DHCS Academy: First-in-the-Nation Experiment Is a Big Success Story

Inside Sacramento’s historic library building, 30 managers from California’s Department of Health Care Services are working in small groups to resolve a thorny issue: how to structure value-based payments to providers that result in better health outcomes for people with complex needs.

This is DHCS Academy, the first program of its kind in the nation, where leaders of the state’s Medi-Cal program gather every month to engage in case studies, work on leadership projects, and wrestle with innovations in financing, delivery system reform, and health care integration.

The department had two goals for the academy when it launched in September 2013: (1) to assure state staff have the knowledge and capacity to meet the increasingly complex and challenging task of effectively administering the Medi-Cal program, and (2) to build a deep bench of talent to ensure the department can effectively fill senior leadership positions from within. These goals are especially timely in light of the health policy changes expected from the incoming administration in Washington.

Five cohorts have graduated since the inception of the academy. It evolved from a trial program supported by the California Health Care Foundation to a project funded by multiple philanthropies, and finally to a program that the department funds on its own.

A typical academy session begins with a “finger-on-the-pulse” segment that engages students in a lively discussion of current news and hot topics relevant to Medicaid, both at the national and state level. From there, the class turns its attention to the curriculum topics of the day. California experts serve as guest speakers. Case studies and small group exercises give participants the opportunity to apply the knowledge they’ve gained to specific scenarios. Toward the end of the class day, individual students give brief presentations about their division’s role within the department and about their specific job functions.

The DHCS Academy is administered by Leading Resources in collaboration with faculty from the Center for Health Care Strategies. Class evaluations and other feedback from participants feed into a process of continuous improvement. As evidenced by the following examples, the academy is achieving its goals:

  • Several graduates credit their experience for helping them learn how to manage their programs more effectively. Sean Mulvey reports that the academy taught him how to analyze new legislation and prepare more effective budget change proposals. Lori Haycock said the experience helped her learn to manage her program with a better understanding of the department’s goals.
  • Rebecca Schupp became chief of DHCS’s Long-Term Care Division after graduating from the academy. The academy helped her develop innovative models of care management, service delivery, provider incentives, and financing for people needing long-term care who would otherwise be cared for in nursing facilities and acute care hospitals.
  • After Von Chitambira graduated from the academy, she was promoted to chief of contract management and administration in the dental services division, where she increased her effectiveness in conducting contract negotiations with dental health plans. While prior to attending the academy, Chitambira was looking to leave the department, she now feels a sense of belonging and is excited about taking on new management roles.

For more information about DHCS Academy, contact Karen Johnson or Eric Douglas.