AAFA’s Cary Sennett and his wife Sara are avid tandem cyclists.Dr. Cary Sennett has taken the helm of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) at a time when he sees health care on the cusp of significant evolution.
“We’re on the verge of a real change in how we think about health care, and the patient is going to be a much more important voice and a powerful driver of that change,” says the new president and CEO, who is a medical doctor and holds a PhD.
“I saw AAFA as an organization that really stands for the individual with allergic disease,” he told Allergic Living.
Sennett, who has already presented a new strategic direction to AAFA’s board, brings more than 25 years of experience in health-care positions, including his most recent position as vice president of WellPoint, a health benefits company. His vision for AAFA involves embracing the non-profit’s 61-year history, while also focusing on modernization and outreach through mobile technology and social media – including a relaunched website for Kids With Food Allergies (a division of AAFA).
Sennett also wants to work with health-care stakeholders that AAFA hasn’t had much involvement with. “Those would be the payers: the health insurers and the employers who pay for health care and whose bottom lines are affected by asthma and allergy.” He notes that these companies often benefit from AAFA programs – for example, patient education on avoiding asthma triggers leading to fewer hospital visits – but historically haven’t offered financial support in return.
“As federal dollars become harder to get, I think it’s important for us to help others understand how important our work is and why their support of that work is important,” he says. “They need to understand why our work is relevant to them.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pegs the annual costs of asthma alone in the U.S. at $50 billion a year. Uncontrolled asthma remains a huge issue, leading to two million ER visits and 500,000 hospitalizations yearly.
Sennett wants AAFA to continue educating the public and improving the lives of those with asthma or allergies, as well as increasing the foundation’s role in the realm of food allergy.
He grew up with exercise-induced bronchospasm, and one of his sons had wheezing requiring ER visits as a small child. “We’re fortunate,” he says, because asthma and allergies “haven’t limited my family’s life the way I know it has limited some others.”