The Washington Informer sits with Karen M. Dale, R.N., M.S.N., market president and CEO for AmeriHealth Caritas DC, a mission-based Medicaid Managed Care Organization (MCO), to discuss the scope of work the organization is continuing to provide for the care and overall wellness of local residents.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity:
Lindiwe Vilakazi: AmeriHealth Caritas DC offers local residents so much support in health care coverage, and overall lifestyle support. Can you tell us some of the organization’s key focuses and goals this year, especially now that we are on the other side of the pandemic health emergency?
Karen Dale: [A key goal is] certainly, ensuring that we do everything we can to educate District residents about renewal and the fact that they should update their information so that they get the information they need to renew. If not for the Medicaid program, the District has other programs that they can qualify for. The most important thing is to be able to get the appropriate information so that they can renew either for Medicaid or other types of insurance the District offers that they may be able to get.
The other thing that we’re focused on is building on the success in terms of the engagement we’ve had with the community we’ve been serving for a decade, to really provide holistic interventions and support to who we serve.
[We’re] really proud of our “food as medicine” efforts that we have had in place for quite some time, where we recognize that if someone is diagnosed with a nutrition-sensitive condition, that providing a medically tailored meal is very useful and it’s even useful in pregnancy, which is not necessarily a chronic condition.
However, for someone that is a high risk pregnancy, it’s very useful for them when we provide meals that are already prepared. And we provide meals for the whole family, not just the mom to eat, so that is one less thing that she may be having to stand on her feet to do. Our whole “food is medicine” strategy also includes having a nutritionist work with the family, or the identified person with a chronic disease, to help them think through what’s going well in their diet and what are some of the things that are tweaks or changes they can make.
We are aligned with our council members, the Mayor, and stakeholders in terms of how we in the District improve maternal health outcomes, and again, I’m very proud of how long we’ve been doing this work.
LV: How is AmeriHealth Caritas DC addressing mental and behavioral health in the city?
KD: We are really proud of the focus we have had around behavioral health coming out of the pandemic. We know that children, adolescents, and many adults experienced collective trauma, right? We know the violence in our city is affecting people’s well being as well. And so we certainly have the traditional ways that people can get behavioral health therapy.
We also have peer support workers. We partner with a number of organizations and providers so that the behavioral part of things is part of what they’re screening for. Think about the mom that just had a baby that may be prone to postpartum, which is after pregnancy depression. [We] screen for that. So making sure at all the various touch points, people are recognizing that there are things that could be coming up for someone that if you don’t ask about it, they may be concerned about stigma and may not mention it, right? So we want to do much more screening and have a robust set of tools someone can use.
LV: We know that there is a lot of concern and conversation behind health benefits across the country, and particularly here in the District of Columbia. Can you tell me, why is Medicaid Renewal so important for District residents?
KD: When the federal government during the pandemic said, “We don’t want people to,” of all times, “to not have health insurance,” they said everyone gets to stay in the program they’re in so that they have insurance [coverage]. So, believe it or not, this has been a little over three years, right? That’s a long time. Lots of changes could have happened in people’s lives. They’ve moved, and all kinds of things. And so restarting this effort to ensure that people are in the program only if they’re eligible, or they get access to something else, is super important because we want people to have coverage and have the right coverage.
The challenge is we have stale contact information for people, and so they may not even recognize or know that this renewal effort is starting. We don’t want, especially for someone who is more vulnerable with a chronic condition requiring medication, maybe they’re getting chemotherapy for cancer treatment or dialysis for kidney failure, we don’t want for the first time that they figure out that they don’t have coverage, [to be] when they show up for care.
Having health insurance is key to health and well-being. If something goes wrong, we want you to be covered, and the District has some of the best coverage in the nation, and we want people to have the access they should.
LV: Now that COVID emergency has ended, D.C. has re-opened Medicaid eligibility renewals. Can you explain the renewal process, and how District residents who seek Medicaid coverage need to approach that this year?
KD: It’s pretty easy. The District has a great website set up, so all people have to do is go there and update their information. They even have an app that you can use, which is districtdirect.dc.gov.
They can go create an account right in the portal, update their information without having to be on hold.
Technology is great in this way. There is even a mobile app where they can go to the Apple store, or GooglePlay store and download it so then it’s right there on your phone which most of us have with us all the time.
LV: I love the classes and services that Enrollee Wellness and Opportunity Center offers. Can you tell me about what inspires the work and services provided in this location, and how resourceful this has been for Ward 8 residents?
KD: Glad you asked! When we think about our members who we serve, we think about them in the context of their lives and community, so this is not about health care alone. We are best served and we are our best selves when all of the areas in our life are being addressed in a good way. We have always taken that holistic view and said, “What are those things that people need, that when those things in addition to the health care supports and services are in place, give them the best opportunity for health, well-being, and ability to thrive and flourish?”
We have two programs that we have had for some time.
One is “Pathways to Work” which is a 12-week paid internship program for adults, so that people are in a work environment with lots of classes they take that supports them, and gives them that step forward to be able to earn a liveable wage.
We also have one for adolescents, called, “Bridges to The Future” for juniors and seniors, which is also a paid internship. That works for them after school to support that important step, an infusion of information and support, that helps them to have the best position to start a career or advanced degree, whatever their [goals] are.