In this age of Obamacare and amidst numerous attempts to dismantle the president’s signature legislation that has provided millions of Americans with sorely needed health care, there’s a “new kid on the block” whose focus and mission are simple: helping residents of the District live healthier lives.
The Washington Informer sat down with Karen Dale, market president/CEO for AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia, who offered a real in-depth look at this health care provider who, in concert with a growing list of community partners, continues to develop groundbreaking approaches and paths to wellness.
“We serve about 100,000 people in D.C. and we’ve been here since May 2013 focusing on care management and providing health coaches for our members,” said Dale, a native of Jamaica who spent her formative years in the greater Washington area.
“We realize that while everyone wants to live a healthy life, the journey can be difficult,” she said. “We try to make that journey easier — doing things like sending reminders about doctor’s appointments, connecting one of our representatives with patients who may be anxious about visiting a physician for the first time, even helping members get their prescriptions or connecting them with classes held at our Member Wellness Center.”
“Living a healthier life style often requires a change in behavior,” she added. “And change isn’t easy. So our programs are developed in order to address the mind and body piece that tends to consume our time so that our members have more energy available for other equally important parts of their daily lives.”
Dale emphasizes the importance of modeling behavior that facilitates a healthier way of living.
“Social science experts point to a phenomenon known as ‘tunneling’ and it’s something that can really impact our lives in a negative way,” she noted. “One way to understand it is we have a limited amount of time to focus on essentials and while we may be listening to our doctor’s suggestions to change our diet, or to exercise more because we are borderline diabetic, more immediate needs often grab our attention.”
“People have so many daily challenges that they ignore their own health needs — sometimes ignoring them until it’s too late,” Dale said. Dale says that at AmeriHealth Caritas DC, they’re committed to providing members with access to quality health care and outstanding member services — serving thousands of people a year one person at a time. Still, she acknowledges that factors beyond one’s control can affect one’s health.
“It’s hard to lose weight if you live in an area that only has fast food restaurants instead of stores with fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables,” she said. “How can you go for daily walks if your neighborhood lacks adequate sidewalks? That’s why we’ve employed a nutrition strategy as part of our services over the past several years, partnering with District nonprofits like Mom’s Meals. That way we’re able to deliver meals to our members.”
Dale also notes that healthy living can often be influenced by culture and our peers.
“It helps when others around you are committed to changing habits so that they adopt a healthier way of life,” she said. “But having culturally appropriate medical plans and giving our members guidance as needed are also important. In other words, our goal is to give people the tools they need to get started.”
“It makes a difference when our members are having yearly checkups with their physician and when they are aware of the importance of proper nutrition. For far too long, many people have only sought medical attention when they’re ill — even using emergency rooms as their doctor. That’s not the way to live a quality life.”
“The importance of preventive care serves as the foundation of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. And while it isn’t easy to stop smoking or to lose weight, they’re not impossible to achieve. It’s all about changing the thought process, altering behavior and having support systems along the way. One of the first steps is securing a primary care provider. We want to be that provider.”
“The District isn’t just where we work — it’s where we live and carry out our mission. More than anything else, AmeriHealth Caritas DC has continued to find ways to improve health outcomes and to shape the approach to access to and delivery of health care services.”
“In the final analysis, it’s all about striving for health equity and a more health-conscious D.C.,” Dale said.
AmeriHealth Caritas DC has a 30-year history of serving Medicaid communities and is the largest Medicaid managed care organization in the District. They’re part of the AmeriHealth Caritas Family of Companies, a national leader in providing health care solutions in managed care.