Dr. Cheryl Whitaker is a 20-year veteran health care professional who has dedicated her career to finding innovative health care solutions for underserved populations. She has extensive experience in health care information technology where she has sought to leverage I.T. solutions toward better quality care for patients.
In 2011, Dr. Whitaker was appointed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to serve as the inaugural chair of the Illinois Health Information Exchange Authority where she guided the state’s effort to create secure data exchange for health information.
Her latest venture is Next Level Health, a Care Coordination Entity aka CCE that provides community-based care coordination. NLH serves seniors and people with disabilities who qualify for Medicaid, as well as newly eligible ACA adults on the West and Southwest Sides of Chicago.
How did you get your start in the health care industry?
I wanted to become a doctor at 10-years-old. I was raised in a small town in the south where African Americans didn’t generally finish college, so that out of the box dream was a challenge to achieve, but I did it!
Did you have an “aha” moment when it struck you that you wanted to dedicate your life to the well being of people or is it something you’ve done since you can remember?
My earliest thoughts were that I wanted to be able to help people who were sick. I remember people dying in their 50s and 60s in my small town, being sick with treatable diseases, and having poor dentitia, and thought to myself “I want to do something about this.”
What’s your opinion of the Affordable Health Care Act aka “Obamacare?”
Obamacare is what’s going on in Illinois right now. The roll out of Medicaid to people who didn’t have any insurance like black and Latino men, the insurance exchange with tax credits for those who qualify is good. Those “new consumers” get to have health care access, many for the first time. Obamacare can do a lot of good for black men in particular.
Talk about your time as the inaugural chair of the Illinois Health Information Exchange?
It was very exciting! We were charged with building agreements with multiple groups to share health information with the provider that the patient was seeing while he or she was with that doctor. This will prevent doctors from repeating tests like X-rays that a person doesn’t need. This effort will improve the safety of patients and make health care more convenient for people who may seek care for a condition across institutions. I like to think about it like using my ATM card: I can get access to my money on the South Side of the city or on the North Side of the city or in another state because the ATM machines all talk to one another. We need to do that in health care, too!
Tell me about what Next Level Health does and your ultimate vision for it?
Next Level Health is a minority owned health plan that will work very closely with communities to work on improving their health. We are based in Chicago as a new plan, but want to grow all over the United States. Our focus will be on enrolling the newly insured black men who have Medicaid under Obamacare. If we get to 40,000 members, we will be only the 3rd minority owned health plan in the country! We will need the community to sign up with us to reach this goal.
How do you use social media to your advantage?
I use social media to post information about health care that will be helpful to anyone who follows me on Twitter or likes me on Facebook. I like to keep members in the know about things I’m doing in the community, so follow me and like me!
Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
That’s easy: two great kids and a wonderful husband of 18 years. Also, building a career that has allowed me to help lots of people like those who are sick, mentoring kids who want to become doctors, and just being a part of the fabric of community. That’s what life is really about.
Who inspires you?
Michelle Obama and many other women who assume great responsibility with grace.
Any favorite affirmations?
Make every day count.
What do you do to unwind?
Play tennis, have dinner with girlfriends, binge on TV miniseries like “Blacklist,” “House of Cards,” and “Love & Hip Hop.”
What’s the last great book you read?
I read four newspapers everyday along with magazines like Ebony and Style every month.
Any advice or words of wisdom for individuals who want to enter the field of health care?
I want to see more black and brown kids to enter the field of medicine. We need folks from our communities to enter the conversation about our health care. To get into the field, study hard, explore the sciences, ask questions about how the body works, read everything, and find mentors who can inspire you along the way.
What’s next for Dr. Cheryl Whitaker?
Now that I’ve started two companies, I’ll keep building more. I love the opportunity to build new companies that bring better health options to our communities. That’s the legacy I want to leave for future generations.
For more info on Next Level, please visit their website at www.NextLevelHealthIL.com or call 1-844-807-9734.