WHCC20 | Interviews

Paul Sherman
Community Health Plan of Washington

What is the top challenge or obstacle facing health care today?
If we want to truly make a difference in health care in the U.S., we must acknowledge that health care is a human right. As we increase focus on social determinants of health, we need to remind ourselves that health care is a moral issue at its core and treat it as such systematically.

The solution begins with policy, but we can't change policy without the support of engaged citizenry across the country. Two important shifts are happening in this nation that lead me to believe we will one day overcome this challenge. First, political and social coalitions are engaging in the conversation around health care and rights, carrying the message that health care is a human right. Additionally, health care professionals are taking a more holistic approach to care, understanding that health care goes beyond the four walls of a doctor's office and includes helping people to address the social determinants that impact their overall health and wellbeing.

Though we have a long way to go as a nation, just as recently as December 2019 the U.S. House passed a bill requiring Medicare to negotiate drug prices on the 250 highest priced drugs, including insulin. Advances like this bill, while small when compared to the larger-scale challenge of affordable health care, show we are starting to pay attention to health care as a serious national issue.

How are you preparing your organization for an uncertain future?
Given America's highly individualistic ethos and the powerful forces at play, I am convinced health insurance will continue to be part of this country's national fabric for the foreseeable future even as we make reforms.

Community Health Plan of Washington demonstrates that health insurance can help patients receive cost-effective and high-quality care as we continue to keep patients as our focus. To that end, we take pride in our partnerships with our Community Health Clinics across Washington to provide medical, behavioral health and social supports for our members. That means finding new avenues to meet patients where they are, whether it's through telehealth so they don't have to physically travel to a location to access care, community health workers, or our in-house team of resource specialists who link our members with community-based organizations to support their social health.

What has you most optimistic about the future of health care?
The people I have worked with throughout my medical career have always kept me optimistic. After joining Community Health Plan of Washington, I am even more convinced that the people in health care will lead us to a more positive future. My colleagues truly believe in the importance of community advocates working together to influence health care, which strengthens the focus on social determinants of health and builds coalitions of people addressing systemic issues.

The power of community is especially visible in our local outreach. Community Health Plan of Washington is physically present in Washington communities so our staff can better understand and address the challenges facing our neighbors and provide the appropriate, supportive care. Recently, a care manager attending community court in Spokane noticed a man who appeared confused and by speaking with him, she discovered he had a new onset illness and was unable to work. She helped him sign-up for Community Health Plan of Washington, get enrolled in food assistance program and got him a medical appointment for that day. Our members are our neighbors and that means we share their experiences, whether its transportation challenges, weather or economic conditions.

At the end of the day, I have the pleasure to collaborate with people who come from all walks of life and backgrounds, and whose one goal is to help under-supported and underserved community members achieve their best overall health. We believe in our efforts and strive to improve lives, provide quality care, and address disparities.

What motivates you to keep doing the work that you do?
I went into medicine to help people, and it is always an honor when I am able to support people living their best lives. I know I've experienced points in my life when I needed the support of a community to overcome hardship, and I see many of our members experiencing the same. Hearing stories of how Community Health Plan of Washington supported an individual, and even sometimes their family, in determining what they need for their health is all the motivation I need. A great example is a woman who enrolled in case management who was calling frequently and appearing delusional and paranoid. The case manager noted she had a positive tox screen and helped her connect to the correct treatment and resources. She is now sober, goal-driven, aware of triggers and appreciative of our ongoing support.

What's the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring health care leader?
Find something you are passionate about and then surround yourself with people who share that passion. Leaders do not work alone, so creating a group of individuals seeking a common goal is key-I like to think of my group as a coalition. A well-rounded perspective is necessary to strengthen communities and reach beyond the limits that may, at first, not seem possible. Additionally, when engaging in conversations within your support system, remember to find balance between thinking outside traditional health care while keeping the patient at the center of these conversations. If you get lost along your journey, remember why you joined health care and who you're here to serve-consider the patient your North Star.

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