Dr. Donald Berwick (right), the country’s former Medicare and Med­icaid admin­is­trator, speaks with North­eastern Uni­ver­sity stu­dent Kayla DeVin­centis prior to his lec­ture Tuesday, part of the Health­care Improve­ment Lead­er­ship Sem­inar Series. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

To reverse America’s unsus­tain­able health-​​care costs, Con­gress must adopt more refined, nimble strate­gies and get tough in the face of those pushing to keep the status quo, according to Dr. Donald M. Berwick, a leader in the fight to improve med­ical care and well­ness in the United States.

Pol­i­cy­makers are dealing with health care with very thick mit­tens on, so we need new leaders with new ideas, skills and voices,” Berwick said on Tuesday at the quar­terly Health­care Improve­ment Lead­er­ship Sem­inar Series held in Blackman Audi­to­rium. The event was spon­sored by Northeastern’s Health­care Sys­tems Engi­neering Pro­gram.

Berwick, the country’s former Medicare and Med­icaid admin­is­trator, said that when Con­gress does act, it often does so at the expense of the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable.

It is inevitable, in my view, that the safety net for the poor will be under siege,” he said. “The poor don’t vote and they don’t have lob­by­ists, so they don’t have a say in this.”

To pre­vent changes that hurt rather than improve health care in America, stu­dents and pro­fes­sionals in the fields of health care and sys­tems engi­neering need to speak out and offer new, bold and inno­v­a­tive solu­tions, he said.

All I can say is that your voices help. In Wash­ington, the squeaky wheels get the grease — and we need a lot of new wheels.”

Berwick’s lec­ture, deliv­ered to a wide audi­ence of stu­dents and pro­fes­sionals in health and engi­neering fields from across the Boston area, stressed the need for broad changes in health care to improve six areas of the health-​​care field: safety, effec­tive­ness, patient-​​centeredness, time­li­ness, effi­ciency and equity. Pres­i­dent Obama’s sig­na­ture health-​​care law, the Afford­able Care Act, helps to accom­plish those goals, he said, by cre­ating new tools to pro­vide better care in those areas.

We’re at a very his­toric time in the progress of health care in our nation,” Berwick said. “We’re on the path at last — and last among Western democ­ra­cies — of making health care a human right.”

James Ben­neyan, a pro­fessor of indus­trial engi­neering and director of the Health­care Sys­tems Engi­neering Pro­gram, said Berwick was a pow­erful speaker about the ability of the local med­ical com­mu­nity — among the nation’s top regions for health care — to take on a national set of issues.

This isn’t an engi­neering pro­gram, it’s not a public health problem, it’s not a nursing problem,” Ben­neyan said. “This is all of our problem, and we’ve got to work together to create broad solutions.”

The Health­care Sys­tems Engi­neering Pro­gram works to have a broad impact on the nation’s health-​​care system through research, edu­ca­tion and appli­ca­tion of engi­neering improve­ment sciences.