GLC Board Member, Marianne Udow-Phillips, MHSA, discusses career and CHRT's Role in Shaping Healthcare Policy

Marianne Udow-PhillipsI recently had the pleasure of interviewing Marianne Udow-Philips, the Executive Director for the Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation (CHRT) at the University of Michigan. Marianne sits on the advisory board for the Griffith Leadership Center and this is one of many interviews the GLC is looking forward to conducting with its board members.

Q: How did you get started in your healthcare career?

I am a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Public Health (SPH), but I didn't go to graduate school because I was very familiar with the healthcare industry. After college, I worked for a family planning organization in New York City. My experience at the organization was very rewarding and a wonderful fit for my interests; I was also able to work with an intern from the SPH program who raved about the program and pubic health as a profession. As an English and Psychology major, I could have gone anywhere after undergrad, but I was most likely going to be in the human services field. If you had asked me then, I would have thought I was going to be a clinical psychologist, but I realized I was better suited for system level work rather than individual one on one work.

Q: As the Executive Director of CHRT, what do you consider to be the organization's biggest accomplishment to date?

Last year, we did a survey of over 35 external customers and people in the State – policy makers, media, purchasers, providers, a broad swath of people. We received consistent feedback that our work is high quality, nonpartisan and incredibly valuable. I'm very proud that we are making an actual impact and are viewed as a nonpartisan organization, a place that Republicans and Democrats alike turn to see what works. I'm very proud of the work we did to help policy makers conclude that expanding Medicaid in Michigan was the right thing to do. I am also constantly gratified by the work we do with the Washtenaw Health Initiative to make care more accessible and better coordinated in the community.

Q: As a nonpartisan organization, how do you see CHRT's work fitting in to the new administration's healthcare policy goals?

We are trying to help consumers, policy makers, and the public at large understand what is happening with healthcare reform. We will continue to analyze the evidence, ask what are the likely implications, and demonstrate what works. It is clear there will be more latitude at the State level with the new administration, and it's important that consumers and policy makers are informed and are effective in their engagement. CHRT will continue to produce information to help consumers navigate healthcare and the public health and human services.

I believe the transfer of work to the states creates an opportunity for more state and local impact, independent of what is happening at the federal level. We will continue to work on the State Innovation Model, which connects the medical care system with organizations that work to ameliorate social determinants of health. I'm also excited about the opportunity to expand our work outside of Michigan by collaborating with the Brookings Institution. We will be monitoring what is happening in the Midwest and learn what others are doing.

Q: From your time at Michigan as a graduate student, what skills or experiences have been the most beneficial to your career?

Through my graduate program, I learned how to look at policy problems in an analytical way and how to understand and use research effectively. This way of thinking has been enormously helpful. I also really valued the faculty; I was one of the last classes to study under Avedis Donabedian and Sy Axelrod. Both were visionaries in public health; they inspired my belief in health care as a fundamental right.

There is so much going on right now, but despite it being a disruptive time, it is also a time of opportunity. The shift in power allows us to focus on improvements at the local level. For a long-time policy work has been oriented on D.C., but I've always been an advocate for a focus at the state level. We need everyone, including students, to be advocates; some of the core things we have taken for granted will be under attack. One of the most important things we can all do is educate others in an objective way. We are living in a polarizing time, but these problems are everyone's. The more we work together, the better off we all will be.

Interview by Andrea McAuliffe, 1st year MHSA student