Disparities Leadership Program Alumni Spotlight: Jenné Johns, MPH

Director of Quality Improvement and Health Equity
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois

Class of 2017-2018

Why are you passionate about this work?

My passion in this field started in high school, well before I could articulate that I would pursue a career in health equity. I wanted to help improve the life expectancy and health outcomes of people living in impoverished neighborhoods, some of which I grew up in. This was important to me as I witnessed family members and neighbors die prematurely from preventable or avoidable health conditions. I knew, that as I advanced in my career, reducing health disparities would be my focus until this goal was achieved one sub-population, one community, and one condition at a time.

What was your “aha” moment while working on equity-related efforts at your organization?

Although new to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, whose mission is to “Do everything in our power to stand with our members in sickness and in health,” I had an “aha” moment during my first week of employment. The company hosted a Health Equity Summit, in which many of my colleagues who are also national thought leaders, served on panels sharing best practices and innovative strategies to address health equity and social determinants of health. One of those colleagues was Dr. Joseph Betancourt, Director of the Disparities Solutions Center, and newly formed advisor who was instrumental in my DLP project completion. From that moment, I knew that I transitioned to a dynamic organization. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois made a business commitment and imperative to integrate health equity as part of their health care delivery model, aligning with my passion in this field.

What part of the Disparities Leadership Program has been the most useful in moving your work forward?

Since completing DLP, I’ve had the pleasure of remaining connected with my cohort members. Having the ability to connect with my colleagues has been invaluable. Because many of them lead health equity portfolios within the health insurance industry, when we convene to provide status updates on our DLP projects, we are able to incorporate real-world experiences and  brainstorm solutions to operational challenges. While our individual organizations are in different stages of leading health equity strategies and programs, we leverage the power of our individual and collective experiences to encourage one another along our health equity journey.

What is one piece of advice you would give anyone working on disparities/equity-related efforts?

My advice is to be mindful that solving disparities takes time. Solving our nation’s most complex health challenges in populations that have experienced historical disadvantage will not happen overnight.

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