Interview with Kevin Quigley, DSHS Secretary – Part 2

Kevin Quigley

This is part 2 of a two part interview with the recently appointed DSHS Secretary, Kevin Quigley.  You can find the first part of the interview here.


Q:  How have you found the relationship with the governor to be so far?

I have to tell you, I didn’t really know the governor.  I knew of his work, but he and I had never worked together.  At this juncture I’ve been in his office to get his direction on a number of issues and I can tell you that you never go to the governor’s office if there is an easy decision.

Every time I’ve been there, it’s to present him with a tough decision, and to give us direction.

To use a technical term, I would say the governor is cool.  He brings his values to every decision he makes.

In all of the meetings that I’ve had with the governor, I’ve never ever heard him raise the question of “What does this mean from a political perspective?”

Q:  Have any good stories with the governor you’d like to share to give us a sense of how he approaches some of these challenges?

My first governor story I think is the best.  I had been out to Child Protective Services offices, which I do pretty much every week to talk to the front lines.  We were three weeks into the administration, and it was clear case loads were too high, and too many cases were staying open too long.

So I went to brief Mary Alice, the governor’s chief of staff.  And, she was appropriately demanding that you have a precise game plan, that you’ve analyzed the problem, and that you’re offering a solution we can measure.  I think we both felt I was in good shape, and I left the question with Mary Alice.

Two hours later I get a phone call that the governor wants to debrief.  So, I’m thinking this is kinda cool, and maybe in my heart of hearts I was hoping I would get a gold star because I was on top of the issue and had a solution.

And I met with the governor and he was totally positive, but he basically said “You know, Kevin, I don’t think you’re looking at this the right way.  This is New Orleans.  These are kids on the rooftop.  The hurricane has hit.

How are we going to save the kids?  You’ve got to come back to me with a plan that takes action more quickly, and you’ve gotta think outside of every box.  If I have to call in the marines, then tell me what I need to do.”

And you know it was great.

I didn’t get my gold star, but it’s nice to know the way the governor views these kinds of issues.  So, I think working with the governor has been fantastic, and supportive and positive, and frankly not at all political.

Q:  Tell me the story about your first meeting with Senator Ed Murray.

Because I’m a business guy, you could bring a long list of items where I’m not the strongest person on the policy side who has ever been secretary of DSHS.  But one thing I think I bring is an understanding that you have to team with the legislature, not confront the legislature in an oppositional position.

So, I did what I thought was obvious and met with all of the legislative leadership and tried to meet with as many health and human service committee members as I could.

And I was frankly surprised when I met with Senator Murray for him to say that I was the first DSHS secretary that had ever come by his office.

And I think Sen. Murray would be surprised to know that in that meeting, Sen Murray said ‘You know I’ve been in favor for some time for having a committee on Aging because I see the demographic change that is coming.  And had I been majority leader we would have done that.”

So when we got to our own reorganizing at DSHS, the genesis for putting the name of Aging in the Aging and Long Term Care Administration came from that conversation with Senator Murray.  And he might be surprised himself to know that it came from that first conversation because I’ve not had the opportunity to go back and thank him for that insight.

Q:  How has the legislature changed since you were a state senator?

I don’t know that I have enough insight to be able to answer that.

The one thing I will say is shocking to me is how many issues have moved so little in the 15 or so years since I was in the legislature?

Q:  Are they the same issues just being re-hashed, or have we tried solutions and maybe not had success?  What do you mean?

I feel like in a number of areas, we’re having the same discussion we were having 15 years

I feel horrible that today that the no-paid services case load for the developmentally disabled is 15,000 people, that we’ve made no progress in finding a solution to help those people, and there are a number of other issues like that where I feel like we’re still struggling.

Q:  You’re part of the conversation on health reform in terms of implementing the exchange and Medicaid.  DSHS has a smaller role in that than the HCA, but from your vantage point, how is implementation coming along?

I can say this:  it could not possibly have more focus and priority across Governor Inslee’s administration than it does now.  The governor is just adamant that we not only implement the ACA, but be a national leader.

That presents a lot of great but appropriate challenges.  The biggest one is bringing the health benefit exchange online.

Our part of that at DSHS is establishing the eligibility process, which in itself is a complicated IT endeavor.  The Office of the Insurance Commissioner is racing, the Health Benefit Exchange is racing, and the Health Care Authority – probably more than anybody – is going a million miles an hour.

There’s been great communication.  We have great work groups on it.  And yet I don’t think there is a one of us agency directors that yet feels relaxed.

Being on the cutting edge is sometimes being on the bleeding edge.  And we are definitely on the cutting edge of health care reform.  And I expect we will do what it takes to be one of the leaders out of the blocks.

I would also say that it’s easy to feel a little sad at DSHS because we’ve gone from some 19,000 employees in the last few years to some 16,000 employees, and so there’s a lot of things we can no longer do to help people, particularly at a time when there are more people that could use the help.

But one absolutely wonderful thing that we’re right in the middle of is this reality that 250,000 additional people are going to get access to health care, and as a result of everything that’s going on around it, another 80,000 who could have been eligible all along, will also get access to care.

So we’re going to have some 300-some thousand people who didn’t have access to health care before have access to health care in 2014, and that is nothing short of wonderful.

I sit back and applaud the president and I applaud the governor for showing the leadership to make this happen.  It’s going to make a huge difference, and it’s going to make a difference to individuals across our state, to groups, to businesses, and it’s really quite wonderful.

Q:  How’s the commute?

The commute is the one part of my job that is gruesome.

It’s almost hard to believe but in our house, my alarm goes off at 4:00 am and I’m out the door at 4:45 in order to beat the traffic from Lake Stevens to Olympia.  On the way home, it really doesn’t make sense to leave before 6:00 pm because everybody knows the commute through Seattle is tough.

But I’m not complaining.  This is a great job, and my family is very supportive of me doing this work.

Q:  Thanks, Secretary Quigley for taking the time to talk with us.  We’re all rooting for your success in your new position.

Thanks for the opportunity.  I appreciate it.