Western University of Health Sciences’ annual gala fundraiser highlighted the power and importance of caring.

WesternU’s “A Tribute to Caring” gala on Nov. 9, 2013 brought more than 550 guests to the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim to raise money for student scholarships.

The theme of “Fire and Ice” was reflected in everything from the table centerpieces to the raffle prizes to the dessert, but the word that resonated through the evening was “caring.” Both award recipients reflected on the meaning of that word in their moving and inspiring speeches.

InnovaCare Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Shinto, MD, MBA, received WesternU’s Access to Caring Award, given to a person who has made a difference in advancing health care access and availability to underserved people. InnovaCare Health Solutions is a leading provider of managed health care services in North America.

Dr. Shinto has also been a pioneer in bringing the concept of medical provider networks to Puerto Rico. He has more than 20 years of clinical and operational health care experience in managed care, and is an active member of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) Advisory Board at WesternU.

“For me, access to caring isn’t about providing medical care, it’s about creating health care awareness and providing support for the patients, the families and the community,” Shinto said. “Access to caring is about the entire member experience. It isn’t about one episode, it’s about everything. It’s creating that culture for our employees, and the result is when we hear our patients have that commitment, confidence and trust in us. Because for us, it’s about having that member stay with us for life.”

Dr. Shinto recently visited WesternU’s Pomona, Calif., campus for the fifth annual Dr. Philip Pumerantz Distinguished Lectureship. Keynote speaker Louis W. Sullivan, MD, talked about health care providers’ responsibility to address health care diversity.

“I believe that throughout the U.S., our company has strategically focused on bringing and aligning local medical care to the cultural variances of the population,” Shinto said. “In Puerto Rico, we’ve been dedicated to integrating behavioral health and medical care into the lives of our more than 200,000 seniors. Over the past several years our company has been able to introduce new strategies to enhance the quality and access to care to a population that has been plagued by poverty, by lack of education, and a shortage of health care providers.

“We all know our health care industry is in the midst of rapid transition. As the economy struggles, and Obamacare continues to evolve, and medical funding tightness continues, it’s important for all of us to remember we’re in the business of caring.”

Rudolf L. Brutoco, MD, MPH, received WesternU’s highest award, the Elie Wiesel Humanism in Healing Award. Named for Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, the award is presented to individuals who best represent the philosophy and values of the university and have actively incorporated them toward the betterment of the human condition.

A specialist in Behavioral and Developmental Medicine, with expertise in psychiatry, Dr. Brutoco’s career has been devoted to treating those with special needs, or going through temporary but difficult challenges. His professional goal has been to help individuals achieve their full potential, particularly when they encounter obstacles to personal happiness and fulfillment.

Dr. Brutoco’s wife, Diana, was diagnosed with leukemia in 1988. She needed a bone marrow transplant to survive, but her family members weren’t a match and, at the time, few people were registered as donors.

Dr. Brutoco developed the concept and led an international grassroots movement to educate, motivate, recruit, test, finance and register bone marrow donors. The visionary Life-Savers Foundation of America formed synergistic relationships with huge agencies, institutions and non-governmental organizations, including the American Red Cross, National Institutes of Health, Roche Lab and many others, in order to maximize the impact of the movement. Through Dr. Brutoco’s leadership of the Foundation, as well as leadership within the fledgling National Marrow Donor Program, the ranks of the donor pool rose exponentially in support of the new life-saving technique of bone marrow transplantation.

Dr. Brutoco asked his wife and their four children to stand during the Tribute event, serving as a tangible result of humanism at work in this world.

“They never felt forsaken or their hope extinguished. Their lives were not turned into tragedies, all because a stranger cared,” Brutoco said. “It is a great example of the generosity of spirit we see in people every day.”

At the time, his plan to ask for the public’s help was met with nearly uniform cynicism among the medical and political establishment, Brutoco said. Who would go out of their way to help a stranger?

“Well, it turned out all we had to do was ask. We said rather simply to everyone in this country, ‘There is a cure for cancer. It’s you,’ ” Brutoco said. “Millions of people are standing by, ready to save the life of someone they never met. Humanism, you see, rejects cynicism.”

Humanism is about acknowledging the intrinsic goodness, and the intrinsic godliness, in each and every person, Brutoco said.

“It is embracing that which unites us as human beings, and it is sharing the road with other travelers in this often arduous yet wondrous journey that is life,” he said. “As Elie Wiesel made clear in his writings about the horrors of the Holocaust, even in the most desperate of situations, there is always a potential abundance of kindness and goodness to share. That is the miracle of humanism — that we can give to others a life force that we may have thought was just about lost to us, and when we do it comes back to us.”

Brutoco then directed his comments to all the young health care professionals in the room, whom he praised for being well-trained, motivated and talented. “But is your ability to care that will make you great,” he noted.

“Humanism is not limited to the health professions. It is everyone’s opportunity and privilege to serve others, to share positive moments and feelings, to be contributors in the community of mankind,” he said. “I have seen too many physicians and other professionals limited rather than expanded by their profession. A title does not place one above a patient. Education does not compensate for diminished warmth or kindness. A skill does not make up for atrophy of one’s soul. A specialty does not preclude from holistic and broad notions of wellness.

And please reject the notion that you are not supposed to get close to your patients, that you must have some distance so you don’t feel their pain. You’re supposed to feel what your patients feel. Do not be afraid of relating to your patients and their families, and above all do not be indifferent of suffering and of fear. That is where compassion comes from.

“Elie Wiesel is at his most powerful when he speaks about non-involvement in human suffering. ‘The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference. To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all,’ ” Brutoco added. “So I can sum up my encouragement to you in a single word: care. You will find yourself going above and beyond for your patients in ways you cannot now imagine. It will lead to better mind and body health for your patients, and much more fulfillment for you.”

“I think we’ve seen the best example of the art of caring. I’m indebted to Dr. Brutoco for sharing his experiences with us,” said WesternU President Philip Pumerantz, PhD. “For the audience here, let me express my gratitude because your support of this university and its philosophy makes us continually one of the outstanding and comprehensive health professions universities in the country. You’re all participants in the growth and development of the health providers who are going to be there to care of us, so I’m indebted to you. Thank you for being here.”

WesternU students in attendance were thankful for the chance to attend ATC, and for the university raising money for scholarships.

“Receiving scholarships is a big motivating factor to work harder, not only for myself, but for my friends, my family and my community,” said first-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student Monica Mai. “I want to work even harder to be a better student and a better physical therapist. We definitely feel the support from everyone. They all want us to succeed.”

Second-year College of Podiatric Medicine student Bryon McKenna said he put himself through school, so scholarships have been lifesaving.

“They’re the only way I got through school at this point,” he said. “It helps build your confidence when someone else has confidence in you. It helps push you to be a better student.”

McKenna said he appreciates WesternU putting on an event like ATC.

“It speaks volumes for what the university stands for and how they value their students,” he said.

WesternU thanks its Silver Sponsors: AHMC Healthcare, Inc., AmerisourceBergen/Good Neighbor Pharmacy, Sheraton Fairplex, and Wells Fargo Bank.