Equitable Health Care Service in Ramsey County
11 Jan 2022
News, Workforce Stories
General health care is a vital portion of the economy in Ramsey County, Minnesota. The industry is represented in many segments, from Fortune 500 companies to small business providers. Health care product manufacturers like 3M and St. Jude Medical call the county their home, joined by a number of renowned hospitals, health care providers and health insurance providers.
One insurance provider, Medica, has recently undertaken a significant project to establish an operations center in Ramsey County, with a commitment to equitable hiring practices and a more inclusive workforce.
Medica had been based in the Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka for decades. Following the 2020 civil unrest that occurred across the Twin Cities, company officials were determined to create jobs where high unemployment and broad diversity were present. Guided by the company's mission statement “… to be the trusted health plan of choice for customers, members, partners and our employees,” Medica decided to open a call center and claims processing operation in St. Paul, hiring local people to work there.
“It would have been easy to make a financial donation, but we wanted to do more,” said Rich Buckley, Medica’s Manager of Talent Acquisition. “The decision to commit to a bricks-and-mortar location offered more than just transactional support. It demonstrated Medica’s commitment to the community and our employee culture, and offered an opportunity for people from these communities to truly build careers.”
Move to Midway
The company opened its office in the Wilder Foundation building in the Midway area of St. Paul in January of 2021. With several requirements for a location, including proximity to public transportation, Medica officials worked with community partners like Ramsey County, the St. Paul Area Chamber, the City of St. Paul, Metropolitan Council, Ramsey County Workforce Solutions, RealTime Talent and the Midway Chamber of Commerce to find a location that fit.
Prior to 2020, individuals from the Midway area hired to work at Medica’s Minnetonka headquarters would have to drive through two major metropolitan areas to get to work.
“Having the Midway location lifts a barrier to employment because it will simply be easier for people from the area to get to work,” said Buckley.
In a February 2021 Star Tribune article, Channon Lemon of the St. Paul Area Chamber said, “This is a tremendous example of an organization intentionally locating to provide jobs and access and opportunity and to establish a footprint and build relationships with new talent — and potentially new customers.”
Medica’s Midway office team provides the first line of customer service for members with health insurance coverage through an employer or government program like Medicare and Medicaid, as well as members who buy individual or family insurance on their own. The Midway team also processes claims to ensure that health care providers receive prompt and accurate payment for the care they provide to Medica’s members. Medica committed to hiring full-time employees from the surrounding area to work in these roles at its Midway office.
The company set a goal of hiring 50 employees at Midway and has been able to hire 43 so far, with the first Health Plan Specialists beginning their careers on January 11, 2021. The employees are exclusively from local communities impacted by inequity in employment opportunity, representing Medica’s intentional hiring practices to reflect the demographics of the area.
“We are continuing to work toward that goal of 50, despite being in a very complex time period for hiring,” said Buckley.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the employees have yet to move into the new building and have been working remotely. Most of the positions are entry level, with most hired individuals either starting their careers or having some customer service experience. Buckley said these employees must be able to engage customers in conversation, while using technology to perform their roles. In addition, due to the remote work setting, employees need to be able to work autonomously, with independence and self-discipline to organize their time and manage a schedule.
“Those skills are more important than their experience, quite frankly,” said Buckley. “The roles we are seeking are not just filling customer service orders, but having complex conversations dealing with what is happening in the lives of our members.“
The 43 new employees hired completed an eight-week training process, building their skills cumulatively, which Buckley said Medica recognized as a true commitment, especially in light of the fact Medica did not have remote roles prior to the pandemic.
“We know that is an extremely big ask and we are truly impressed with these representatives who have been able to function so well in this environment,” he said.
In 2022, Medica will continue to look to meet its 50-employee objective, while placing a focus on retaining those already hired. To that end, the company evaluated compensation for its Midway office roles, increasing the hourly rate from $17.50 per hour to $19 per hour, as well as offering sign-on and retention bonuses. It also offers benefits such as health and dental insurance, a matching 401(k) retirement plan and tuition assistance, which create a total compensation package ranging from $55,000 to $70,000 per year.
Buckley said he cannot offer enough positive accolades for the help community partners offered Medica throughout their hiring process. Medica officials believe the success of the program was realized by building relationships with workforce development partners through consistent engagement on nearly a day-to-day basis.
“We were introduced to key stakeholders in the community, like Goodwill Easter Seals, HIRED and Project for Pride in Living, who are the real machinery of localized support,’ said Buckley. “If you are not aware of them and their abilities, it is very hard to be as successful as you would like.”