Authenticity, fortitude, and the commitment to fight 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 Plan’s first chief health equity officer.
A native Californian and an experienced Medi-Cal leader, Martinez will lead strategies to help improve health equity and reduce health disparities for more than 450,000 Blue Shield Promise Medi-Cal members.
Martinez’s interest in health care began in college which led to working at federally qualified health centers and managed care organizations for the last 16 years. She received a master’s and doctorate in public health and also teaches as a community college adjunct professor.
We asked her about her journey and the unique perspective she brings to Blue Shield Promise.
What do you think it takes to advance health equity?
Advancing health equity requires an honest examination of pervasive issues plaguing our communities like systemic racism, implicit bias, quality of services, and funding. It also requires stakeholder buy-in and tireless action; resiliency to advance efforts; connection to individuals who share their truth; and a workforce to translate those stories into action. None of this can be done without authenticity, the ability to acknowledge the current state and challenges ahead, and the fortitude to advance equity efforts, fight for what’s right, and protect our communities.
What drew you to health care early on in your life?
College opened doors for me to explore various subjects, biology being my favorite. As an intern at Planned Parenthood, I gained an early interest in public health and eventually went into health education, teaching at high schools, continuation schools, and youth correctional facilities across Los Angeles County. I found a desire to mentor youth and a calling to serve vulnerable groups who are in dire need of education, social services, and access to health care.
Navigating the healthcare system is daunting, but even more so for those who have no idea where to begin. My role expanded beyond increasing healthcare access to reducing barriers, so people have a chance to be successful in life.
Why did you choose to work in Medi-Cal?
I grew up as a middle-class Latina in the San Gabriel Valley. In high school, my counselor told me that I would not fit in at a predominantly white, out-of-state university. As a young mother, I experienced a lack of compassion from providers, who never educated me about my pregnancy and the delivery process, or asked my preferences for a birth plan.
These experiences taught me that I was a minority and would be judged and treated differently based on my socioeconomic status, where I lived, my ethnicity or the color of my skin. This was different than 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 experiences provide me with insight into what some of our Medi-Cal members encourter, and I hope to be their voice.
What's your visions for a more equitable healthcare system?
I hope to advance health equity so that every Medi-Cal member has a fair and just 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 Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan’s chief health equity officer.