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Hawaii Medicaid Honored with 2023 Spotlight Award

Hawaii Medicaid is recognized for its inspirational response to the Maui Wildfires.


Hawaii Medicaid Honored with 2023 NAMD Spotlight Award

On August 8, 2023, Hawaii’s town of Lahaina faced an unprecedented natural disaster, now coming to be known as the Maui Wildfires, and one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

The Hawaii Medicaid team demonstrated heroism and selflessness in the face of this disaster, but the reason they were able to come together so efficiently and effectively is through years of intentionality in designing a cross-disciplinary team, with deep roots in the community, and trained leaders.

This intentionality and teamwork is what is being awarded the NAMD Spotlight Award.


The team: 

The Hawaii Medicaid team has taken a lot of time and effort to invest in creating a high functioning leadership team, including through team building, strategic planning, leadership trainings, contracting with subject matter experts, and investment in project management. This has created a cross-disciplinary team can have its challenges, but the Hawaii team really focused on the mission and vision: to embrace health and wellness for the people of Hawaii.

Hawaii spent years cultivating strong relationships both within their team as well as with key partners. This includes through contracting and working with community-based organizations to help with their outreach efforts for populations that do not trust government or find services challenging to access and navigate. They also have a strong relationship with their health plans, and Primary Care Associations. This was formed through systematic meeting and relationship building with different stakeholder groups, originating at the Medicaid Director level but also trickling down throughout the senior leadership team.

Hawaii’s Medicaid Director, Judy Mohr Peterson, used the word “pono” — doing the right things in the right way at the right time. This ethos has developed over time, as the team has come to know and trust one another by demonstrating good judgment both in times of routine but also in times of crisis. The team knows when to take time to discuss, plan, and implement, and this has been shown during tough budget hearings, during staff training, and community meetings. However, the team has also developed trust, by always working towards the larger vision and mission, they are able to innovate and take action without waiting for permission when the time calls for it.

The impact: 

When the wildfires hit, the Hawaii Medicaid team mobilized immediately and responded on both a human level, by volunteering, donating and organizing relief efforts, and also at a Medicaid program level, immediately suspending their eligibility renewal efforts on Maui while they worked to assure distraught community members that they hadn’t lost their health insurance to the fires.

While members of the Medicaid team had to deal with their own response to the fire, mentally and emotionally, while standing up services for the victims of the fire. Tragically for some members of the team, this also happened while they were dealing with the loss of family members.

The relationships the team has built made it so that, without asking, these CBOs leapt into action alongside the Hawaii Medicaid team to respond to the disaster on Maui, and then asked what else they could do. The Medicaid team met regularly with their health plans to give and receive updates, and the health plans took initiative to collaborate amongst themselves to help Medicaid staff their public assistance tables in addition to care coordination, filling medications, and providing medical care. Both the Healthcare Association of Hawaii and the Primary Care Association also reached out to receive updates and provide care and support on the ground in Maui.

Judy put it best when she said: “I know that I would find wonderful, compassionate, talented people in every Medicaid program. However, I wanted to highlight my team because of how we have been able to build our team over the years so that they could shine brightly at this precise moment in time during this most devastating time of need in our community.”

NAMD is pleased to honor Hawaii Med-QUEST with the 2023 Spotlight Award.  Learn more about the other winners here.

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