Caring For The Community
Wednesday - February 24, 2010
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By John E. McComas
Chief Executive Officer for AlohaCare
Everything we do at AlohaCare is for our local community and its good health.
Actually, AlohaCare’s founding was through an alliance of Hawaii’s community health centers. As a nonprofit-managed health-care plan, we serve Hawaii’s most medically fragile populations, including low-income families, pregnant women, keiki and kupuna. We partner with nearly 3,000 providers to support more than 70,000 members. We also team up with community groups and other like-minded organizations to improve the way we do healthcare in Hawaii.
Fifteen years ago, AlohaCare was a small startup health plan faced with an overwhelming task. The state had awarded us a QUEST contract, which at the time only served about 14,000 members. Despite a small membership, we were able to support and grow our QUEST plan. We listened to the community’s needs and provided high-quality and cost-effective healthcare. To be the CEO of AlohaCare, especially during that time, was a great opportunity for me to fulfill some long-lived aspirations.
Growing up in San Francisco in the 1960s, I was raised by my grandparents in a poor neighborhood. Like many students, I worked my way through college. At UC-Berkeley, I slogged away in the anatomy lab, making rat food and cleaning cages. The job put me to work with people of differing backgrounds. We became friends, and they shared their life experiences with me, some of which were so different from my own. I learned so much about real life. Moreover, I learned that the two best ways to learn are to 1) get to know people who are different from you and 2) listen to what they have to say.
It was the Kennedy era, and the president often spoke of public service and the Peace Corps. The idea resonated with me - especially the thought of working with people in communities far removed from my own. I just knew that that’s what I wanted to do more than anything else. I hoped to go somewhere as unlike the U.S. as possible. I got my wish - Nigeria, West Africa, for three years.
The experience changed my life. I worked in rural agricultural development. However, I was most impacted by the lack of basic essentials - toilets, clean water and the limited education of those who were saddled with trying to care for others. Still, from these people, I learned more than ever before in my life.
This sparked my interest in promoting societal changes, especially in terms of improving life through healthcare.
Returning from Africa, I went to graduate school at UH and received a master’s in public health. From there, I mostly worked in Hawaii’s healthcare arena, including substance-abuse services in Kalihi, family planning at the Department of Health, consulting in Micronesia and service at HMSA for 16 years.
Then came the perfect opportunity for me at AlohaCare. I get a deep satisfaction from what we do here.
Recently, AlohaCare was nationally recognized by the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations. We were presented the “Organizational Leadership Award” for our innovative approach to improving and expanding healthcare delivery to at-risk populations.
In the future, AlohaCare will continue to advocate for access to care for the state’s underserved. We look forward to strengthening our relationships with the state’s administration, Legislature, community health centers and doctors to improve healthcare in Hawaii.
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