too. We have a fabulous line-up of nationally renowned speakers. We'll have six CME credits available. It's a big milestone for us."
AID's mission has furthered its goals: prevent hospitals from buying medical groups, educate consumers about the benefits of seeing an independent doctor, increase cost transparency in healthcare, enforce antitrust laws, inform lawmakers of the need to protect independent physicians, stop non-profit hospitals' abuse of the tax-exempt status, and work with insurance companies to pay independent doctors and employed doctors the same fee for the same service. To accomplish these goals, earlier this year AID added an administrative assistant and more recently, a full-time intern from UCF pursuing a master's degree in health services administration.
Jameson-Carey would like to develop chapters in more states as membership grows. "Forty members in one state is an ideal number. Then I can go to their lawmakers, their media, and have a much bigger voice," she said. "If I can expand and get the resources behind me to make a difference in every state, that's really how we're going to turn this ship around."