The Importance of Public-Private Partnerships: Public Sector Health Leader Kim Cirka

Kim Cirka and Harry Greenspun, MD, discuss why outreach, collaboration, and innovation are victorious over mass and momentum.

After many years of vacationing along the Chesapeake Bay, we bought a property on the Miles River between the historic Maryland towns of Easton and St. Michaels.

One of our earliest projects was to build a floating dock for launching paddleboards and kayaks. With supplies in hand, my sons and I set to work constructing the frame, reinforcing the joists with sturdy metal brackets, and attaching the floats with the dock upside down. Before we flipped it over to attach the decking, we took a moment to celebrate our creation—a robust and seaworthy platform capable of handling any challenge.

After some self-congratulatory high-fives, we soon realized that in our enthusiasm to build something this ambitious, it was too heavy to be moved from our driveway.

I was reminded of this episode when I recorded a Q&A with my colleague Kim Cirka, who leads Guidehouse’s Public Sector Healthcare practice.


Kim’s perspective is unique in that her responsibilities mirror the government’s efforts across the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Veterans Affairs (VA), and other federal, state, and local agencies.

Government healthcare initiatives have advanced significantly in size, scope, and complexity throughout Kim’s tenure. Their missions expanded to meet growing responsibilities and populations. Agencies responded in turn with new staff, organizational redesign, and other methods. While this often results in improved ability to address their goals, it can affect the agility needed to innovate, collaborate, and solve unexpected challenges.

The need for organizational agility has been clearly displayed amid the pandemic, as challenges were readily apparent.

HHS encompasses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and other agencies with common goals but vastly different responsibilities. Similarly, the VA faced the same pressures all health systems confronted, while also being called upon to serve their “Fourth Mission,” to assist the nation in times of emergencies and disasters. Agencies not only had to rapidly respond to a crisis externally, but also had to quickly shift many personnel to work remotely.

Agility and scale can seem like a zero-sum game. However, pathways to innovation emerged centering around communication and collaboration. Increasingly, this entails not only working across departments or divisions, but, more critically, doing so between agencies and with the private sector. Thankfully, many recognized this and are working together to address the needs of our communities, including the VA.

This was particularly important to Kim, who has multiple generations of family members who served in the military. Check out our full conversation above.

Back on my driveway, frustrated and stymied, we enlisted our neighbors. With the help of some ropes, chains, and a tractor, we hoisted the dock onto an old trailer, moved it down to the shore, and launched it (upright!) without damaging it or injuring ourselves.

Every time we go out on it, we are reminded how outreach, collaboration, and innovation were once again victorious over mass and momentum.

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