Medicaid Who’s Who Interview: Walter Rosenberg

Walter Rosenberg, MSW, MS-HSM, LCSW is Director of Social Work and Community Health at Rush University Medical Center

Check out his LinkedIn profile HERE.

Which segment of the industry are you currently involved?

For about the last 11 years, I’ve been with Rush University Medical Center – a large, urban, academic medical center in Chicago.  Within Rush, my main focus is on care coordination, care transitions,
and the population health world, focusing on providing critical non-medical support to our patients in order to improve their health outcomes. 

How many years have you been in the Medicaid industry?

I have been involved with Medicaid for the full 15 or so years of my career, since every job I have ever held relied fully or partially on Medicaid funding.  At Rush, the large Illinois move to managed
care some years back, has made Medicaid a focus of much attention.  In fact, Rush runs a Medicaid ACO for one of the state payers, which has been a source of much learning.  In an era when value based contracts live in an uncomfortable alliance with a slowly
fading fee-for-service funding stream, understanding the impact Medicaid has on our payer mix and developing strategies to improve post-acute outcomes is a top priority. 

What is your focus/passion? (Industry related or not)

Within the industry, my passion hovers around that tricky medical and non-medical interface, where the everyday, non-medical lives of our patients meet their acute or chronic medical needs.  Clearly,
the vast, vast majority of us live in the non-medical world.  Our lives there dictate the way we recover from illness or manage ongoing conditions.  Helping the healthcare system effectively bridge the gap between the two is a very tough puzzle.  This is where my passion lies, particularly as it relates to the models of care (Bridge and AIMS) we disseminate across the country via our Center for Health and Social Service Integration (CHaSCI), where I serve as co-director. 

What is the top item on your “bucket list?”

I don’t have a bucket list.  I understand how this can create a goal-driven approach to life for many folks and I celebrate that approach when I encounter it.  However, I’m just happy when I occasionally
get to do the things I already love to do. 

What do you enjoy doing most with your personal time?

Personally, top priority is always family.  My incredible, strong, and smart wife, Sonya, and my two children – Vera (9) and Danny (5) – who fill my heart with love and gratitude every day.  Outside
of family, I like to get my hands dirty.  Gardening, cooking, cleaning, knitting, the occasional DIY project – that sort of thing.  At the end of day, though, I am most nourished by reading.  I’ll trade an evening with a book and a cold beer in my backyard for just about anything.  So I suppose you can make that the one recurring item on my bucket list!

Who is your favorite historical figure and why?

I’m afraid I don’t have a personal favorite historical figure.  You know how they say, “Never meet your heroes?”  I think it’s because if you zoom in close enough, you’ll see major flaws in so many of our historic and contemporary heroes, as well as the hand of those that got to write history or make the news.  I believe we will never hear about the truly best people out there.  They probably have pretty crappy PR departments!  Instead, I like to learn what I can from historical lore, and from the inspiring people I meet every day, who will never make it into a history book.

What is your favorite junk food?

Wendy’s, hands down.  I used to work there in high school and believe it or not, it only made me love it more.  Especially their spicy chicken sandwich and chili.  I do not get any marketing dollars from them.  Yet (are you listening Wendy’s??). 

Of what accomplishment are you most proud?

No matter where I look in my nearly 40 years, all I see is an army of people who I had the privilege of benefiting from.  I can’t really point to anything that’s my own, I’ve always either had incredible
helpers or motivators.  Though not at all a singular accomplishment of mine – that honor most easily rests with my boss and mentor, Robyn Golden – I’m proud of CHaSCI (the center mentioned earlier).  Social work is a discipline that is grossly underappreciated
in health care.  CHaSCI has been a great vehicle for spreading the good word about the meaningful impact social work can bring to patients.

For what one thing do you wish you could get a mulligan?

Another non-answer for me, I’m afraid.  People say hindsight is 20/20, but I never believed that.  No decision is a singular split between option A and option B.  Any fork in the road always leads down
a myriad of other experiences that build on each other and yield something special.  So we may
think a certain choice would have been better, but in 99.9% of the cases, we have no way of truly knowing how life would have unfolded.  From that perspective, though there many “mistakes” I’ve made in my life, I can’t imagine ever changing anything, because my life would be completely different, and I like mine as is, warts and all, as they say. 

What are the top 1-3 issues that you think will be important in Medicaid during the next 6 months?

Three related priorities come to mind:  1) We have to understand how merge the community and health care funding streams.  Community Based Organizations (CBOs) significantly impact health outcomes and are part of the larger patient continuum.  Separating funding streams makes it much harder to align processes and priorities.  There is a great deal of opportunity to address this, particularly on the managed care side, with some early efforts already underway. Medicaid can be a leader in disseminating the impact.  2) I very much hope that technology – medical records, in particular – can help CBOs and health care organizations work on the same longitudinal patient goals, rather than the episodic approach that is currently the norm.   3) We need to get better at providing role clarity for the allied health professionals.  Social workers, navigators, community health workers, medical assistants, nurses, etc. all have critical roles to play in the care of our patients. 
Unfortunately, since there are some tasks that all of these disciplines are able to provide, it has been very challenging to create a well-defined, comprehensive health care team.  I’m hoping that some of our CHaSCI work, as well as the work of many like-minded organizations across the country can help us to meet that goal. 

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