News broke late yesterday regarding the Director of the Department of Health Care Services, Jennifer Kent’s sudden resignation. Later, reports surfaced of the Director’s criticism of “anti-vaxers” as “flat-earthers.”
Ms. Kent was appointed as Director of the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) in January of 2015 and oversees a department staff of almost 4,000 individuals. DHCS is responsible for the operation of Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program and manages the spending of more than $100 billion annually in public funds that support the health of 13 million Californians.
Kent had served as executive director of Local Health Plans of California since September 2013. Prior to that, she was a principal with Health Management Associates Inc., a national Medicaid consulting firm, from 2011 through 2013. Her previous California government service includes leadership roles in the Office of the Governor, the Health and Human Services Agency, and DHCS.
Her message to employees yesterday read:
I have had the privilege and honor of being the Director of the Department of Health Care Services since February 2015. I always said that it was the best job I would ever have – and it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had.
And one of the hard things about this job is leaving. However, I wanted you to know that I have submitted my resignation, effective the end of this month. Between now and my last day, I will be working to ensure that all of the activities that are currently underway are transitioned to the amazing team that already exists here at DHCS.
When I leave, these are the items that make me most proud to have served here with you:
- When I rejoined the Department in 2015, we were still seeing massive enrollment of hundreds of thousands of eligible individuals through the Affordable Care Act. Today, we provide coverage to over 13 million low-income and vulnerable Californians – and several million obtained coverage due to the efforts of our department and partners such as the counties and health plans to provide them with essential health services.
- We have successfully negotiated not one, but two, managed care organization taxes with the health plans. These complicated taxing structures have secured billions in additional revenue for our program over the past 3 years and we are poised to have another approved.
- California is a state that has consistently innovated and pushed the boundaries of what a Section 1115 waiver can do. Historically, our waivers were primarily used for hospital financing. Over the past two waivers, we have used them to improve the quality of care in our public hospital system (both DSRIP and PRIME) as well as drive better coordinated care through Whole Person Care, the Drug Medi-Cal Organized Delivery System, the Dental Transformation Initiative, the Global Payment Program and the Coordinated Care Initiative/CalMedi-Connect.
- California Childrens’ Services (CCS) is our oldest program at the department, started in 1927. Today, the program serves approximately 200,000 children with extremely complex medical conditions. Starting in 2017, we began enrolling CCS-eligible children into the Whole Child Model in specific County Organized Health Systems to receive their comprehensive services through a single coordinated entity rather than using multiple delivery systems. It is an initiative that will help children and families to receive both the specialty services as well as comprehensive case management that each family deserves. We could not have done this with plan and county cooperation in its implementation.
- We are a national model of substance use disorder services, starting with the hub-and-spoke model and aggressively using our federal opioid dollars in targeted areas, to targeted populations and building an infrastructure that will carry beyond the opioid epidemic and continue to build our state’s substance use treatment capacity.
- Starting with SB 75 (2016) and continuing with our 2019-20 budget this year, California continues to expand full-scope benefits to children and young adults, regardless of their documentation status. We are a department that seeks to cover Californians, far beyond what the federal minimums require. We have also restored rate reductions and optional benefits as our state’s budget has improved.
- We are using our Prop 56 funds to incentivize new physician and dental providers to participate in Medi-Cal by instituting a loan repayment program that offers up to $300,000 in loan forgiveness. Lindy Harrington has taken this idea and made it bloom through our partnership with Physicians for a Healthy California. I continue to believe it will change a generation of providers in Medi-Cal.
- We continue our ongoing implementation of big, complicated IT projects, including PAVE and CalHEERS. The key to our program’s ability to deliver services to beneficiaries as well as manage our data and fiscal needs are large and interdependent automation systems. We have a really amazing team that is dedicated to continuous improvement – and I know these projects will continue to be successful.
- We have started a fiscal and cash management process here at DHCS and I am proud of our internal dedication to providing both internal and external partners with information that is accurate, timely and transparent. Both Mari Cantwell and Erika Sperbeck have led this effort and as they like to say “Fiscal management is everyone’s responsibility!”
Lastly, I am most proud of the people at DHCS that I have worked with. Each of you are simply amazing. Words don’t do justice for my senior leadership team composed of Mari Cantwell, Erika Sperbeck, Lisa Keeler, Norman Williams, Carol Gallegos, Chris Riesen, Jared Goldman, Ben McGowan, Lindy Harrington, Rene Mollow, Sarah Brooks, Kelly Pfeifer, and Lori Walker. We have thousands of employees that show up every day and work to improve our program, technology systems, services, administrative support, program integrity and financing for the safety net. Our department could not operate without everyone working together. Thank you for supporting me and thank you for supporting the people of the state of California.
With deepest appreciation and respect,