People first: An interview with former Nebraska Director of Medicaid and Long-Term Care

Jeff Stafford, CEO of the UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Nebraska 

I sat down with Kevin Bagley, former Director of Medicaid and Long-Term Care in Nebraska, in early November to reflect on his experience working with the people of Nebraska during his three-year tenure.

Throughout the interview, Kevin spoke extensively about having conversations with community members. He shared a poignant story about his first visit to Nebraska with his wife. They were walking to tour the city when he saw a woman alongside a young boy in a wheelchair. He felt compelled to walk over to her, resulting in an impactful conversation with the woman who he learned was a direct caregiver for the boy. He expressed that the interaction was “…just so meaningful and rewarding. It was a reminder for me that's exactly what I want to be able to do -- help people see the value of the programs we provide and ensure that our programs actually add value for those people”.

Medicaid: a personal and professional mission

When I asked him where his sense of mission and drive comes from, Kevin responded “I think it's coming from a couple spaces- I'm a taxpayer, so I care about the effectiveness and thoughtfulness with which we spend the money that we do on these programs. Here in Nebraska it's almost $4 billion of state and federal money every year.” He went on to share that he had his own personal experience as a dad of a daughter who has autism and as an uncle to a child with Down’s Syndrome, stating “I know it (Medicaid) can add value, and I want those people that I know, that I love and that I care about, to experience what they ought to be able to experience in the program.”

Recent Medicaid listening sessions across Nebraska communities highlighted collaboration and innovation as unique attributes of the Nebraska Medicaid program. Kevin shared with me his thoughts about these sessions, “The sense of a cohesive community around the state, the ability to dig in and start solving those problems at the local level is truly unique.”

Leaving a legacy in Nebraska

When I inquired what elements of Nebraska Medicaid that he believed will continue after his tenure, Kevin responded “Part of what we've tried to build here in our organization is a culture of people first the collection of individuals in a government agency who truly care about fostering a people-first culture and the framework that allows for that – I hope that outlives me.”

Kevin also shared his belief that individuals trying to cultivate this type of culture in their state from the policy side need to focus on talking to those on the receiving end of Medicaid programs. He stated that it’s easy to talk to hospitals, but a concentrated effort needs to be made to hear the voices of Medicaid members.

When I asked how his tenure as the Nebraska Medicaid Director changed him as a person, he told me, “When you become a father for the first time, you think there's no way I could love more than I already do. And then you have that child, and you just grow in love. And then if you have another child, that love grows again. My capacity to love a community has grown so much over the last three years. A librarian in Red Cloud or a rancher outside of Ainsworth. Or a grandma caring for her grandkids in Broken Bow. All of those people and experiences just grow your capacity to love. That's the best way I can describe it.”

UnitedHealthcare’s collaboration with Nebraska

We recently announced UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Nebraska’s $5.4 million multi-year investment in the Creighton University Community Collaborative Program, aimed at providing funding to community-based organizations in North and South Omaha to address the social drivers of health that have the biggest impact in its communities. An integral component of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Nebraska’s mission is to serve the needs of Nebraskans through innovative programs and community investments that reduce disparities and eventually increase access to high-quality care.

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