Authenticity, grit, and a commitment to fighting for what’s right to protect our communities is what drives Valerie Martinez every day, and even more so as Blue Shield of California Promise Health’s first Chief Health Equity Officer Plan.
A native Californian and experienced Medi-Cal leader, Martinez will lead strategies to improve health equity and reduce health care disparities for more than 450,000 Blue Shield Promise Medi-Cal members.
Martinez’s interest in health care began in college, leading to work in federally qualified health centers and managed care organizations for the past 16 years. She earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in public health and also teaches as an adjunct professor at the community college.
We asked her about her journey and the unique perspective she brings to Blue Shield Promise.
What do you think is needed to increase equity in health care?
Advancing health equity requires honest examination of pervasive issues plaguing our communities, such as systemic racism, implicit bias, quality of services, and funding. It also requires stakeholder engagement and tireless action; stamina to progress efforts; connecting with people who share their truth; and a workforce to turn those stories into action. None of this can be done without authenticity, the ability to acknowledge the current state and challenges ahead, and the courage to advance efforts for justice, fight for what is right, and protect our communities.
What drew you to healthcare early in life?
College opened doors for me to explore different subjects, biology being my favourite. As an intern at Planned Parenthood, I became interested in public health early on and eventually began working in health education, teaching in high schools, continuation schools, and youth correctional facilities in Los Angeles County. I discovered a desire to mentor youth and a calling to serve vulnerable groups who are in dire need of education, social services and access to healthcare.
Navigating the healthcare system is daunting, but even more so for those who have no idea where to start. My role has expanded beyond increasing access to health care to reducing barriers so that people have a chance to succeed in life.
Why did you choose to work in Medi-Cal?
I grew up a middle-class Latina in the San Gabriel Valley. In high school, my guidance counselor told me I wouldn’t get into a predominately white out-of-state university. As a young mother, I experienced a lack of compassion from providers who never informed me about my pregnancy and birth process or asked about my birth plan preferences.
These experiences taught me that I am a minority and will be judged and treated differently based on my socioeconomic status, where I live, my ethnicity, or the color of my skin. It was different from my family experience. I grew up in a safe, supportive environment where I was encouraged and protected. As an adult, I want the same for my communities – for them to thrive, feel empowered and reach their potential despite obstacles or circumstances. I chose to work with Medi-Cal because my personal experience gives me insight into what some of our Medi-Cal members are promoting, and I hope to be their voice.
What are your views on a fairer healthcare system?
I hope to improve health equity so that every Medi-Cal member has a fair and equitable opportunity to live a healthy life despite inherent challenges such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to health care, jobs, fair pay, quality education, and housing.
Valerie Martinez is the Chief Health Equity Officer for Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan.