Closing Keynote: Arizona health plan leaders discuss the state’s workforce shortages


Alex Nelson, Hannah Saunders


Health plan representatives discussed central healthcare topics at the 2024 Arizona State of Reform Health Policy Conference last month. The topics included workforce shortages, the use of data in the industry, and support services. 

Tad Gary, deputy CEO of Mercy Care, said having partnerships with other health plans is crucial because it’s challenging to accomplish success in silos. Gary discussed the importance of housing, and noted that Medicaid covers housing as a supportive service in Arizona.

“Some of these individuals, through various different life histories, come to it needing support services—needing to know how to be a good neighbor, needing to know how to navigate services.”

— Gary

Jim Stringham, vice president and CEO of Banner Health Plans, said the state’s workforce shortages keep him up at night. He said direct care workers and nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system.

“It’s predicted that they’ll need to be close to 190 direct care workers by 2030 just in Arizona, and over 30,000 nurses, so that’s a lot of workforce development (and) job force creation that’s needed.”

— Stringham

Stringham said he hopes to continue to develop scholarships and partner with colleges. He discussed a partnership that led to the creation of a camp for middle school students that educated them on careers in the healthcare field, and taught youth how to perform CPR to get them interested in the field. 

Jean Kalbacher, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Arizona, said she is excited that community health workers will become a payable code under the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. 

“That’s so important for the communities we serve—that they have trust in the people they work with.” 

— Kalbacher

James Stover, CEO of Arizona Complete Health Medicaid, said data must continue to be utilized to address health inequities and concerns. Arizona Complete Health uses NEST to collect data.

“It takes a bunch of different data sources, publicly-reported data sources, and combines this with our own health risk factors into our clinical system, and helps us predict some of the challenges individuals will have in certain neighborhoods.”

— Stover

The tool can be used to create targeted interventions, Stover said. 

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