Greg Vigdor - Thought-Provoking Medical Thriller
Greg Vigdor has spent his life working within America’s healthcare system, trying to improve it. Current volunteer President of the Washington Health Foundation, and Past President & CEO of the Arizona Hospital & Healthcare Association, he is now writing about the system with the hope that this will stimulate the type of change that will be good for the people and communities of America. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about his book, The Covid Murders.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Covid Murders is about.
The Covid Murders begins with a death in an operating room in suburban Nashville Tennessee. There are questions about what really happened, and Irv Tinsley, our hero and a health policy detective extraordinaire, is brought in. Because it happens during Covid, this cause cannot be immediately ruled out. There are other even more compelling potential explanations, as well as associated political perils, to the investigation.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
My first novel, The Theory of Irv, provided a historical overview of how healthcare policy became what it is over 100 years, embedded in that medical detective story. This was the original story I was compelled to write. I wrote it during the pandemic and began to observe that the pandemic period was affecting the healthcare system in fundamental ways. I reflected on the first book and realized that Covid brought major changes to where I left the policy story off in my first book. It was important to me to present what had changed- and how it bodes for major policy questions and answers for American health care into the future.
Why did you title this "The Covid Murders"?
The title comes from several places. For one, I wanted to remind readers of that weird time we lived through when Covid was such a dominant and intrusive force on our lives, whatever one thought about it, and the title reference is to the time frame for the story. Second, Covid is one of the possible causes of the hospital death and needs to be explored by Irv. Third, and perhaps most of all, I use the word “murders” to reference the great impact of that period on American health policy- and the battle yet to come around the forces unleashed during the time of the virus.
This is the second book in the series. Can it be read as a standalone?
The two books can be read separately or together. The first offers a comprehensive but still succinct historical account of health policy, while the second examines the shift to a new “era” of health care policy. The underlying detective stories in the two books are distinct.
Tell us more about Irv Tinsley. What makes him tick?
I’ve been trying to reform American health care through most of my career, and these books are an extension of this quest. Many of the ideas for fixing health care are those that I’ve advocated for or tried to implement. Many of these are through the not-for-profit Washington Health Foundation (www.washhealthfoundation.org). I created and ran this for over 20 years and have returned to it as now volunteer President. It is pretty much out of money though- and the sales of my books go to the Foundation with the wild hope that we might be able to revive it in some form again.
You have 50 years of experience in health care. How much of your own life experiences end up in the series?
Irv is a smart and independent thinker and leader, trying to find his way through life and his career. A central discovery for him in the first book is that he needs to live a life of social purpose to be his whole and best person. His life’s purpose has become making the health care system work better- and he continually tries to do this. His unique talent is to uncover big and messy problems working within a system that he so wants to believe in, and carrying the contradiction that most of the people he finds in the health care system are good and smart people trying to do the right thing but struggling against the “system”. He has his flaws as a person, and strengths, and the stories explore these- along with his friends, who share the hero spotlight with him.
What was your greatest challenge when writing this book?
Turns out that it was the trip to Nashville to do some research of sights and culture for the primary setting of my novel. I got Covid there, despite all my attempts to not get it, and ended up in quarantine after 3 days of research. A week later I returned home, healthy again but without being able to explore some of the places I had contemplated for the novel!
What, would you say is American Health care's greatest problem today?
Generally, the tremendous cost of care is the biggest output problem facing American health care. But I think the greater contemporary problem is the great consolidation of health care to fewer and fewer large organizations who are in control of the system. This consolidation is one of the things that the Covid time accelerated.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’ve been learning guitar over the last decade- and part of why I chose Nashville as a site and some musical dimensions to the plot.
Interesting cover. Please tell us more about it.
The heartbeat lines on the cover are a carryover from my first book. The rest of the cover is intended to offer a film noir feel for the novel. It is a dark story, wrapped around elements of hope.
When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?
I am still early in learning the craft. My starting point seems to be what some call the “inciting incident”- the event that gets the story moving for readers. I try hard to make it a grabber and then largely let the story develop from this point.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Again, still learning. I’ve been told I have an unconventional work style throughout my career- some of which are transported to the character that is Irv. One standard tool for me is a very large grease board on which I draw all sorts of pictures. I use these drawings to bring very complex matters together in a way that makes them possible to implement (back in my healthcare CEO career) and now understand (for readers).
What are you working on right now?
The 3rd book in the series is tentatively called “The Health Care Civil War” and is the reckoning around many of the policy problems brought out in The Covid Murders. I am busy on my grease board mapping it out and getting ready to write the inciting incident.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I’ve been using the Washington Health Foundation website as my author webpage for now. I write a monthly blog and am putting together some other ways to share books and thoughts, including a potential podcast. Readers can sign up for the regular WHF posts (1-3 per month) by going to washhealthfoundation.org/book-the-theory-of-irv. Or I am on Facebook too https://www.facebook.com/greg.vigdor
The second in the Irv Tinsley Health Policy Detective Series follows the first in the series in creating a new genre: health policy detective stories that grapple with the very real problems of dysfunctional American health care policy. A patient death in a suburban Nashville hospital unleashes forces that threaten the nation's health. Is it Covid or something even more sinister and dangerous?